Chinese medicine is on the rise in Africa
Print edition | Middle East and Africa
Nov 8th 2018 | DAKAR
IN A HOUSE in central Dakar three Chinese men stand behind a glass screen. The wall is stacked high with pills, teas and powders covered with Chinese symbols and pictures of healthy models. There is something for everyone. Teas for kidney problems, creams for aches, pills for infertility and four claiming to help men with impotence.
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“It’s a revolution,” proclaims Aliou Ndiaye, who started working at the Chinese medicine shop three years ago. It now has four branches in Dakar. Senegal’s capital also has several smaller outlets and practitioners. “Many people are curious but I’m still sceptical,” says Ibrahim Sy, a taxi driver, who says his mother was cured of leg pain with tea.
Senegal’s experience is part of a wider trend of traditional Chinese health centres opening across Africa. Clusters can be found in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Others have opened in Uganda, Ivory Coast and Congo.
Their spread underlines China’s growing soft power in Africa. In 2000 when China held its first-ever Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, a summit held every three years, traditional remedies were on the agenda. Two years later it hosted a conference in Beijing to discuss the topic. Many of China’s 48 Confucius Institutes in Africa teach courses in traditional medicine.
Moreover, as many as 50,000 young Africans are studying in China, many on scholarships provided by the host government. Although only a small share are at medical school, many students return with a taste for acupuncture and herbs. Demand is also buoyed by China’s large diaspora in Africa, which some reckon has grown to 1m people.
One practitioner, Mame Awa Diop, studied traditional medicine in China before the Confucius Institute in Dakar asked her to set up a clinic. Business started slowly, she says. But outside her room several people sit in an orderly queue. “Oh, they’re coming,” she says.