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She runs her fingers over the herbal sachets lined up on dark wood shelves. Scarf tight around the head, Awa Ly Fall takes care of her Chinese pharmacopoeia in the half-light of her office, located in a sandy lane in the village of Ngor, a suburb of Dakar where new constructions are mushrooming. The calligraphic labels indicate the ” Dang gui shao yao san “, A cocktail of plants used in gynecological treatments, the” Yu ping feng san “Soothing respiratory allergies,” Gui pi wan “Toning the spleen, or” Ban xia hou po »Prescribed against depression. ” I am the ambassador of traditional medicine in Senegal », Smiles Awa Ly Fall, met at the beginning of December. And even beyond: her reputation has reached Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire, where she was recently invited.
The Senegalese therapist, in her thirties with a calm verb, illustrates in her own way the rise of Chinese influence on the African continent. Beyond the mega-infrastructure projects, Beijing also wants to shine through its culture, this famous soft power that the great powers operate in the service of their strategic interests. It is not trivial that Mme Ly Fall was initially housed in the Confucius Institute in Dakar, the Chinese cultural center opened with the aim of generalizing the teaching of Mandarin and in passing the Beijing vision of the world.
Awa Ly Fall, perfectly Chinese-speaking, is the pure product of training courses aimed at creating an African Sinophile elite. A scholarship holder from the Chinese government, she studied modern and then traditional medicine for nine years (2007-2016) in Beijing and Nanjing. Her practice, which opened in Dakar in 2020, was so successful that some of her patients – she has ten a day – have even joined classes at the Confucius Institute to learn about Chinese civilization. “ I spread Chinese culture among the people », The practitioner is proud.
“I am not Sino-Blissful”
Awa Ly Fall sees those arriving in her office who have exhausted all remedies, consulted in vain with doctors “ modern “ for sciatica, low back pain, osteoarthritis, insomnia, depression, gynecological difficulties. She offers them care based on acupuncture, moxibustion (application of heat to areas of the skin), suction cups and, of course, medical plants. And the symbiosis works perfectly, according to him. Traditional Chinese medicine, according to her, has obvious similarities with old African therapies, especially in its holistic approach integrating body and mind.
« When I started to study traditional Chinese medicine, she explains, it reminded me of my grandmother’s methods like foot reflexology or cupping. “She likes to cite the example of the expression in Wolof” nguelaw moma dougg Which designates the cumulative symptoms of colds, fever, aches and heaviness of the head. However, this expression literally means ” catch the wind “, The same wind that traditional Chinese medicine incorporates in its” liu qi ”(Six climatic energies). Awa Ly Fall did not feel out of place during her classes in Nanjing.
Sinophile, the young doctor certainly is, but without being intoxicated with illusions about certain Chinese realities. ” I am not sino-blissful », She confides. Having lived in China, she had the harsh experience of racial prejudice against Africans. She was particularly shocked in 2016 by an advertising spot extolling the merits of a laundry: the film featured a black man thrown into the drum of a washing machine to come out in the guise of a dashing Chinese , a scabrous metaphor of the dirty transforming into the clean. At the time president of the Senegalese Students’ Association in China, she signed a petition denouncing the video clip, which the authorities eventually stopped broadcasting. On public transport, he has endured the painful scenes of passengers changing places on his arrival. ” But when someone said derogatory words against me, there was always another Chinese to lecture them and defend me., she puts into perspective. Anti-black behavior in China is mostly a matter of ignorance. “
“It’s up to Africa to wake up! “
Another facet of China revealed by Awa Ly Fall is the inconsistency of Beijing’s politics of soft power in Africa. The latter is indeed far from being as monolithic as it can appear from the outside. ” A lot of people think that the Chinese government is behind me, but in reality I am flying on my own without any support », She emphasizes. The proof: his office was invited to leave the Confucius Institute on the grounds that the establishment needed an additional room for Mandarin lessons. What a paradox: she who offered the institute a popular storefront! L'” ambassador of Chinese culture in Senegal », Whose patients often became students of Mandarin, had to go into exile far from the city center in an infinitely less accessible alley.
Another oddity: his project to set up training in traditional Chinese medicine within the Confucius Institute in partnership with his former University of Nanjing has never been possible, mired in bureaucratic harassment in Senegal as much as in China. A great lost opportunity for the influence of soft power Chinese.
Awa Ly Fall is worried about another anomaly. She has observed in recent years “ swarm “In Dakar, charlatans of traditional Chinese medicine,” selling the dream of well-being »At prohibitive prices. As an example, it shows an advertising insert with the slogan ” Chinese medicine. 100% organic natural treatment “And adorned with snapshots of crisp white coats and the latest electronics establishing a” health check ». « These people are Chinese businessmen with no medical training., she laments. They wouldn’t dare do that in China itself, where the industry is highly regulated ”. “The Chinese Embassy in Dakar is aware She adds. However, apparently, she lets it go.
The business of Chinese operators in Africa extends to many other areas: fishing, forestry, mining, land acquisition, etc. Also Awa Ly Fall is not fooled by the formula ” win-win Attached to the Sino-African partnership in official rhetoric. ” In reality, it is rather 70% winning for the Chinese and 30% for the Africans ”, she corrects, while acknowledging that “It is already far superior to the various partnerships that Africa has known so far “. The task of redressing the imbalance falls above all, in his eyes, on the Africans themselves: ” It’s up to Africa to wake up! Even if it means drawing some useful lessons from the Chinese efficiency model. ” We could perhaps take inspiration from it to better organize our democracy. In short, marrying yin and yang.
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Awa Ly Fall, “ambassador” of traditional Chinese medicine in Senegal