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November 10, 2009

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An Expo out of Africa

TO most people, Africa is an exotic and mysterious place. But the Joint Africa Pavilion at World Expo 2010 and eight separate national pavilions will showcase not only the continent's spectacular natural beauty and friendly people, but also its urban living, science, technology and arts.

Fifty of the continent's 53 countries will participate in the Shanghai World Expo, the largest number of African countries ever at an Expo. More than 10 are making their first-ever Expo appearance.

The six-month Expo themed "Better City, Better Life," opens on May 1.

Forty-two countries and the African Union will exhibit in the 26,000-square-meter Joint Africa Pavilion; another eight will rent pavilions, including South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria.

The pavilion is on prime location on the Huangpu River and near an Expo entrance, especially chosen for high-traffic by the Chinese Expo organizers. It's next to European pavilions.

The African pavilion in the Pudong part of the site is as big as three and a half football fields; it's 227 meters long and 107 meters wide.

The pavilion is marked by a huge peach-red cube. The color is like the African colors of earth and the splendid setting sun. Against the backdrop are silhouettes of the spreading baobob tree, known as the tree of life, and those of African wildlife, like giraffes, elephants, hippos, camels, antelope and many other beasts.

The exhibitions will change the old concepts about Africa as a place of wars, famines and poverty, said Nolana Ta-Ama, Togo's ambassador to China and head of the joint African exhibitions.

The theme of the African Union exhibit is "The Great Benefits of Clean Energy in Africa's Urban Management." It's in the very west end of the pavilion.

African nations can contribute greatly to the Expo urban theme because the continent is not only one of the cradles of human civilization but also a region of some of the earliest urban civilizations, said Jean Marie Cishahayo, an adviser to United Nations China Africa Business Council.

About 30 percent of Africa's population live in cities, and urbanization is progressing at a rate of 3.5 percent annually, the fastest in the world.

Africa's urbanization experience is an Expo input, Cishahayo said.

The continent has a long history, vast land, rich natural resources and huge potential for development, he said. After long years of struggle, African people freed themselves from colonial rule, wiped out apartheid, won independence and emancipation, thus contributing significantly to civilization, he added.

However, the continent can learn a lot about today's urban experience from the Shanghai World Expo.

Africa needs to develop cities that not only provide basic human needs but also enrich life and protect the environment, Cishahayo said.

"The environment must be protected and improved, otherwise urban life will be blighted by pollution and climate change," he said.

The large participation of African countries has been made possible by US$100 million in financial assistance from the Chinese government, which built the joint pavilion.

Countries with low or medium per-capita gross national income - below US$3,255 as defined by the UN - are eligible for assistance from China, as it promised in its Expo bid in 2002.

The joint pavilion will showcase Africa's diverse cultures and let visitors appreciate ancient human origins, the vitality and rhythm of life today and, of course, the magnificent wildlife, said Chen Jintian, director of the Joint Africa Pavilion Management Department of the Expo Bureau.

Visitors will be able to watch, listen to, touch and taste Africa, as well as talk, sing and dance with the African people, Chen said.

Each participating nation has a 250-square-meter exhibition area. There will be a stage for performances, places to buy crafts and souvenirs and restaurants providing regional African fare and delicacies.

The pavilion has one of the best Expo locations and is easily accessible.

At the Hanover Expo in 2000, African countries exhibited for the first time in a joint pavilion named "Gift from Africa." There were joint pavilions at the Aichi Expo in 2005 in Japan and the Expo Zaragoza in 2008 in Spain. Seychelles Exhibition

It is centrally located in the joint pavilion and features rare plants, including the famous coco de mer, coconut of the sea, that resembles a human backside. A central cylindrical screen will play videos, including one showing a pair of rare Aldabra tortoises, given to the Shanghai Zoo as an Expo gift.

Liberia Pavilion

It features many traditional wooden houses. Many sculptures, masks and totems create an aura of mystery and represent magnificent art. It will exhibit how people use water resources efficiently. The theme is "A Safe City Is a Peaceful City."


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