Assane Mbengue would have never imagined that it would all begin with a movie. He was profoundly impacted by a kungfu movie starring Bruce Lee that he watched when he was a child. That's how he came to know China, a vast Asian nation so far away. He is now a successful entrepreneur who considers China to be his second home. Everything he does, from his academic studies to his business operations, is related to China.
A worthy choice
His fascination with the film prompted him to go further into his high school history studies to understand more about China. He was deeply moved by the stories about Chinese revolutionaries. "I was inspired to commit myself to the development of my nation after being struck to the core at such an early age," Mbengue recalls.
He was a hardworking student who earned honors in his baccalaureate, allowing him to study in Belgium on a scholarship. He had also passed the entrance test for the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon. But he actually wanted to study in China.
He came to Beijing on September 7, 1987, with six other young Senegalese. He studied Chinese at the Beijing Foreign Language Institute for one year. After that, he went to Shanghai's Donghua Textile Institute (now Donghua University) to study printing and dyeing. He spent four years at the university and has many good recollections of his time there. "This completely new environment at university forced me to mature more quickly."
He was employed by the African Cotton Industry (ICOTAF) in Senegal in 1983 after graduation. He spent 10 years as a production manager there, a job that appeared to be steady and rewarding. But, deep down, he was always thinking about China.
A talented entrepreneur
He quit ICOTAF in November 1993 to focus solely on his commercial operations in China. He has attended the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, many times and noticed the country's huge market potential. As a result, he began importing fabrics, materials, and consumer items from China to Senegal. He ultimately set up a company three years later, tapping into the markets of China, Japan, and Singapore, among others.
His goal was to increase commerce between Senegal and Asian nations. In the year 2000, he founded an investment firm that focused on agriculture, health and medicine, and manufacturing in many West African countries. He currently runs three businesses, focusing on fishing, shipping logistics and health.
Assane Mbengue with the director of the Confucius Institute in Dakar (COURTESY PHOTO)
Key to success
"During my studies in China, I was fascinated by the cooperation and enterprising attitude of Chinese businesses," Mbengue told ChinAfrica. His experiences in China motivated him and pushed him to pursue a career in business.
He stresses social responsibility as an entrepreneur. Mbengue has worked with Chinese public and private businesses to improve Senegal's real estate sector in recent years. He has managed housing projects for his compatriots to enhance their living standards by bringing cash and know-how from China. He has also invested in infrastructure and other fields alongside his Chinese partners.
"I wish to contribute to my country's economic and social growth." At the same time, these initiatives have boosted the number of Chinese people settling, traveling, and doing business in Senegal.
His time as a student in China had a profound impact on his life. As a result, he enjoys sharing his experiences with Senegalese youngsters and encouraging them to visit China. He provides scholarships and training to Senegalese students in China every year. In his three businesses, he has recruited a number of them. His passion for China has also affected his family. His wife moved to Shanghai in 1990 to study Chinese language. His daughter earned her master's degree in economics from the Shanghai University of Economics and Finance last year.
On many occasions, he has offered consultancy services to the Senegalese Government and provided assistance to Senegalese President Macky Sall in the planning of his first official visit to China in 2013.
He is now trying to improve Sino-Senegalese cultural interactions. The Federation of Friendship Associations with China in Africa held its congress in Dakar at the end of September, and he was chosen president. This new job allows him to dedicate more time and energy to improving ties between Africa and China. He says he wants to foster better understanding between the two peoples.
He has also begun writing his memoirs. "I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have such a strong bond with China and the Chinese people!" He speaks Chinese well, enjoys kungfu movies, and continues to write his own China story. CA
(Print Edition Title: An Everlasting Affinity)
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