Africans remain largely invisible in Taiwan  

In Taiwan, the African continent remains largely invisible culturally, economically, and politically — so when Africa Day is marked in Taipei on May 25 each year, it offers a rare occasion for African cultures to be celebrated, albeit just for one day. 

Photo from an exhibition at Taipei's National Center of Photography and Images, showing an African trainee and and Taiwanese trainer in the 1960s in Taiwan. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

Today, Taiwan maintains full diplomatic relations only with the kingdom of Eswatini on the African continent and has a representative office in Somaliland. However, it wasn't always the case that the island had little political and economic relations with Africa. Indeed when the United Nations was created in 1945, The Republic of China — as was, and is to this day the official name of Taiwan (ROC), was a founding member of the new political order that emerged from World War II.

As most African countries gained independence from colonial powers starting in the late 1950s and 1960s, the new states established full diplomatic relations with ROC. Even though the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949, it did not get diplomatic recognition in Africa for a very long time. During that period, the ROC had a wide presence in Africa and launched a number of development programs centered around agriculture, infrastructure, and skill training. It also invited students from the continent to be trained in Taiwan mostly as engineers, agricultural experts, nurses, and doctors. This was a time when Africa was visible on the island, through its media coverage, trade, the presence of foreign students, as well as through Taiwanese experts who were deployed to the continent. 

All of that changed dramatically after October 1971 when the PRC replaced the ROC in the UN, with indeed large support and lobbying from African nations with whom Beijing developed friendly relations starting in the 1960s. After that date the number of diplomatic allies to Taiwan dropped sharply and is now reduced to one — two if Somaliland is included in the count, though it is not recognized internationally as an independent state. 

For more, read Forging bonds: people-to-People diplomacy between Taiwan and Somaliland

Today, Africa is rarely visible in Taiwan either culturally, economically, or politically. The island has no academic center focusing on Africa, and local media seldom cover news related to the continent. There are a few African students, some have stayed and sometimes intermarried with Taiwanese, but while there are no official statistics, most Africans asked say there are probably just a few hundred in a nation of 23 million people. Some students have also fallen victim to scams of exploitation as this investigative report from the well-respected Taipei-based media The Reporter (報導者) has shown:


There are groups of students from Uganda, Africa who originally flew thousands of miles to study in Taiwan with high expectations, but they spent most of their time in factories working to earn a living. The various promises made by those schools when enrolling students were not fulfilled after the students arrived in Taiwan.

Read more: Taiwan and Burkina Faso: A tumultuous history of cooperation and estrangement 

The stage for musicians at Afrofest. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

This is why the celebration of Africa Day through a cultural event named Afrofest in the capital Taipei comes as a rare occasion to see Africans and Black people living in Taiwan gathering to celebrate and share their identity and culture through music, dance, and food. 

May 25 is called Africa Day in reference to the day when the predecessor of the current African Union, then called the Organization for African Unity (1963–2002), was created on May 25, 1963. The date, formerly known as Africa Liberation Day,  started as a political statement in the 1960s, as decolonization was finally leading to independence on the continent.

This year the Afrofest event took place in a large tent in Taipei Expo Park.

Here is a photo gallery showcasing the joy of African music and dance mostly where Africans, Taiwanese, Black people, and other non-Taiwanese mix to the sound of African beats.

Everybody dances at Afrofest. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

Celebrating African rhythms. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

Music knows no borders. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

For more read: Highlighting Taiwan's international invisibility

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