Not even war could shatter Baikai’s destiny  

Baikai at the Confucius institute at Makerere University. PHOTOS | BAIKAI.

What you need to know:

  • Before the War broke out, Baikai was a student at the University of Khartoum, in the capital of Sudan, pursuing a bachelor's degree in Archaeology and Chinese Studies. He usually wondered why he was studying Chinese, a language very few people in his country spoke or used. But he was yet to fi nd out, destiny, was always calling.

In April this year, a war broke out in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), rival factions of the military government of Sudan.

The fighting concentrated around the capital city of Khartoum and the Darfur region, which left many dead, others injured, internally displaced, and others fleeing the country.

This was equally the case for Babiker Hanafi, also known by his Chinese name Baikai, a Sudanese student at the University of Khartoum at the time who was caught right in the middle of the crossfire. He opted to flee the country and would later find a safe haven in Uganda, through destiny helpers, to stay in a relatively peaceful environment and continue with some of his passions.

Background Before the war broke out, Baikai was a student at the University of Khartoum, in the capital of Sudan, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and Chinese studies. He had also invested some time earlier in 2019, when he was a high school student, to learn some English from a nearby English Institute.

Being a rare language in the country, he wondered why he was studying it, but for some reason he just kept learning, not knowing how it would significantly change his life, as later revealed.

“English in Sudan is like Chinese in Uganda; very few people know it,” Baikai said.

While he was at the university, he appeared a bit more special than the other students because he had a language advantage. He could often help the Chinese teachers who were teaching at the university explain some concepts since some of them spoke English and Chinese. This also enabled him to have a better grasp of the Chinese language.

The Destiny Helpers Shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic, economies opened up, and Sonia Shah, a traveller and blogger from the Republic of Kenya, visited Baikai’s hometown. The year was 2021. She was able to meet Baikai, who was the only English speaker in a large radius, and he graciously offered to be her tour guide.

“She wanted to visit a certain mountain, which is a tourist attraction in Sudan but could not speak Arabic. I offered to help her freely,” Baikai said.

Baikai had guided two other tourists, Aniela Zaba from the UK and Petro Maraise from South Africa, who happened to know Sonia, and that’s how they recommended him to her.

“I could help them move around the city as their tour guide and interpreter. I would also show them places to have local food and other beautiful areas. I didn’t charge them anything, but sometimes they could; they just gave me what they felt like,” Baikai said.

In fact, with Sonia, Baikai says that she tried giving him money, but he refused, opting for friendship instead. “She offered me money, but I refused. I was just interested in making friends and not working as a tour guide,” Baikai said.

Later, after the tour, Sonia promised to keep in touch, and they parted ways.  The exodus After the war broke out in Sudan in 2023, a great part of Baikai’s university was destroyed, especially his faculty area.

“The University of Khartoum is right in the middle of the city; it could not be spared,” Baikai says. He went back home and discussed with his parents his desire to continue his studies despite what had happened earlier. The parents had nothing much to offer.

Being a secondborn in a family of six and living in underprivileged conditions, he understood that it was very difficult for him to be supported further.

Sonia Shah, with whom they had been in touch through the phone for about two years, could constantly check on him, especially with the news of the war all over.

“Sonia checked on me daily, especially when the war broke out. When I expressed my desire to continue studying at least the Chinese language, she offered to support me,” Baikai said.

Sonia Shah later sent Baikai 1,000 US dollars and asked him to use it wisely to get to a safer place and hopefully continue a bit with his Chinese language.

“She said that when I am in a position, I should also help someone else in need as payback. I hold that in my heart,” Baikai said.

Baikai discussed his decision to relocate with his father, and upon getting his blessing, he took the next flight to Ethiopia. He stayed there for two days, but due to other undisclosed complications, he decided to take another flight to Uganda.

All along, he was checking online for locations that had a Confucius Institute where he could enrol to continue with his Chinese language studies, and that is how he ended up at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

Baikai and his classmates at the Institute. The institute hopes to provide more opportunities to students who are in need especially, but also better opportunities for studying Chinese. PHOTO | BAIKAI.

The Confucius Institute, Makerere Baikai landed at the Confucian Institute at Makerere University. Here he met another destiny helper, Dr. Zhong Jianghua, the Chinese director at the Institute. After hearing his story, Dr Jinghua allowed Baikai to take all Chinese classes for free.

“I think he saw the passion in me to study Chinese and what I had gone through. He told me to come to class every day and study without paying anything,” Baikai said.

He later explains how he has been constantly treated well at the institute. “I found a home here,” Baikai said. Dr Zhong Jianghua says that when he heard Baikai’s story, he was very touched.’ He later adds that as an institute, they are not only focused on teaching the Chinese language and culture but also on keeping friends, learning the Ugandan culture as well, and helping those in dire need.

“I remember; I gave him some Chinese snacks; we sat down, and he narrated his story to me up to around 11 p.m. When he came here and saw the Confucius Institute logo, he cried. It was like seeing his parents. “ I was very touched,” Dr. Jianghua said.

He further narrates how he keeps him engaged in order to not feel lonely. “I even took him to the Chinese Middle Festival Function. I just don’t want him to feel very lonely. You know, the Middle Autumn Festival in China is meant to re-unite people. To get together,” Dr. Jianghua adds.

He further adds that Baikai is a very talented student who needs extra attention. “He is a very special student. I asked the teachers to pay more attention to him and the other students to take care of him,” Dr. Jianghua adds. Mathew Muleme, Baikai’s friend and classmate at Confucius Institute, said that Baikai’s passion in the classroom is evident to all.

“He has a passion for what he wants to do. He loves Chinese language studies.” Muleme said. He further adds that Baikai’s ability to adapt not only in the classroom environment but also outside his class, and in society, has made him stand out among many.

“Going to a different country, you meet different people speaking different languages, but the moment I saw him, I knew he was flexible. He is always eager to learn. He tries to learn and speak Luganda too, and he can live in any environment,” Muleme said.

Madrine Namaganda, another friend and classmate of Baikai at the institute, appreciates his humility and willingness to help others with the Chinese language.

“He is so humble. He wants to always be of help. He is willing to help everyone in class so that we can pass. He is very bright and famous because he speaks Chinese like a native. His Chinese is so native,” Namaganda said. She further adds that Baikai loves to make friends and does not want to lose them.

“He loves making friends and fears losing them. He takes his friends like family,” Namaganda said. Dr. Jianghua concludes by saying that the institute hopes to provide more opportunities to students who are in need, especially, but also better opportunities for studying Chinese. He also adds that Baikai is among several other students in need and the institute has tried to extend help to.

“We have many students who are in need too, just like Baikai. They come, and we have to help them. We appreciate people who put in efforts towards enabling us to help these students,” Dr. Jianghua said.

He also revealed that several Chinese companies and individuals have already come on board to partner with the institute to help contribute to their work, but they could still need an extra hand, especially for Baikai, but also the institute at large in whichever capacity.

Baikai recently concluded his HSK/3 exams (which is the third level of studying the Chinese language) and scored 252 out of 300. He is set to begin HSK/4 level studies as well as exams, which, when he passes, will increase his chances of getting a scholarship in China to go and continue with his undergraduate studies in the archaeology field as well as Chinese studies. He is, however, open to opportunities anywhere.

“I am open-minded. Any opportunity that comes for me to continue with my bachelor's, as well as Chinese studies, will really do me good. All I need is a good education. I would love to study more about Africa and the African people through archaeology while also learning about Chinese culture,” Baikai said.

He continues to study at the institute while volunteering part-time at a restaurant near where he stays for survival.  He is particularly grateful to the director, Dr. Zhong Jianghua, for trusting him and giving him an opportunity at the institute.

“He is like a father to me. May God bless him,” Baikai said.