Can Stagnant African Liberation Movements Emulate China?

By Emmanuel Matambo.

On 22 June 2021, the Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) at the University of Johannesburg and the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) hosted a webinar to reflect on the Communist Party of China (CPC)’s 100th anniversary. Professor Ibbo Mandaza, a renowned Zimbabwean academic and politician was one of the presenters. In comparing the achievements of the CPC with those of Southern Africa’s liberation movements, Mandaza argued that the latter exhausted their usefulness the moment they succeeded to end settler colonial rule, and, thus, had no use after independence. I respectfully disagree with Mandaza’s categorical assertion for an obvious reason: according to that logic, the CPC, a liberation movement in its own right, would have had no usefulness beyond securing political independence for the Chinese people. This article submits that Southern African liberations movements need to adapt to their new circumstances if they wish to emulate the CCP’s longevity and successes.

The CPC’s impressive achievements, especially when told to a Southern African audience almost automatically brings into focus the quality of ruling parties in Southern Africa. However, the CPC itself has had a chequered history since its formation. I am of the view that the most important characteristic of the CPC is, by far, its ability to adapt. Arguably, others may allude to issues such as the forced political stability that does not brook political opposition, a merit-driven deployment of party cadres in strategic positions, and the work ethic of Chinese citizens. All these, however, could be traced to the willingness of CPC apparatchiks to timely respond to shifting domestic and international dynamics.

The CPC of the Mao era was doctrinaire, hell-bent on ideological purity, national sovereignty and pulling China out of the Soviet shadow. Thus, China under Mao played some part in sponsoring anti-colonial intrigue, it openly fought an ideological battle with the Soviet Union, purged those it considered apostates and embarked on costly disasters such as the Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, middle-class Chinese intellectuals and artisans, accused of harbouring capitalist tendencies, were shunted to rural areas for socialist instruction. Thus, while China might have gained in ideological authenticity during the Mao era, the country remained desperately poor.

Mao Zedong died in 1976, opening China to possibilities of foreswearing the zealotry of the late Chairman. In 1978, under the auspices of Deng Xiaoping, a survivor of Mao’s purges, China started making breath-taking reforms and risks that are responsible for the greatest reduction of national poverty unmatched in the country, which remains unmatchced in human history. Even Barack Obama writes that due to China’s post-Mao policies, which entailed an “export-driven economy, a state-managed form of capitalism, no nation in history has developed faster or moved more people out of abject poverty.” Deng and his successors managed to achieve such stupendous feats because they adapted to a constantly changing international economic system. They well understood that insular politics and foreign policies deprived China of the benefits of integration with countries that could furnish China with technology, mineral and energy resources and markets for the country’s products. The country worked painstakingly to be included in the World Trade Organisation (which eventually happened in 2001), and for more than thirty years since 1978, China’s economy was growing at an unprecedented 9.5%. Today, from the $23 of 1949, China’s per capita GDP stands at $10,000, and its life expectancy is at 75 years. In addition to this, in November 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that China had completely eradicated extreme poverty.

The presenters at the 22 June event referred to this inauspicious history in order to highlight the stupendous development that China has attained under the leadership of the CPC. Inevitably, this drew the discussion to where African liberation movements go wrong.  In this regard, the CPC’s example carries a few lessons for Southern Africa.

The need to adapt to changing circumstances

The problem with liberation movements in Africa is that they are not as adaptable as the CPC. A candid acknowledgement of mistakes committed led China to abandon Mao-era dogmatism. Southern African liberation movements would also have to forthrightly look at how policies such as affirmative action and land redistribution have not translated into upward mobility for the long suffering ordinary Southern Africans.

In a world that is increasingly globalised, Southern African leaderships could do well to encourage skills and student exchanges, a decision that served the CPC well at the time when it sought to implement what it called the Four Modernisations (agriculture, industry, defence, and science and technology). Considering that the biggest resource that Africa in general has is its people; with only 3% of Africans above the age of 65 years, and about 55% of the people between the age of 15 and 65, the continent is teeming with latent talent which could be put to use through aggressive investment in education; governing parties need to invest not only in traditional tertiary institutions, but in technical colleges that could provide the continent with hard skills.

All this does not require that liberation movements be removed from power. It requires that they become more responsive to their circumstances, that they nurture ideological clarity, and that they defer to talent and capability when appointing people in leadership positions rather than outdated references to one’s “struggle credentials.”

The imperative to advance national priorities

ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa are partly tethered to the witch-hunting mentality that made them successful liberation movements and exposers of enemy agents. However, there is a dearth of leaders within such movements with the foresight of leaders like Deng Xiaoping – the architect of China’s successful reforms. Consequently, lacking the necessary clarity of purpose, such liberation movements tend to perpetuate their bush-inherited stealth ways, with secret tussles for power that do not really have a national, people-oriented agenda as a priority.

Thus, the failure of entrenched political parties in Southern Africa is not because they have outlived their usefulness; it is rather because they have failed to adapt – to make the leap from anti-colonial agitation to effectively governing the countries they are in charge of, and, as a result, advance national priorities.

Clinging on to power cannot remain the main preoccupation

Multiparty political contestation is another preoccupation that usually taxes most of the energy of liberation movements. Desperate to maintain power, they tend to spend most of their energies and resources on discrediting and harassing their political rivals, as has been the case in Zimbabwe, to devastating effects. In South Africa, the ANC has clung on to power by a slew of stratagems that include the rolling out of the world’s biggest social welfare grant system, for which the poorest, comprising the biggest voting demographic are beneficiaries. In addition, the ANC plays up its central role in ending apartheid, thereby encouraging in prospective voters, the feeling that they owe post-apartheid South Africa to the governing party.

Like its Zimbabwean counterpart, the ANC also traffics in discrediting its rivals, such as accusing the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, of sectarian politics that cater only for white South Africans. This is an oblique allusion that the DA could take South Africa back to apartheid. Unfortunately, while such tactics (of slander, harassment and occasional violence) have kept some liberation movements in power, they have not improved Southern Africa’s circumstances. This calls for urgent action.

No more excuses

It is time for southern African liberation movements to adapt, act with the needed sense of urgency, and respond to changing circumstances in the way that the CPC did. According to Statistics South Africa, the country’s general unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2021 was 32,6%, while among the youth (aged between 15 and 34), it was 46,3% “implying that almost one in every two young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of 2021.” These cheerless statistics could tempt one to argue in tandem with Professor Mandaza. Yes, some of South Africa’s woes could be blamed on longstanding injustices wrought by colonialism and apartheid. The ANC, as well other southern African liberation movements, inherited a country where the majority of citizens were on the fringes of economic progress. But the CPC did not find a thriving China, either.


CPC’s Centenary of progress: a journey that mutually benefited African Countries.

By Allawi Ssemanda.

Today marks exactly 100 years since the formation of China’s ruling party – the Communist Party of China (CPC). From a humble beginning which characterised its very first national congress in the city of Shanghai, today CPC stands tall. After their 72 years at the helm, CPC has transformed the once poor and under developed country to become the world’s second economy and technology power house with a staggering GDP estimated at about $14.7 trillion as of 2020 just behind United States of America’s (U.S.A) $20.9 trillion.

With able party leadership, CPC has driven China on a steady and consistent economic growth which has seen the country carrying on the most successful poverty alleviation projects in the world’s history. For example, from 1990 to 2018, China was able to reduce extreme poverty from 66.3% to 0.3% and early February this year, Xi Jinping, the secretary general of CPC’s Central Committee announced the good news that China had completely eliminated abject poverty. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres hailed the achievement as a huge contribution to UN’s 2030 sustainable development agenda stressing that “It also brings hope and inspiration to the international society, and shows that a campaign promise and consistent policy can make a difference in improving livelihood of the most deprived and vulnerable.”

Whereas China’s success story has been viewed by some western world with scepticism, some criticising China’s good relations with developing countries especially in the global north, one can firmly say such criticism is a result of lack of information and malice and arguably, some Western country’s libido dominandi, a latin concept meaning the argue to dominate everything.

From historical perspective, China has never been a selfish country and has always been on the side of developing countries. For example, during colonial bondage when many African countries were under colonial rule, despite her challenges at home as a developing country, China played a key role in helping African countries to snap the ugly shackles of colonial rule. In late 1960s, China set up a soft loan of about $400 million to assist in construction of the famous TAZARA railway line linking Tanzania and Zambia which helped in easing transport in East African region and beyond. China set up this fund at a time when its total per capita GDP was still low compared to Sub-Saharan Africa. For record, until 1978, Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP was about $490 while China’s averaged was about $156. Therefore, it is not new China to consider helping other developing countries at a time when Beijing seems to be in need.

Therefore, the continued good relations and development assistance from China to several African countries and the rest of global south should not be interpret as Beijing’s hidden agenda but rather, Chinese belief in promoting sprit of a shared prosperity for mankind.

Today, as CPC and People’s Republic of China in general mark 100 years of success, there are many lessons countries world over can draw from China’s governance and leadership model. Arguably, CPC is one of largest and vibrant old political parties in the world and tops the list of political parties enjoying citizen’s support. Indeed, a May 2021 study by Washington Post revealed that 98% of Chinese had trust in the national government. This was a great score compared with 2018’s Values survey which put the percentage at 95!

Perhaps the puzzle other governments should ponder at should be; how does CPC function to enjoy such huge support from not just party members but all citizens?

Looking at CPC right from the revolution time to date, it is evident that party leadership has always firmly put interest of people first whenever the government is developing policies. It is this magic that has seen the country able to provide better and functioning systems that support the country in all important sectors like health, transport, education, energy, creating employment opportunities for citizens, and ensuring security among others.

The other magic bullet CPC and Chinese government employed that can’t be under looked is creating a knowledge-based governance system. This has been achieved through party leadership’s commitment of ensuring right people with right knowledge are put in right place to ensure government policies and plans work and results are seen in given timelines. Coupled with the party’s leadership stance against corruption, when government makes a promise to people, results are delivered.  It is model that embraces merit over mediocracy that has seen the country achieve set goals year after year, thereby leaving citizens contended and trusting their government.

Beijing’s decision to maintain her non- interference policy in affairs of sovereign states has left Beijing a friend to many. If looked critically, this has saved the country unnecessary expenses and costs that come with meddling in internal affairs of other countries. This means the country has enough time to plan, put to good use resources and work for her people and where necessary offer a helping hand to other countries instead of imposing their beliefs and influence in quest for global hegemony.

As we look forward to another century – a journey CPC has started today, China is proving to the world that communism with Chinese characters work best, not because Beijing forces it on other nations, but people of the world can see success in China which resonates well with their aspirations.  To CPC and People’s Republic of China, congratulations for reaching this far.  What China has just celebrated is by all definitions a century of success and provides countless lessons to other developing countries on how to dream big and realise such dreams.

Allawi Ssemanda is a senior research fellow at Development Watch Centre, a Foreign Policy Think Tank.

A Century of Progress: CPC’s Success Story and the Rise of China Have Positively Impacted Africa.

As China’s ruling party – the Communist Party of China (CPC) celebrates her 100th birthday, from its very humble background, in almost all fronts, CPC now stands firm and taller after seeing China through a remarkable Century of unquestionable progress.

After 72 years of steady leadership, CPC guided China to move from a poor, and developing country to become the world’s second largest Economy. As of 2020, China’s total GDP was estimated to total $14.7 trillion, sightly bellow U.S’ $20.9 trillion. Arguably, China’s CPC leadership continue to guide the country to the right direction in terms of economic and social development. According to last week’s data released by China’s Statistics department, despite world’s economic growth slow down due to Covid-19 pandemic, China’s economy grew a record 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021, one of the best so far globally and the biggest jump in the last three decades.

Steady economic growth seen in China has enabled the country to carry out what is now the world’s most successful poverty-alleviation program. Indeed, China’s extreme poverty numbers declined in a short time from 66.3% in 1990 to just 0.3 percent in 2018. In February 2021, CPC’s Central Committee Secretary General, Xi Jinping, broke the good news that China had completely eliminated extreme poverty, a development that was lauded by several world leaders as a great achievement.

Another intriguing achievement is how CPC has managed to build a State capable of protecting and governing her huge population of 1.4 billion people peacefully for 72 years. CPC has presided over possibly the longest period of general peace and stability in China’s modern history. Today, China boasts of a empowered huge population with a huge economy and political stability which has enabled Beijing to have a greater say in global affairs – oftentimes standing by almost all developing countries. It is now an open secret that Beijing is playing an increasingly visible role in the international arena; in key areas like promoting Public Health, Peacekeeping efforts, promotion of trade and technology among others. Under the leadership of CPC, China has also come up with projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Forum on China-Africa Cooperation all which symbolizes China’s readiness and desire to play a bigger role in global affairs for good of mankind.

In many ways, CPC’s achievements and consequently China’s rise have greatly and positively contributed to African countries and the continent at large. It can be recalled that since its inception, CPC stood shoulder to shoulder with African countries especially while fighting colonial bondage. Indeed, since the famous 1955 Bandug conference, the party provided ideological, material and moral support to different African liberation movements. African Countries returned the favour in kind by supporting China to gain a seat in United Nations in 1971 and many of African countries to date are committed to China’s One-China policy.

Due to continued good relations between China and African countries, the two sides agreed to start Forum for China-Africa Cooperation which has provided an official and effective platform for cooperation between China and African countries on bases of Mutual respect and benefits. Consequently, China is Africa’s biggest trading partner with trade between the two reaching over $208 billion as of 2019. Beijing is also Africa’s biggest bilateral creditor which has helped several African countries to finance their much-needed infrastructure projects which analysts view as catalysts for social and economic development.

Indeed, China invested $25 billion in Africa’s infrastructure; helping almost all African countries’ communication, energy, transport, water and sanitation sectors in the year 2018. Both International Monitory Fund and World Bank’s 2019 reports credited the continent’s rapid economic growth since early 1990’s to China’s infrastructure assistance.

Arguably, China is not just a diplomatic ally to African countries, neither should the relations between the two sides be viewed only from the angle of China providing economic and development assistance alone. In many ways, China is a role model and many African countries have a lot to learn from the country’s ruling party CPC and the country in general. Firstly, the party – CPC has presided over and maintained economic growth levels for the country at the same time building strong state institutions and hence, effective governance and stability of the country. The two points; effective governance and stability have largely been elusive in most African countries. It can be recalled that three decades ago, the level of development in China was equal to that in Africa. For example, in 1978, Sub-Saharan African countries GDP averaged at $490 while that of China was about $156. However, China has now transformed itself and emerged as a global economic powerhouse while Africa remains the least developed continent in the world.

The other important lesson African countries can borrow or learn from China and its ruling party is the centrality of historical contingency which is glaring especially success of economic and social policies in the country. When we critically analyse its development process, despite the fact that China borrowed some foreign models and experiences, Beijing did not just transplant these ideas but rather, its economic policies are in many ways tailored to meet the country’s cultural, geographical, historical, and political conditions.

Another key lesson African Countries can learn is that China has demonstrated how pragmatism not dogmatism should govern the choice of policies any country that aspires to develop should embrace. While many of African countries are still struggling to fight and eradicate poverty, China’s poverty eradication polices have helped Beijing to eliminate extreme poverty. Therefore, China’s political model is something Africa as a continent we can learn from. While CPS ensures democracy at the grassroot level in China to ensure people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and how they are governed locally; meritocracy is always key at the top level which helps in ensuring that China is governed by not just competent individuals with a firm grasp of economics, international relations and science and technology, which helps them to make not just correct but nation saving decisions for the country. This system also ensures continuity in politics which is good for policy consistency.

It can be argued that it is a result of meritocratic recruitment that China has been able to deal with the problem of corruption, a vice analysts attribute to African country’s stagnation. Also, emphasis of discipline among party leadership and membership cannot be ignored while analysing reasons behind China’s rise.

In conclusion, aware that it is not always easy to predict the future, one can argue that as CPC prepares to celebrate its 1st century, it remains to be seen what the next century will look like for this mighty party and the world at large. Whereas CPC started its first century as an obscure and arguably a loosely coordinated Communist Movement, it is starting its second century at a time when the country it presides over, Peoples Republic of China, is a global trailblazer and a potential superpower-in-waiting.

As of now, from security social and economic perspective, China’s future is fully secured-matching towards achieving Beijing’s dreams. No matter the challenges such as mistrust from some Western countries and a few of their allies and conflicting regional interests among her neighbours, China under CPC leadership has proved resilience to emerge victorious in dealing with sensitive issues.


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