Future leaders of ruling political parties in Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola attended their first session at a training school funded with $40 million in support (55, 4 million Singapore dollars) from the Chinese Communist Party.
The construction of the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School in Kibaha, 40 km from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, was funded by the six ruling parties of southern African countries.
Additional support has come from the ruling party in Beijing through its International Liaison Department, the bureaucracy responsible for promoting Chinese ideology abroad and cross-party diplomacy.
The school provides a platform for China to improve exchanges with leaders as a form of “party-to-party diplomacy”.
The Chinese Communist Party held training for 120 cadres at the newly inaugurated leadership school earlier this month.
Like many countries in Southern Africa, Tanzania was heavily influenced by Maoism and the Communist Party in the 1960s and 1970s under the leadership of founding President Julius Nyerere.
Although Sino-African relations have shifted almost entirely to economic engagement, with China’s presence in Africa increasingly associated with mega infrastructure projects, echoes of Chinese socialism can still be heard in Tanzania, as well as in many other countries on the continent.
Political parties in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe are always looking to learn from China’s governance and economic model.
Observers say no African country has fully adopted the Chinese “model”, but most like some of its elements, such as a one-party state or state-led development.
In recent years, the party has intensified its efforts to consolidate its political relations with African ruling parties, inviting hundreds of their leaders on “study tours” to China each year.
The approach remained consistent from the 1990s, when Beijing began aggressively promoting the “Chinese form of governance” in Africa, until Covid-19 put an end to any form of gathering that risked spread the virus further, although some meetings continued to be held virtually. .
Song Tao, then head of the International Department of the Party’s Central Committee, delivered a virtual speech to participants of the Southern Africa Youth Cadres Workshop in early June, highlighting the long-term friendship and shared concepts of the gone.
“In the face of changes and the pandemic unprecedented for a century, the CPC is ready to strengthen the exchange of experience in state governance and administration with the six parties,” said Song, who has since replaced by Liu Jianchao, a veteran diplomat. .
Chinese President Xi Jinping, also the party’s general secretary, responded to a letter from workshop participants in the hope that they would “take an active part in the cause of China-Africa friendship, bear and transmit spirit of Sino-African friendship and cooperation”.
Observers say China’s communist ideology has evolved over the years, along with the thinking of many African political leaders, who today are drawn to China’s economic success and would like to emulate it, despite the vast differences between their country and China.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research and research professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said in a recent article published by the National Bureau of Asian Research that “in sub-Saharan Africa, the CPC focused on ruling parties rather than opposition parties and countries that matter to the Chinese economy.”
To this end, the International Liaison Department has intensified its relations with political parties in sub-Saharan Africa, inviting local party officials to go on “study tours”, attend seminars or attend more frequent sessions training in China, he said.
However, its objective is not to export the “Chinese model” as such, but rather to promote the Chinese “form” of governance, economic organization and “democracy”.
Cabestan noted that in Africa as a whole – including North Africa – the Chinese Communist Party has established relations with 110 political parties in 51 out of 54 countries, as indicated in a white paper published by Beijing at the from the 8th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Dakar in November 2019.
David Shinn, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and former US ambassador to Ethiopia, said different ruling African political parties had somewhat different expectations of the training offered at the school. , although everyone sees it as a strengthening of relations with Beijing.
“There may be a tendency to see training as a way of learning how to retain political power permanently,” he said.
Shinn said the six African political parties involved in the formation had ruled their respective countries continuously since independence, with some likely hoping for tangible contributions such as office equipment and party vehicles.
“The CCP will use the training to encourage African political parties to accept its political and economic ideology and organizing techniques. By China’s own admission, the goal is to strengthen ties between the CCP and the ruling African political parties,” he added.
Lina Benabdallah, a China-Africa relations specialist at Wake Forest University, said “there is a perceived success of the CCP’s party structure, governance model that centers economic development, and leadership style elites from these six parties and others across the continent”. .
“Such perceived success provides an interesting and appealing model for building political leadership and mobilizing party loyalty,” she said.
According to Benabdallah, the importance for Beijing of party schools in Africa is opening up opportunities for closer cooperation with African elites who are either in power or likely to become ruling parties in the future.
There is also the prospect that the party’s model of governance will inspire others, while potentially becoming a normative expression of power on the continent.
“Africa remains the continent where China is perceived more positively than anywhere else in the world, which provides an opportunity for Chinese diplomatic efforts,” Benabdallah said, in a study published last year.
Africa is seen by Chinese leaders as a prospect for China’s development and governance models to introduce and implement a viable alternative to Western-centric models, she said.
Cabestan said the Chinese party is also adaptable to changing situations, pointing to its close relationship with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) after it seized power in 1991.
However, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed dissolved the EPRDF in December 2019 and merged it with three other parties to form the Prosperity Party, the Chinese Communist Party established relations with the new entity.
“In choosing sides in the impending Ethiopian civil war, the CCP has gone even further by elevating its relationship with the Prosperity Party into a strategic partnership,” Cabestan said.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post.