By David Monyae
The Communist Party of China (CPC) turns 100 years old in July. This is a momentous occasion not only for China but for the world as a whole. Only a few political organizations in the world have achieved such longevity and durability in a sound state. Even fewer have reached such a milestone presiding over the world’s second largest economy and tipped by many to become the largest economy in a few years’ time. The CPC has not only piled on the years but has also established and cultivated global presence and visibility. Africa is one corner of the global village where the CPC and China have made an indelible imprint. While China’s contacts with Africa go back to Admiral Zheng He’s fifteenth century expedition to the East African coast, the CPC has stirred and intensified China-Africa relations since it assumed power in the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong, the CPC supported Africa’s liberation movements like Algeria’s National Liberation Front (FLN), Mozambique’s Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in the 1960s. The party provided ideological and military training and also donated material supplies to support the guerrilla warfare against colonial minority regimes thus paving way for Africa’s political independence. As most of these liberation movements took power after waging successful struggles, the CPC’s ideological values and influence was visible in both their governance and rhetoric.
In Africa’s post-independence period and more precisely since the beginning of the twenty-first century, China and Africa have built a balanced, comprehensive, complementary, and mutually beneficial relationship encompassing the diplomatic, economic and socio-cultural fronts. In the last two decades China has become Africa’s foremost economic development partner. During this period, China has advanced almost US$150 billion of much needed credit lines to Africa, accumulated over US$305 billion in investment stock while its trade with the continent peaked at US$208 billion in 2019 cementing its status as Africa’s largest trade partner. China’s more than 10000 firms in Africa have been hard at work laying thousands of kilometers of rail and road tracks across Africa and setting up numerous power plants thus helping connect and power up the continent and building a foundation for a potential industrial revolution. Chinese enterprises companies like Huawei and ZTE have buried tens of thousands of kilometers of fibre optics across Africa setting in motion a digital transformation. The impact of China’s economic interventions in Africa goes beyond the shiny brick and mortar projects. Through direct employment opportunities, expansion of productive capacity and technology transfer, China has made huge yet-to-be-computed contributions to Africa’s welfare gains. Through the Forum for Africa-China Cooperation (FOCAC) China and Africa have managed to forge a strong geopolitical partnership which has seen the two parties offering each other mutual support on global platforms and global issues. Africa has sided with China’s digital technology firms which have been blacklisted in the West on unproven allegations of compromising their national security. China on the other hand has gone an extra mile in helping Africa access anti-epidemic material to contain the Covid-19 pandemic from personal protective equipment to millions of vaccines. African countries had been left exposed after they had been muscled out of the market for these essential supplies by the wealthy countries in the West. China’s forays into Africa have been deliberately orchestrated by the CPC.
The CPC’s journey is a source of inspiration to Africa and a testament that the continent can also transform itself into an economic powerhouse through determination and hard work. When the CPC assumed power in 1949, it inherited a complex, troubled and downtrodden society reeling from decades of internal turmoil and foreign invasions. Under the CPC’s steady hand, China has emerged as a global economic and technological powerhouse with a GDP of over US$14 trillion only second to that of the United States. China’s GDP per capita increased from a paltry US$89.52 in 1960 to the current US$10 261. Beyond the numbers, the quality of China’s economic growth has been impressive. China has used its economic wealth to completely eliminate extreme poverty among its people thus setting the country on track to a prosperous socialist society. Since 1978, China has lifted over 800 million people from poverty – the largest successful poverty alleviation programme in human history. This reflects the CPC’s founding ideals of an egalitarian and peaceful society. The CPC’s belief in science and education has seen China staking its claim as a global technology powerhouse by producing cutting edge technologies in biotech, agriculture, communication, manufacturing, transport, engineering and most recently in space. These technologies are poised to make an immeasurable contribution to the welfare of mankind. As part of the CPC’s commitment to global peace, China is also increasingly becoming active in the UN’s peacekeeping missions and contributing its own troops as well to several of the missions, some of which are in Africa.
The CPC did not start from a pretty place and none of the achievements it has registered in its 100 years of existence were guaranteed. Indeed, the path walked by the CPC has been improbable and difficult, especially considering that the party cast aside the dominant western paradigms and adopted its own economic and political model. However, the tenacity, imagination and ingenuity of its leaders and the Chinese people has paid off handsomely. As China and Africa’s relationship continues to grow in leaps and bounds, the latter should learn from the example and experiences of the CPC. Africa is still struggling with widespread poverty, economic stagnation and inequality. Hence, African leaders and their people should reflect on the CPC’s 100-year journey and especially the 72 years the CPC has been in governance. There are rich lessons from which Africa could benefit. More than its material contributions, the power of its example may be the CPC’s greatest contribution to Africa.
The preceding is the opinion of the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of CGTN Africa, its employees, or staff.
David Monyae is the Director for the Centre for Africa – China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.