By Matthias Muindi,CGTN Senior editor
The Communist Party of China on 1 July celebrated its centenary. Even to its critics, this is a milestone achievement, unmatched by few political parties governing a major global power. It is also a testimony of the endurance of the organization, which was founded and thrived during one of the most turbulent centuries in both China’s modern history and rest of the world.
Celebrating this achievement was both thinkable and unthinkable to the founders of the CPC.
It was thinkable, since the later conduct of CPC leaders has shown that these officials often take long-term view of their political and economic projects notwithstanding the challenges and timeframe. It was unthinkable, considering the political context in which the CPC was founded. The party was established as the world grappled with the effects of the end of the First World War. A child of this socio-political instability, the CPC survived later global commotions of the 20th century – Second World War, Cold War, Islamist militancy among other challenges – to now celebrate its centenary.
Old Liberation Comrades
It is a celebration that Africa shares, since the CPC and key political parties on the continent are old comrades joined together in their quest for liberation from Western colonialism.
Ties were forged at the Bandung Conference held in April 1955 in Indonesia, which was a landmark forum, in terms of setting modern relations between African and Asian political movements in the fight against Western foreign domination.
Political links established at the Bandung forum sowed the seeds of the cooperation the CPC enjoys with some African political movements to date. Eight years after the conference, late Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai visited Ghana, Algeria, Egypt, Guinea, Somalia, Morocco, and Sudan, as the liberation struggle escalated across Africa.
Starting from this visit, the CPC sought to work together with nascent political parties in Africa, which were then laying down the foundations of their respective liberation struggles. These liberation movements sought material, ideological and moral support from the CPC, which they got. Today, recipients of such support govern South Africa (ANC), Namibia (SWAPO), Zimbabwe (ZANU-PF), Tanzania (CCM) and Angola (MPLA), among other African countries.
Africa’s Older Brother
During Africa’s decolonization struggles and the immediate period, the CPC became like an older brother to political parties in Africa, sharing its experience of transitioning from a liberation movement to a ruling party. Sharing its historical morality and experiences helped some of the party’s partners on the continent to face challenges similar to those the party faced after taking power in 1949.
Interestingly, the CPC was sharing these experiences as it was busy re-orientating itself from the mid-1960s onwards through the Cultural Revolution. This program saw a strategic party focus shift from an organization controlled by top functionaries to that dedicated to the aspirations of ordinary members and people. Some of the policy changes that emerged from the Cultural Revolution possibly insulated the CPC from implosion, which hit some of its counterparts across the world following the end of the Cold War 1989.
The demands of the Cultural Revolution never became an obstacle to the CPC’s relations with its African partners and throughout the late 1960s and 1970s the organization continued to back anti-colonial struggles in Africa, plus also support development programs in some newly-independent countries on the continent.
Economic Reforms & Transformation
The second main strategic intersection with Africa’s ruling parties was the start of economic reforms in China in 1978. This fundamental policy shift later demonstrated that with a dedicated leadership an alternative economic model was possible and that transformation of entire society was a realistic prospect.
The changes attracted admiration in Africa and influenced geopolitics on the continent.
African governments and ruling parties, disillusioned with the economic stagnation, embraced key elements of the Chinese economic model and the CPC as a partner as they sought to replicate economic success in their societies. These are not just traditional leftwing parties, but also liberal ones founded on the ethos of capitalism.
Attracting both liberation and liberal political movements is a significant achievement for the CPC. It required the removal of ideological preconditions, which the party did successfully, enabling the CPC to earn trust from its African counterparts and increase its network of partners across the continent. By 1988, the CPC had established relations with 40 political parties across Sub-Saharan Africa. Today, nearly every national political party in Africa’s 54 states either has a working relationship with the CPC or aspires to have one. The ties have strengthened as China sustains support to Africa in the current fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The alliance with Africa has worked, since the CPC remains unhinged by colonial legacy. It is also buttressed by China’s foreign policy of non-interference and respect for national sovereignty. There is no indication the party-to-party relations that place primacy on economic development and cooperation with China will collapse any time soon, especially as the world now seeks to economically recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, the emphasis by these ties of on socio-economic development is a message that resonates with both the African elite and ordinary people, cementing China’s foothold in Africa.
As a result, across Africa, China and its investments are now visible in the remotest corners in Africa, where the country has become synonymous with major infrastructure projects or as the source of affordable day-to-day household goods for ordinary people. These are transformations that are palpable to ordinary Africans and relate with their every-day lives, marking a key achievement by the CPC in Africa: transporting development from an abstract economic concept to people’s living rooms.
Sustainable economic progress requires dedicated political leadership and robust organizations, committed to discipline and strategic goals. The CPC has since 2000 sought to boost these operational requirements of its African counterparts through the organization of on-ideological training seminars, invite African party leaders to attend some of the key meetings of the CPC or support the construction of training institutions for future African leaders.
In July 2018, the CPC organized a meeting for 36 African political parties in Tanzania during which the issues of durability, staying relevant and collaboration were discussed.
This support is likely to help African parties learn the CPC on long-term stability of their respective institutions. Some of the most enduring political parties in Africa appear those that have strong and enduring relations with the CPC. They include the ANC (South Africa), MPLA (Angola), SWAPO (Namibia), and CCM (Tanzania). Leaders of these parties have benefited from training facilitated by the CPC or now operate their own leadership schools funded or supported by China.