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Why Chinese model has not benefited Africa

21 Mar 2021 at 08:44hrs | Views
Diverse views have been expressed about the Chinese socio-political and economic model.

These range from the Chinese themselves, who, of course, uncritically praise their system as a faultless model, their competitors in the West who condemn it outright as reprehensible and undesirable, and Africans who are of mixed, confused and unthoughtout emotions.

Some folks from the continent, who are unquestioning disciples of the market, naively, unscientifically, and primitively denounce the Chinese model primarily on behalf of their Western associates or because of their terrible experiences with, and/or fears of, a disempowering and corrupt one-party state.

This disparaging and disdainful African attitude is exacerbated by the parasitic and self-serving nature of some of the current (and past) Chinese business expeditions in the continent.

"The Beijing model is a nonstarter. It leads to a corrupt oneparty state. That system is evil. In any case, look at how the Chinese are short-changing us in business deals on the continent."

That is the African pontificating in both ignorance and despair, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

Most Africans who defend, eulogise and embrace the Chinese political and economic system are usually unrepentant despots with an insatiable affinity for undemocratic practices, the one-party state system, misgovernance and corruption.

They have an inordinate lust for autocratic power and unreservedly despise accountability, transparency and good governance.

In their wicked and perverted minds, the Chinese model would deliver goodies to fulfil their self interests as political elites.

However, they do not express their diabolic intentions publicly. instead, they say: "Development is more important than democracy. Let us follow the Chinese way and attain radical economic transformation. We must pick up lessons from China." Of course, learning from China is what they do not do.

Well, both groups of Africans are wrong in their assessment of the Chinese model.

Their critiques are as unsound as they are unscientific.

Indeed, there is poverty and a dearth of analysis with respect to the efficacy of the Chinese political and economic system.

China and Africa: The state of play right from the start, let us state the summarised factual and empirical position, which we can then demonstrate and explain in the ensuing discussion.

The Chinese model has worked for China and the Chinese people. There is no question about that. However, no African country has been able to replicate this model in its entirety effectively. Hence, no African country has unlocked any of the positive attributes that China has enjoyed. Furthermore, Chinese business activities on the continent have largely failed to advance African economies.

In some cases, the Chinese have ruined African economies by egregious natural resource stripping without beneficiation, ruinous financing arrangements and supporting and sustaining despotic regimes.

Hence, the Chinese model has neither benefited Africa as a transportable developmental model nor as a basis for commercial diplomacy, trade and economic partnership.

Yes, the Chinese model and activities have not and will not likely benefit Africa in the future.

Yes, Africa state capitalism (efforts to replicate the Chinese model) has failed in Africa. These are fair observations.

However, one cannot judge the Chinese model by African failures to replicate it.

There are good reasons why this decontextualised adoption of the model has been unsuccessful.

More importantly, the Chinese relationship with Africa post-liberation has been, for the most part, parasitic and self-serving.

This has damaged Africa while benefiting China. You cannot blame China for that.

We must blame ourselves.

The Chinese folks doing business in post-independent Africa are not the comrades of Chairman Mao's era.

They are shrewd businesspeople, in most cases shrewder and savvier than their western counterparts.

They are viciously and mercilessly chasing cash.

The Chinese in Africa are not Father Christmas. There is no love, comradeship or charity involved. Just cash.

If the African is disorganised, does not put together a capable technocratic team selected on merit, they will be shafted by the Chinese.

They do not think twice about taking advantage of an incompetent and desperate government.

When that happens, why do we blame the Chinese?

We must blame our incorrigibly incompetent and corrupt selves.

Even the so-called donations from China to African countries, they are not exactly free.

Each freebie is tied to a commercial sale in which the African has no say on the unit price.

The foolish African ends up paying more than they would have paid if it were a purely commercial transaction. sad. Tragic.

The current Covid-19 vaccine donations and sales to African countries are a good demonstration of this maleficence — the Chinese mischief.

More significantly, why are we approaching China as small, fragmented states without bargaining power?

We must not engage with China as individual countries.

No. We are too small to unlock any meaningful economic value as individual nations.

We get short-changed. even south Africa, with 58.6 million people and a Us$351 billion GDP, is too small to engage with China meaningfully.

The same applies to Nigeria, with its population of 201 million and a GDP of Us$448 billion.

We must engage with China as one continental economic bloc — the African Union (AU) and its AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area).

This is a colossal economy consisting of a population and market of 1,3 billion Africans, a potential GDP of Us$2,5 trillion and a massive collective resource base.

The scale, scope and impact of this gigantic continental bloc will give us the leverage to unlock economic value when we interface with China.

This AU framework should be the only front we present to China in all negotiations, deals and financial relationships.

There should be no bilateral deals between any individual African country and China.

As just explained, sA and Nigeria are not big enough to unlock economic value in bilateral deals with China.

Indeed, there are many good reasons why the Africa-China relationships have not benefited Africa.

However, these terrible African experiences cannot then be transplanted into a simplistic dictum that the Chinese model does not work. No.

The Chinese model has worked extremely well for China. Period. Whether it has helped Africa or will help Africa is a different conversation.

Strengths of the Chinese model

The Chinese model's strengths are ably articulated by Zhang Weiwei, a Chinese international relations professor at Fudan University.

He is also a senior research fellow at the Chunqiu institute. Weiwei is the author of the book, The China Wave: Rise of a Civilisational State.

He identifies merits and flaws in the Chinese system and contrasts the China model with Western equivalents.

He argues that although the Chinese model is not perfect, it is a strong alternative model to Western ones and more significantly, it has delivered for the Chinese people.

China's economic ascendancy has attracted global attention, and many pundits and scholars have focused on the country's economic aspects of the model.

However, equally important are the political aspects of the model. Quietly, Beijing has established a system of meritocracy called "selection and election" where competent leaders are selected on the basis of performance and broad support after a vigorous process that includes screening, opinion surveys, internal evaluations and elections.

This process is anchored in the Confucian tradition of meritocracy - a Chinese philosophical framework.

Leaders are judged, appraised, and chosen based on their experience and competence in poverty eradication, job creation, local economic growth, social development, and, increasingly, environmental protection.

The Chinese model is organised around the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with its various structures such as the National People's Congress, the politburo of the CCP, and CCP advisory panels anchored in their Chinese concepts of solidified consensus, democratic supervision, dynamic democratic centralism, continuous renewal and rejuvenation.

All this is grounded in socialism and capitalism with Chinese characteristics.

They put a premium on Chinese culture, values, history and interests.

According to the assertive and overconfident Weiwei: "Today's Chinese system of meritocracy makes it inconceivable that anyone like George W. Bush or Donald Trump could ever come close to the position of top leadership."

What a vicious, but incisive putdown of the world's leading democracy!

Indeed, the much-touted Western popular democracy model has its own weaknesses.

It has been described as "the least bad option", which allows for the exit of bad leaders like Trump.

Nevertheles, why does the system even allow the ascendancy of such ignoramuses to the presidency?

The Chinese are not impressed by that flaw.

The Chinese model embodies a meritocratic system of "the best of the best options", where leaders of the highest expertise, capacity and calibre are chosen.

The system combines the best option of selecting well-tested competent leaders and the least bad option of ensuring the exit of incompetent and corrupt ones. in fact, corrupt leaders are shot!

None of the African leaders who have tried to copy the Chinese model uncreatively has executed any of their colleagues for corruption.

In fact, they prosecute and incarcerate those who fight against corruption.

Surely, the Chinese model cannot work in such a corruption-tolerant environment.

Let us say more about the calibre and pedigree of the Chinese leader.

A brief review of recent key Chinese leaders' qualifications shows the preponderance of highly technical expertise in particular engineering.

The following recent Chinese presidents demonstrate this: Xi Jinping (chemical engineer), Hu Jintao (civil engineer) and Jiang Zemin (electrical engineer).

A similar pattern is observed with respect to Chinese premiers: Wen Jiabao (geo-mechanical engineer/postgraduate), Zhu rong (electrical engineer) and Li Keqiang (lawyer and PhD in economics).

The politburo standing committee (PsC) is the supreme organ that consists of the Chinese Communist Party's top leadership.

Historically it has been composed of five to 11 members, and currently, it has seven members.

Over the past three decades, on average, 80% of the PSC members have been engineers.

There you have it, Africans — technology-savvy leadership matters.

Our governments are dominated by lawyers, political scientists, economists, business majors, historians, teachers and noisy unskilled activists.

Some African countries have never had an engineer in Cabinet. Why are we surprised if our efforts to replicate the Chinese fail?

It is also important to note that every 10 years, all the top leaders are changed without exception in the Chinese model.

There is a new president and a new premier every decade, without exception.

That is political renewal and rejuvenation on steroids, achieved without popular democracy.

Of course, African leaders who eulogise the Chinese model do not like this aspect.

For example, Robert Mugabe was in power for 37 years, Kenneth Kaunda (27 years), Julius Nyerere (21 years) and Muammar Gaddafi for 42 years.

Obviously, this lack of leadership renewal is part of the rationale why any efforts at duplicating the Chinese model have been disastrous on the continent.

Of course, in 2018, the Chinese took a strategic review of the two-term limits (10-year renewal) to accommodate their rapid growth ambitions and address their geopolitical concerns through ensuring continuity and strong leadership.

Again, this shows that model is dynamic and can be changed by the Chinese in pursuit of Chinese interests.

It is not some dogmatic and unchangeable disposition borrowed or imposed from some foreign land.

They introduced it, and it served its purpose.

Circumstances demanded a different tactic, so they changed the provision.

In future, depending on their strategic interests and prevailing challenges, they might re-introduce it.

That is the Chinese model, totally controlled by the Chinese.

They do not have to please any prying and uninvited external players, such as the United States.

Their retort to the Americans would be very apt and crude: "Mind your business. Our economy is performing better than yours. If we withdraw our investments from your country, your economy will collapse! More importantly, we will soon be overtaking you GDP-wise anyway. Give us a break!" When you are successful, no one can patronise you. Game recognises game.

Indeed, it is self-evident that the Chinese model is more about leadership, rather than showmanship and ability to raise campaign finance, as exemplified by the United States.

We must understand that China's meritocratic governance challenges the traditional dichotomy of "democracy versus autocracy". The content or substance is as
important as the form.

Within the one-party state system, the Chinese have delivered good governance, competent leadership, poverty eradication, and shared economic prosperity.

Despite its many limitations, including a democratic deficit and disrespect of human rights, the Chinese model has produced the world's fastest-growing economy and has dramatically enhanced the quality of life for most Chinese people.

Successes of the Chinese model

At this point, it is instructive to enumerate the successes of the Chinese model.

Let us walk through some of the statistics that demonstrate how the model has worked for the country.

China was able to pull 800 million people out of poverty since 1978. They ended abject poverty (US$2 a day existence) in February 2021.

Their GDP is US$14.3 trillion, the second largest after United States (US$21.4 trillion).

In fact, China is poised to overtake the United States as the world biggest economy in 2027.

In March 2021, experts in the United States predict that China will be the world's artificial intelligence (AI) superpower ahead of the United States in AI innovations and other Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies (4IR).

Clearly, it is an undisputed fact that the Chinese model delivered and continues to deliver economic prosperity for its citizens while propelling China towards unquestionable global dominance.

From a backward and struggling nation right into the second biggest economy globally, now closing in to be the biggest economy in the world.

That is a miracle. A nuclear power with the largest army in the world and a thriving space programme.

*This is an excerpt from Arthur Mutambara's upcoming book: In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream: Volume 3

Source - the standard
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