BY KISEMEI MUTISYA
Africa suffered years of European colonialism with the result that she lost her pride, identity, dignity and self-esteem. But it is not unusual for nations once colonized to rise to the occasion and reclaim its powerful position in world politics. Such is the narrative of china that Africa needs to ponder and learn from.
Although China did not suffer from European colonialism the way Africa did, China preserved its language, identity and culture regardless of foreign intrusion. Africa on the other hand lost its cultural heritage hook, line and sinker to the Europeans and never reclaimed it.
Whereas Africa has relied on the unworkable western political and economic systems otherwise dictated by the IMF and the World Bank, the Chinese created their own systems based on their own national interests by applying socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Although China pursued capitalism in parts of the country, guided capitalism with bold political leadership and economic plan from 1950s onwards enabled China to register higher economic growth over 30 years becoming, in the process, an economic superpower.
The Western model of liberal democracy and capitalism for Africa has produced unmitigated poverty even when the continent registers higher economic growth. Indeed, poverty and underdevelopment have come to define Africa.
By the time China began its open door policy and restructuring of its own industries, it had developed competent state owned industries and planned development. State governed and regulated markets to the extent that one can refer to China as a developmental state. In 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), it had invested heavily on infrastructure.
It has become an article of faith that only private sector can be the engine of growth and development in Africa. This is despite the overwhelming evidence from East Asia and China in particular that state owned enterprises could be drivers of the economy, even better than the private sector. Examples arise- China National Petroleum, State grid, Industrial Commercial Bank of China and Sinopec group among other economic giants. The state must be directly involved in the economy to realize its national interests.
On the contrary, Africa has relied on the market forces all along with devastating effects, which are beyond the scope of this piece. This is one area where African alternative is lacking. China has promoted its own brands and made its citizens more conscious of the economy and the Chinese brand. The information and communication technology sector has seen China rival Europe and USA by establishing powerful brands such as RenRen, Weibo, youku and Baidu. Haier Corporation is a household name in home appliances.
The secret to Chinese success and rise lies in their political system that has the courage to understand that liberal democracy will destroy the much they have gained. Indeed with a population of over 1.3 billion people, it would be hard to keep the people united. The liberal democracy focuses on short-term solutions and brings the worst in political leadership.
Those in the West who have occupied top leadership will have no chance in a system that is merit based and seeks the best from the people. In Africa, we have embraced mediocre leadership on flimsy grounds that the people have elected the leaders. The West is happy because such a system would only make Africa a hopeless continent. After end of the cold war, Africa had to contend with choice less democracy and economic growth without development. China has been able to exploit its comparative advantage while advancing its competitiveness internationally.
So confident are the Chinese that when the global economic crises emerged in 2008, China was busy implementing its own economic stimulus plan with remarkable outcomes. To be sure, the Chinese economy grew by 9% and construction activity notable across china. So the Chinese have chosen a system that serves its national interest and while ensuring stability.
In Africa, we have abandoned systems that are organic and embraced systems that have failed even in Europe and North America. For example, Africa abandoned the Lagos Plan of Action, Abuja Treaty and NEPAD initiative and this has been the pattern since 1979 when organic development initiatives were mooted for the first time in Liberia. The question remains why Africa is so ignorant of evidence laid bare in Asia and continue doing things the same way and expect different results.
Most recently, the American lead global war against terrorism has seen fanatical support among the African political leaders conveniently seeking to trade off democratic gains to support the war as opposed to development of core areas where Africa has competitive advantage such as agriculture. China has supported the war provided it serves its national interests while Africa is fighting surrogate wars on behalf of USA in exchange for military aid and training. Africa is now a host to western troops or Special Forces aimed at eradicating terrorists or their sympathizers. Indeed AFRICOM is likely to find safe host in Africa as a counter terrorism strategy. It is inconceivable for China to allow USA Special Forces to permanently or temporarily stay within its territory for the purpose of peace and security. Like the cold war, the war against terrorism is proving to be the most counterproductive in Africa’s history as it erodes even the little gains registered over the last decade.
The lesson one can draw from China is that an external force cannot secure or stabilize another country regardless of how powerful it is. Nations must secure themselves by ensuring domestic stability and resolving issues that might trigger conflicts and war.
The cardinal lesson then that Africa should learn from China is policy shift and limitations of liberal democracy. It is true the Chinese model has its own limitations just like liberal democracy and market economy but for a continent that ranks low in every variable, taking a risk and changing the course of the river would make us cross the Rubicon and change the path of Africa’s development. It is important to also bear in mind that should Africa rise, another power and civilization will decline and fall, as Africa is the last frontier.