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China’s Communist Party is no example for a democratic nation

Bench-marking with the party is dangerous for political freedom

In 1949, a certain fellow going by the name Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung by other renderings) gathered a bunch of Chinese communists, fought a civil war against the nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kai Shek, won the war and declared the People’s Republic of China, a very large country in East Asia.

Old Chiang Kai Shek, defeated, fled to the island of Taiwan, then a province of China, gave it the name Republic of China, which hitherto referred to the mainland as well, and claimed to be the legitimate leader of China, swearing to one day reunite the country under nationalist rule.

Now Taiwan is a small island nation recognised as such by a dwindling group of non-consequential countries not too keen on their relationships with China. The Communist Party of China, on the other hand, after a lengthy period of deadly fumbling, launched the People’s Republic on an economic trajectory of epic proportions.

For three straight decades, excluding the past few years, China zipped past all but one of the world’s major economies at double-digit speeds. It now rivals America in economic might and, though it has drastically slowed down, is still growing at rates all Western economies can only desire but likely never attain.

However, in its ascendancy to the top of the world, the Communist Party of China has become a veritable case study in authoritarianism, corruption and all the other evils that an omnipotent government can visit on its own subjects. It has successfully maintained a vice-like grip on practically all aspects of its people’s lives, ruling a nation of 1.4 billion people more like a tribal chief would consider his meagre domain.

From its one-child policy, under whose auspices millions of babies were aborted and millions of people subjected to massive human rights abuses and which is now heralding its massive ageing, to its ruthless crushing of grassroots pro-democracy movements, and even the tight-fisted control it maintains over information flow into and out of the country, together with an endless litany of other ills, the Communist Party is the very antithesis of democracy and human rights. That is has been somewhat married pragmatically to a capitalist system makes it even scarier than it otherwise would be.

And yet, hot on the heels of the recent formation of Kenya’s monolithic Jubilee Party came the news that up to 50 of its officials would be travelling to China to “to deepen ties with the Asian giant’s Communist Party” and “train themselves on effective ways of running the party.”

All sounds very noble, until one notices they said the “Communist Party.” For a country that has had multiparty democracy for only two decades, this is alarming news. A political party from a democratic country benchmarking with the communist party of a historically authoritarian state is highly unlikely to yield any democratic results.

Already, many have called this out for the danger it portends. A Prof Kikaya, from the United States International University, quoted by the Daily Nation, said:

“The Communist Party operates like Kanu when Kenya was a single party state. It is the alpha and omega in China operating more in the fashion of what President George Bush Jnr would say, ‘you are either with me or with the terrorists’ (after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the US).”

This is certainly true, but it is a very benign and layman way of putting it. Compared to the Communist Party, KANU was child’s play. While it was un-democratic and authoritarian, it did not have the deadly ideological backing underpinning China’s Communist Party, and eventually lent itself to opposition and overthrow.

The Communist Party is a different monster. Its ideology is one of death, opposed at its core to the very human dignity it purports to protect. For the Communist Party, paranoid pragmatism has been tethered to efficient organisation to keep a whole country swaying to music from the same cords.

I know I have lamented here before that the great malaise afflicting Kenyan politics is a deplorable dearth of ideology and sheer abundance of childish drama. But this is not what I meant when I beseeched for ideology.

Given, the Communist Party has achieved great economic success, pulling a country with more people than the whole African continent out of poverty, and managed at the same time to more or less keep political temperatures from getting too out of hand. It is understandably tempting to envy similar feats.

But a cursory examination of the cost at which that success has come should give anyone tempted to emulate it an enormous reason to reconsider. Attempts at similar achievements would mean scaling back on the commitment to true democracy.

Jubilee Officials might claim they only seek to emulate the model of organisation. But it is nigh impossible to divorce the organisation from the ideology which animates it. Taking one and leaving the other, if pulled successfully, will in itself be a miracle, and probably a disappointing one to the Chinese Communist party consultants who showed up at the launch of the Jubilee Party.

Being friendly with China is one thing. Adopting its ideology, and letting it take tentative steps into influencing Kenyan politics, is another.

Feature Image: Daily Nation.

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