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In Tanzania, China invests in training future African elites

Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School began offering courses in mid-June to aspiring leaders from six southern African countries. The establishment is unique: Beijing has invested $40 million there, and it resembles the schools that have trained generations of Chinese Communist Party cadres.

This school bench is like no other. These are reserved for future political elites in several Southern African countries and are co-financed by China. It is the first Beijing-sponsored regional political school on the African continent.

The first students at the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School in Tanzania started classes there in mid-June. They were welcomed by a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who wished them to “take an active part in promoting China-Africa friendship and carry the spirit of cooperation”. [entre la Chine et le continent africain]”

Six countries are historically associated with China

A total of 120 people attended the brand new facility, which was inaugurated on February 22, occupying 10 hectares of land in Kibah, on the outskirts of the port city of Dar es Salaam. These aspiring leaders hail from six countries – South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia – that all have one thing in common: a historically strong bond between the ruling party and China.

So it is no coincidence that this political training center was born in Tanzania. “A special case is the relationship between two countries: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). [le parti au pouvoir en Tanzanie, NDLR] have maintained close ties since the post-colonial era. The relationship between the two countries was described in Beijing as a ‘friendship for every season’, which is the accepted formula for designating a reliable and long-lasting partner”, underlines Daniela Caruso, an expert on China-African relations at the United Nations University for Peace, Costa Rica.

Before Tanzania, China supported another similar school established by the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa in 2014. “But it was only a local center, so the ambition there is really regional because the school aims to train leaders of six countries, not just one,” said Lina Benabdullah, a researcher at the University of North Carolina (USA), Wake Forest, who specializes in Chinese political soft power in Africa. Worked for decades. .

In all these countries, the leaders belong to the parties that have seized power since the struggle for independence and “who are the main champions of a certain type of socialism in Africa that seems closer to the official Chinese ideology”, explains Adams Bodomo. , Professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna and member of the Center for China-Africa International Relations.

So for Beijing, “having a low-cost platform to promote the Chinese model of governance in Africa,” says Lina Benabdullah. China is already in friendly territory, spending just $40 million to help build this political training center, a drop in the billions Beijing has invested in loans to develop infrastructure in Africa.

Courses with vague outlines

Obert Hodzi, an expert on China’s role in Africa at the University of Liverpool, speculated that the establishment had “everything from the African wing of the Communist Party schools that have trained generations of leaders in China for decades”. For Beijing, “the goal is clearly to influence African youth to understand more about the Chinese-style governance model and perhaps promote it in their respective countries,” adds Adams Bodomo.

But concretely, should the content of these courses put future African leaders on a China-friendly path? Hard to know: links to deployment sites with topics taught don’t work and everything is done to downplay China’s role. Also, no information is provided about the teachers. Only Founding Director, Marcelina Mvula Chizoriga is represented. The economist was a professor of finance and management at the University of Dar es Salaam before joining the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School.

“We can imagine that part of the course will emphasize the tradition of independence movements of these countries and the importance of cooperation between governments in the era of struggle against apartheid in Africa. While recalling the friendship of China to the south,” said Adams Bodomo. .

“It should also be noted that everything related to this establishment depends, in China, on the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party Central Committee, which is in charge of developing relations with ‘friendly’ political parties abroad and is not bound by the same diplomatic constraints as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, For example”, underlines Obert Hodzi of the University of Liverpool

In other words, Chinese instructors who would intervene may ignore the famous doctrine of non-intervention offered by Beijing and advise the regime. “It should be about how to deal with opposition, maintain social peace and how Chinese-style governance can help economic development in African countries,” the researcher said.

“Win” for Beijing and Africa?

For Beijing, “participating in the training of the future ruling class of these countries is also a way to protect its economic and political interests”, assures Daniela Caruso. If students attending these training centers hold positions of responsibility, they will gain a greater understanding of how Beijing does business in their countries. At least that is what the CCP can hope for.

“This is a way to deepen friendly relations with countries to have more reliable allies on the international scene, and who will be more understanding of China’s specific policies, especially regarding the Uyghur Muslim minority,” added Lina Benabdullah, a Wake Forest researcher.

But we should not believe that this school was imposed on African countries who did not want it. “This is what Xi Jinping would call a winning initiative,” Adams Bodomo said. Lina Benabdullah assured that the governments of the six countries concerned are “interested in learning more about the model of governance with a single party which has also been successful economically”.

These courses come at a crucial moment in the political life of these African countries. “All these ruling parties, to one degree or another, are under pressure from the opposition and are at risk of losing power. Matter”, explains Obert Hodzi.

It’s not just Africa’s economy for China

The existence of this school is a reminder that China does not only act out of economic interests in Africa. China’s “New Silk Roads” and huge investments in infrastructure, such as the port of Djibouti or the railway connecting Tanzania to Zambia, have made it seem like all the dollars, rail and concrete in Africa for Beijing. As soft power becomes more important.

But “for those who study Chinese diplomacy, it’s no surprise to see Beijing occupy this space. Hundreds of young Africans have been invited to study in China over the years,” says Lina Benabdullah. It’s a less bling-bling approach and a more long-term process than shovel loans. “This training center proves that these efforts are starting to pay off,” the expert added.

For Daniela Caruso of the University for Peace, it is also not surprising that Beijing is “doing the same as other countries that have promoted similar initiatives, such as Great Britain and the London School of Economics’ Program for African Leadership (PFAL). Former US President Barack Obama in 2010 Salle Young launched the African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which pursues similar goals but leverages different values.

Adams summarizes Bodomo as saying, “It is quite simply a battle that will be most successful in influencing African youth”. The main difference is that “China sees bigger things than, for example, the United States with its Yali program, which does not concern more than a hundred people a year”, Lina Benabdallah points out.

This political training center in Tanzania is perhaps only the beginning. “China is making diplomatic efforts at the best of times for this,” said Obert Hodzi. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing seemed much more willing to provide vaccines than the US, and “the war in Ukraine has left many African countries with the impression that the West is only timidly helping its Ukrainian ally”, he stressed. Obert Hodge. The more the American glow fades in Africa, the more China’s ratings will rise with African countries looking for alternatives. A school like Tanzania can then become a demonstration of Chinese-style soft power.


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