“Former Liberation Movements of Southern Africa Leading Cadres Workshop 2022 at the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School” is printed in large, Mandarin characters on an expansive banner featured prominently in the school’s Auditorium Hall. It is buttressed on both sides by images of two people shaking hands, presumably and African and Chinese. Above it on an even longer side reads “New Development in the New Era: Exploration by and Exchanges between the CPC and the Former Liberation Movements of Southern Africa,” also printed in Mandarin.
China funded this leadership school to advance Beijing’s “party-to-party diplomacy,” exporting its communist model of governance to developing African countries.
On February 23, 2022, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan collaborated with Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), African National Congress (ANC), Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), and Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) to inaugurate the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Leadership School (MJNLS) in the Kibaha District, Pwani Region of Tanzania.
The school received $40 million (USD) in funding from the Chinese Communist Party and was named after Tanzania’s former President and the first chairman of the CCM Julius Nyerere. “To learn history properly is to overcome all the primitive evils of imperialism and racialism,” commended President Nyerere.
That is the acclaimed goal of this school: the collective pursuit of liberation through socialism. Specifically, the Chinese approach to socialism. Predictably their use of the word “liberation” has a distinctly anti-Western connotation. During a seminar held in May at the school, Song Tao, Minister of the Communist Party of China’s International Department, urged in his opening address:
In the face of the changes and the pandemic both unseen in a century, the CPC is ready to strengthen experience exchange in state governance and administration with the six parties, promote practical cooperation in various areas, practice true multilateralism, jointly oppose hegemony and power politics, safeguard the legitimate rights and interests and overall interests of developing countries, and promote the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
When emphasizing liberation, Chinese leaders are specifically emphasizing China’s supposed role in past independence efforts and the liberating effects of their model of governance.
Adams Bodomo, professor of African studies at the University of Vienna and member of the Center for China-Africa International Relations, notes that for Beijing “the goal is clearly to influence African youth to make them more understanding of the Chinese-style governance model, and perhaps to promote it in their respective countries.” Courses will likely emphasize the “heritage of liberation” and recall China’s friendship during this time. If Chinese instructors do give explicit governing advice, they would be ignoring Beijing’s renown policy of “non-interference.”
China’s close connection with Tanzania and Julius Nyerere began in the 1960s during Nyerere’s presidency. Priya Lal details the progression towards Chinese-influenced, Tanzanian socialism in a chapter of Mao’s Little Red Book. Nyerere embarked on a six-week “Long March” through the newly independent Tanzania in December 1966. He advocated for socialism and self-reliance. Nyerere framed socialism using the concept of ujamaa, “familyhood,” pushing the “ideological contours of a radical approach to national development based upon collective hard work, popular agrarian transformation, and a resolutely anti-colonial stance.” The Arusha Declaration framed ujamaa as an exercise in recovering traditional African socialism. However, the movement borrowed heavily from Mao, including incorporating phrases like the “Cultural Revolution” and “Long March” and the emphasis on “self-reliance, mass politics, and peasant primacy.”
Mao’s Little Red Book was translated into English and Swahili and widely distributed at affordable prices. Nyerere and TANU (Tanzania’s ruling party) continually emphasized that China was a result of the success of their approach to socialism. They even reproduced their own Little Red Book, informally known as the “little blue book,” which repeated themes of “African Revolution” and “African Unity.” Tanzanian schoolchildren wore badges with Mao’s image. “China is the biggest and the most powerful of the developing countries – indeed, it is the only developing country which can challenge imperialism on equal terms,” Nyerere urged, “China is undergoing the greatest ideological revolution the world has ever seen, with anti-imperialism as its core.”
When the school opened in February, Xi Jinping celebrated, “As the world is undergoing changes rarely seen in a century, China and Africa need to strengthen solidarity and cooperation more than ever to cope with risks and challenges, promote common development and improve people’s well-being.” During the conference held in May, Xi urged students to “carry the spirit of cooperation” and promote friendship between Africa and China.
Though this school is hoping to train leaders from South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, what is actually being taught is still quite murky. Every time I checked, both “Course List” links appeared to be broken. There is no information provided on the teachers. It is only clear that the school hopes to demonstrate how Chinese-style governance not only exemplifies how to maintain social peace, but also can “stimulate economic liberation in Africa.”
Not all Tanzanians are excited by the Chinese funded school. Andrew Bomani commented:
I must confess the inauguration left me with a bitter aftertaste at the fad that has taken root in Africa whereby Chinese assistance is sought in areas that should be our own source of pride. How is it that our countries lack the wherewithal to develop an institution geared towards honouring our very own luminary?
Bomani is correct in noting that the path of African liberation does not run through Chinese imperialism.
Many African countries have begun making a habit of accepting the “liberation” efforts of Russia and China who promise multilateralism and Western independence. In Mali, for instance, Russian influence sparked a coup leading to the rejection of French troops assisting the fight against local terrorism in favor of the Russian private military company, the Wagner Group. Russian mercenaries come in with promises of liberation but in reality are responsible for the destruction of homes, sexual violence, torture, racketeering, and mass executions in the countries they inhabit.
No path toward liberation will involve Russian or Chinese intervention.