Is the Communist Party of China Exporting its Ideology to Africa?

Early analysis of China’s 21st-century foreign policy towards Africa focused mainly on its economic interests and impact. Now, there is growing concern about China’s political motives. The question of whether the Chinese Communist Party is trying to promote or export its authoritarian system and ideology to Africa has become a hot topic in Western political and policy circles. For example, a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission highlights how China sees Africa as a promising testing ground for its political and economic governance ideas, using its strong presence to promote an illiberal governance model.

By Hagan Sibiri, Ph.D.
Dr. Hagan Sibiri is a Senior Research Fellow at the Africa-China Centre for Policy and Advisory (ACCPA) and a member of the Ghana Institute of International Affairs (GhIIA).

The main question is how the Chinese Communist Party spread their political ideology to African political parties. They do this through methods like setting up ideological training schools, party-to-party training, and other knowledge exchange and scholarship programmes. These efforts are not new. Back in the 1950s, the Communist Party saw Africa as a key battleground for ideas and offered party-to-party and other training programmes to aid African liberation movements. However, the scope and dedication to these programmes have grown substantially in recent years.

Since the inception of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, China has notably ramped up programmes and initiatives tailored for African political leaders and government officials. The Chinese government’s initial white paper on its African policy in 2006 highlighted the importance of exchanging political and development ideas. This commitment was further underlined in the 2015 white paper, emphasizing China’s dedication to fostering political and knowledge-based exchanges.

In February 2022, a political school called the ‘Nyerere Leadership School’ was opened in the African country of Tanzania. Unlike typical party schools established by domestic political parties to train their members, this school is funded and built by the Chinese Communist Party. Its purpose is to train and spread ideological ideas to ruling political parties in Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. In a letter marking the school’s launch, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed the Chinese Communist Party’s commitment to collaborating with African political parties. This move is notable as it coincides with President Xi’s efforts to integrate his political thoughts and ideology into both the Chinese constitution and academic curriculum.

The opening of the ideological training school in Africa clearly shows the aim to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s ideas in African nations. A recent report by Axios reveals that teachers linked to the Communist Party are sent from Beijing to instruct African political leaders on prioritising the party over government and judiciary and stressing strict party discipline to maintain ideology.

Apart from the ideological training school in Africa, China’s educational aid to Africa now includes scholarships, seminars, and study tours for African party and government officials. China has significantly increased these efforts, granting tens of thousands of government scholarships and training opportunities to African officials. During the last China-Africa summit in Senegal, President Xi committed to inviting 10,000 high-level African officials to training seminars and workshops in China. These sessions offer free political education in Chinese Universities, covering topics such as the Communist Party’s organization and its role in lifting China from poverty to becoming the world’s second-largest economy within a few decades.

In summary, the Chinese Communist Party’s involvement in these training programmes and its willingness to work with African political parties, suggests a strategic move to promote and integrate its ideology into the governance systems of these nations. However, while the Chinese Communist Party may aim to spread its political ideology, it is important not to overlook African countries’ overall interest and receptiveness to such initiatives. This interest primarily arises from Africa’s shared desire for collaboration to bolster the capability and governance efficiency of its nations. Also, some African political figures view the Chinese Communist Party as a role model and recognize the attractiveness of China’s political and economic concepts, which are attributed to China’s remarkable economic development.