I have spent the past three weeks touring the People’s Republic of China, a very fascinating country.
Candid Comment,Brezhnev Malaba
In the city of Jinhua, situated in Zhejiang, which is the country’s richest province (by per capita GDP), I asked the editor of a local Communist party-controlled newspaper how many journalists were serving prison sentences for committing the “crime” of journalism. There was an uneasy silence before the propaganda chief replied: “Not that I know of.” As soon as he uttered those words, his minions burst out in unrestrained laughter. Everyone in that boardroom knew that the propaganda chief was lying through his teeth.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China had the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world last year. Thirty-eight scribes have been deprived of their liberty.
China’s appalling record on press freedom is a blot on the conscience of a country whose far-reaching economic reforms have debunked textbook assumptions about the nexus between “democracy” as defined by Westerners and the lived reality of socio-economic prosperity as experienced by the people of China. Reform is vital to the survival and growth of any nation. In the Zimbabwean context, Zanu PF’s failure and refusal to reform is at the very heart of the country’s multi-faceted crisis.
President Robert Mugabe’s government — which wastes no opportunity to tell the world that China is Zimbabwe’s “all-weather friend” — is dangerously stuck in a time warp characterised by strategic ineptitude, organisational decay, policy torpor and primitive accumulation.
The Chinese people have learnt the painful way that ideological dogma is a waste of time. In my discussions with the Chinese, whenever the Cultural Revolution was mentioned, I noticed that they would wince and grimace in shame. The Cultural Revolution, a catastrophic socio-political movement from 1966 to 1976, ruined China. It was a decade of social, political and economic upheaval and chaos.
Pointless dogma does not work. Everywhere I went in China, people emphasised to me that a nation can only prosper through pragmatism and not empty sloganeering. The thinking of the average Chinese politician is worlds apart from that of a typical Zimbabwean politician. The emphasis is on making a practical difference in people’s lives and not self-aggrandisement.
Through reform, China has shifted from a closed society to an increasingly open one. Administratively, there has been a change from centralisation to decentralisation. From rule of man, the society now strives to embrace the rule of law. More importantly, lifelong tenure in politics is frowned upon, which explains why a life presidency is not allowed and there is an age limit (67 years) for the 25 members of the Political Bureau. The benefits of this rapid transformation are countless: the world’s second biggest economy, hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty, superb public infrastructure, technological advancement, a huge jump in foreign direct investment, and a massive improvement in overall quality of life.
Is Mugabe learning anything at all from China?