On July 1, 2021, the Communist Party of China (CPC) celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding. It would have been interesting to experience the aura of festivities surrounding this historic event firsthand as I had in the 16 years since I first set foot in China and embraced it as my second home. Nonetheless, this year, I watched the events and galas online while I listened to the sounds of fireworks celebrating the 61st anniversary of my country’s independence from my home in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Amid this festive atmosphere, however, I couldn’t help but contemplate the contrasting differences between these two places I fervently call home, especially considering their similar beginnings.
The People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. And the CPC that rules the country was founded in July 1921 by 50 activists who were united in the cause to rid the country of chaotic feudal rule and harsh imperial occupation. One hundred years on, and against all odds, the Party has thrived, becoming the world’s largest political party with more than 90 million members. Moreover, its leadership has transformed the country into the second-largest economy in the world.
Mogadishu was once called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean for its lavish and distinctly white architectural landscape cradled between green tropical forests and white sand beaches. During the height of colonial occupation of the Somali peninsula, it was where 13 young Somalis gathered to form the Somali Youth League (SYL) on May 15, 1943. This political party would later play an important role in unifying the nation and leading the struggle for its independence. And although the SYL played an important role during the establishment of the Somali Republic and was highly revered by the people, it only survives in the history books and monuments erected in its memory.
According to the World Bank, Somalia’s per capita GDP when it established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China shortly after its independence in 1960 was US$65.48. China’s per capita GDP that year was US$89.52, only 36 percent higher than Somalia’s at that time. Today, after six decades, one political coup and a civil war later, Somalia’s per capita GDP stood at US$309 in 2020, while China’s per capita GDP has risen more than 100 fold to US$10,500 in the same year.
In Mogadishu, a city that once inspired people with its beauty, prosperity, and intoxicating pioneering spirit, residents today struggle to recognize the remnants of that glorious legacy. No one needs wonder why. Sadly, Somalia wasn’t fortunate enough to have the political stability needed to maintain its development trajectory. However, even the most recent efforts to create the semblance of a stable and effective government have often been disappointed by the legacy of fragmentation and disunity that remains rampant across the country.
Around the CPC’s centenary, numerous discussions have attempted to articulate the secret to the CPC’s longevity and predict its future. And although I am not an expert on China’s political history, living in the country as long as I did gave me the chance to witness the CPC succeeding in uniting the Chinese people while utilizing its unique ability to react to new circumstances by quickly adapting and changing. This is perhaps most evident through the reform and opening-up policy which was passed in 1978 at the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee.
In essence, this policy didn’t differ much from ambitious development plans adopted by leaders around the world at that time. In fact, given China’s socio-economic circumstances back then, few were as ambitious as the reform and opening-up policy. However, while most national development plans in many countries were reduced to ink on papers gathering dust in old drawers, this specific policy was able to materialize into tangible results. Most significantly, thanks to the country’s reform and opening up, more than 800 million people have walked out of abject poverty in a few decades.
In my humble view, I believe the CPC’s capacity to unite the Chinese people and inspire their ambitions and efforts towards a common goal was an important part of this success. I say that because, while hard work and perseverance has always been an intrinsic part of China’s culture, the novelty of the CPC has been its ability to channel those dispersed efforts towards a single plan in an unremitting manner. So, guess what happened when that plan hit a roadblock? Did it scrap everything and start over? Not at all, it analyzed its mistakes and quickly adapted and reinvented itself to find a suitable alternative that would ultimately take it to the same destination.
I believe that this perseverance to adhere to the original goals of bringing peace, prosperity and development to the people is why the CPC has thrived over the past 100 years. And as long as the Party is able to stay true to its original aspirations while continuing to adapt and change, I believe it will outlive many skeptics.
China shares a similar history of the struggle against feudal rule and anti-imperialist resistance with Somalia and many other underdeveloped African countries. And while we continue our search in Africa for a political solution that would engender unity, inclusiveness, and sustainable development at home, China has found all of that in CPC leadership.
While many in Africa, a continent with the richest natural resources in the world, are still navigating the labyrinth of seeking optimal political ideals, Chinese people today enjoy cheap energy, efficient infrastructure, adequate healthcare, and world-class education.
If this festive occasion has made me realize anything, it is that it would perhaps be nobler for a country’s political leadership to engage with the everyday realities of common people and aim to change their lives for the better rather than chase elusive ideals.
The author is a Somali scholar, lecturer and associate research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University (IASZNU). She is also the founder and executive director of the Center for East African Studies, IASZNU.