China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste | [ISS] China's government likes to describe its economic system as 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'. Which sounds a bit like a euphemism for 's

China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste

China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste

China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste

China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste

China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste

China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste
China's 'Palate Democracy' May Not Be to Continent's Taste
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China's government likes to describe its economic system as 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'. Which sounds a bit like a euphemism for 'state capitalism'. One doesn't hear Chinese officials referring to their country's political system as 'democracy with Chinese characteristics'. But that would be an adequate label for the descriptions some Chinese officials provide.

This week Professor Fang Ning, Deputy Director of the Institute of Political Science at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), coined the expression 'palate democracy' to characterise China's political system.

To explain this he offered a gastronomic analogy. Western democracies were like Western restaurants where you could order only one style of food - e.g. pizzas in Italy - in each, he explained. Chinese restaurants by comparison offered a variety of cuisines. Likewise the Chinese political system offers a variety of democracies for its people to choose from, to suit every taste.

Maybe something got lost in translation because on the face of it, the analogy suggests the Chinese have greater political choice than Westerners, which seems rather far off the mark. Certainly the one thing not on the menu at the Chinese political restaurant is any party but the Chinese Communist Party (CPC).

It's tempting for Africa, still stuck in deep poverty and inequality, to seek inspiration from China

Put less analogously, however, Fang says Chinese democracy is about adapting the form of democracy to the underlying development needs. It's about consultation and consensus, about consulting different groups for different purposes. By comparison, Western-style elections lock people into one party and government for five years. Quite a few South Africans in the room seemed to agree with him.

Fang was speaking at a seminar in Pretoria on 'Governance and socioeconomic development in China and Africa', organised by South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council and the China-Africa Institute (CAI) based in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China's intention to establish the CAI at the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) last year and the institute was launched in April 2019.

'The CAI aims to enhance mutual learning between Chinese and African civilisations and to strengthen exchanges of their experience in governance and development to provide intellectual support for the Belt and Road construction collaboration and to build the China-Africa community with a shared future,' the Chinese embassy in Pretoria said. The CAI is sponsored by CASS, the well-known centre of Chinese study about Africa.

As in all programmes of 'cooperation' between Africa and the rest of the world, mutuality was emphasised. But it would appear that in fact China's aim for this initiative is mainly to improve governance in Africa. And that in turn is aimed mainly at facilitating the Belt and Road Initiative. This ambitious project sets out to construct a modern Silk Road, by land and by sea - a twin-pronged development corridor connecting China to Europe via Africa and central Asia.

China's ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian said at the seminar that there were two questions to answer: Where are China and Africa going? And what's the best way of getting there?

One thing not on the political menu in China is any party but the Chinese Communist Party

It's clear that Africa would love to get to the same place China has reached today via its phenomenal economic growth over the past 40 years. That has taken it from GDP per capita of US$35 a year in 1949 when the CPC took over the government, to US$156 a year in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping began his 'opening up' economic reforms, to the current US$10 000 a year.

In 1978, more than 97% of Chinese lived in poverty; now more than 97% had escaped from poverty, Lin said. So it's obviously tempting for African countries, still stuck in deep poverty, inequality and unemployment, to seek inspiration from China. To add appeal, Chinese officials never stop reminding African leaders and pundits that they have no history of colonialism in Africa, and therefore should be trusted with their advice.

Lin has been quite critical in the past about the South African government's management of state-owned enterprises. He said at the seminar that despite an abundance of natural and human resources in the country and Africa as a whole, poverty remained a major problem. Why? Governance was the answer, he suggested, both to China's success and Africa's failure.

That may be true but it's one thing for China to offer Africa lessons in better governance - if that means more effective and less corrupt government to underpin more productive economies. It's quite another to suggest that Chinese palate democracy, with no elections and no choice of governing party, is necessarily the best route to such improved governance for African countries.

How China has managed to grow so stupendously is something of a mystery, but there are possible explanations other than its political system - for instance its deep culture, nourished over thousands of years. The formula doesn't necessarily translate well into Africa.

Africa has a lot to learn from China about efficient administration, clean government and hard work

In The future of democracy in Africa, Jakkie Cilliers, Head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies, examined the complex relationship between democracy and development on the continent. Although he found that the many ersatz (my word) democracies in Africa had done little or nothing for development, real democracy did tend to boost development, especially in countries already further up the development path.

Likewise in their book Democracy Works: Rewiring Politics to Africa's Advantage, Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Tendai Biti and Jeffrey Herbst found after a survey of African governments that real democracy - not just regular elections but also the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, and leadership in government and civil society - did empirically correlate with greater economic growth and development.

A Westerner noted after the seminar this week that, 'Those Chinese are so incredibly good at soft diplomacy and adapting their message. Here they speak about communism, socialism and anti-colonialism to attract their prey. And in more liberal contexts, they would put forward free trade and free markets. Obviously China struggles with implementing the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa because of bad governance, so they create an institute to research about it. How clever!'

Indeed. And Africa surely does have a lot to learn from China about efficient administration, clean government, hard work, even sacrificing oneself to the common good (as Lin proposed) - but not to the point of erasing the individual altogether. And not in favour of palate democracy where everything on the menu is fine - as long as it's always the same ruling party.

Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant

Tiny AI Devices Aim to Enrich Farmers and Their Soil

Tiny AI Devices Aim to Enrich Farmers and Their Soil

Rome — A piece of paper no bigger than a business card could enrich struggling coffee farmers and their soil, a growing challenge as temperatures rise and prices fluctuate.

Enveritas, a U.S. non-profit, signed an agreement with International Business Machines Corp (IBM) on Thursday to pilot the AgroPad, which analyses soil samples remotely and quickly.

Powered by Artificial Intelligence, the AgroPad can perform a chemical analysis in 10 seconds, reading nitrate or chloride levels from a drop of water or small soil sample, said IBM.

Enveritas plans to provide the devices for free to farmers in coffee-growing regions of Latin America and Africa and IBM said it aims to make them affordable for everyone. Its target production cost - less than 25 cents.

The non-profit, which works with 100,000 farms, mills and estates in Latin America and Africa, did not say how many would be in the pilot but, if successful, "the plan is to scale it out", CEO David Browning told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coffee farmers have been struggling with a slump in global prices while climate change is threatening vast swathes of land in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Enveritas, which verifies the sustainability of coffee farmers, said most of its growers live on less than $2 a day.

Chemical analysis of soil is vital to improve yields but is complicated, expensive and time consuming as it needs laboratory equipment, said Mathias Steiner from IBM Research - Brazil.

AgroPad costs less and could reduce the use of fertilisers, which would save money and help the environment, said Steiner, one of its inventors.

Last week, engineers from Britain's Brunel University also unveiled an AI device for farming - small red pods, costing £92 ($118) each, that could be planted into the soil.

The pods collect hourly data and would show farmers what the soil needs and where.

($1 = 0.7794 pounds)

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. The Thomson Reuters Foundation isthe charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, and property rights. Visit

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Malawians await ruling on contested presidential poll

Malawians await ruling on contested presidential poll

Over the past four months, Malawians have eagerly followed live broadcasts of witnesses presenting evidence to judges of alleged rigging in an election narrowly won by President Peter Mutharika.

For the first time in the southeast African nation’s history, the court proceedings were aired on private radio stations.

The testimonies, which ended on Friday, challenge the credibility of the May elections that saw Mutharika narrowly secure a second term with 38.5 percent of the vote.

Runner-up Lazarus Chakwera alleges he was robbed of victory in the ballot, which he lost by just 159,000 votes.

His Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the opposition United Transformation Movement (UTM) have petitioned courts to annul the poll.

Presidential election results have never been challenged in court since Malawi’s independence from Britain in 1964.

The opposition bussed in thousands of supporters to Lilongwe for the occasion. They caused mayhem in the capital, blocking roads and throwing stones at the police.

Protesters have been demanding the resignation of the electoral body chief, and many of the demonstrations turned violent.

As interest in the testimonies spiked, the judges allowed some private broadcasters to live stream the proceedings on radio.

“Judges and lawyers are aware of the interest that the live broadcasts have raised among Malawians here and abroad,” Information Minister Mark Botoman said.

In Nthandire, a crowded slum in Lilongwe, it was a common sight to see groups of men glued to their radio sets, following the proceedings late into the night.

“I want to understand how and why the judges would have made the decision,” said 42-year old architect Potential Chitsulo.

Various witnesses have testified before the constitutional court since the hearings started in July.

They presented evidence of tampering to a panel of five judges, including altered ballot papers.

The MCP’s sixth and final witness, IT expert Daud Suleman, demonstrated how the Malawi Electoral Commission’s network and servers were breached and manipulated.

“People are following the case without necessarily going to court,” said journalism lecturer Temwani Mgunda, adding that the broadcasts had helped sustain interest in the case.

Gospel Kazako, the owner of Malawi’s Zodiak Broadcasting station — the biggest in the country — told AFP the broadcasts had spurred political engagement among the people.

“It reveals to me that me that Malawians are no longer passive participants of the electoral process,” Kazako said.

Avid listeners will now have to wait for the ruling. The constitutional court has 45 days to hand down its verdict.

If judges uphold the fraud allegations, fresh polls could be called within a matter of days, according to a former attorney general.

“How the court then will decide on this case is critical,” said a popular online activist known as Lord Denning.

“No wonder there is an almost unanimous attention towards the court by all Malawians and other non-Malawians alike”.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

Africa's top shots: 29 November - 5 December 2019

Africa's top shots: 29 November - 5 December 2019

A selection of the week's best photos from across the continent and beyond:

Pictures from Getty, EPA and Reuters


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