UDA's dalliance with China's Communist Party raises eye brows

UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala gives a gift to the Deputy Organization Department of the Communist Party of China(CPC) Jiang Xinzhi at the UDA head office in Nairobi on March 15, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

How times have changed. To be associated with communism 30 years ago was a direct ticket for a lengthy prison term.

Careers and dreams of politicians and scholars ended up in prison cells while their families were ostracised. Today China dominates many spheres of Kenyans lives and the ruling elite is looking to the East for inspiration and financial salvation. 

As a testimony of how far the country has come from the days Kenya's Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was kicked out of Kanu for being regarded as a communist, a delegation from ruling party, United Democratic Alliance (UDA) will visit China on a mission to learn how the Communist Party of China (CPC) has dominated all spheres of world's second most densely populated country.

During a recent meeting between UDA Secretary General Cleopas Malala and a Chinese delegation led by Chinese Communist Party Executive deputy head of organisation department Jiang Xinzhi, the ruling party sought Sh1 billion from the party to build its official and permanent party headquarters in Nairobi.    

After the meeting, Malala announced that the CPC would assist UDA to establish a leadership school at the party headquarters.

“Our Chinese counterparts will also support the UDA party in areas of ICT as we prepare to conduct our first-ever grassroots elections next April. We are also working closely with the CPC as it moves to build party offices in the country that will have a leadership school," Malala said.

The Chinese party officials last year visited Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at his office where he said the ruling party would learn from such parties ‘on building a party founded on development ideologies transcending generations.’

"We are learning from parties from other parts of the world, which have cemented and embodied development into governance for years” he tweeted after meeting Chinese party officials.

Gachagua and Malala have announced that they intend to strengthen the party in a bid to rule for over 100 years. The CPC has been in power since July 1921 when it was formed.

UDA seems to be following in the footsteps of Jubilee Party which on numerous occasions hosted the Chinese Communist party officials in Kenya including on  September 10 2016 at Karasani stadium when the former ruling party party was being formally launched.

The delegation was led by Peng Qinghua, the secretary of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region’s committee who promised to help the party strengthen its leadership knowledge through training.

Apart from Tuju enrolling for Chinese lessons, he accompanied a delegation of the former ruling party to China for a benchmarking tour. 

Ironically Kenya's shift to the East started during the tenure of Kenya's third President the late Mwai Kibaki, an astute economist who was touted to be a student of capitalism. It is in Kibaki's shift of economic reliance that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto's parties seemed to have on when seeking governing and leadership tutorials to the communist ideologies to revive Kenya.

Before Kibaki shaped the Kenya China relationship, communism in Kenya had landed  politicians in hot soup and later ended in political oblivion.

Before breaking ties with his vice president, Oginga, Kenya 's first President, Jomo Kenyatta said: "Some people deliberately try to exploit the colonial hangover for their own selfish purposes, or in order to serve some external force. We must reject such people publicly."

"It is naive to think that there is no danger of imperialism from the East. In world power politics, the East has as many designs on us as the West. This is why we reject Communism. To us, communism is as bad as imperialism. What we want is Kenya nationalism. There is no place for leaders who hope to build a nation of slogans," he said in direct reference to Oginga.

After Kenyatta’s death, it did not get better, efforts by Oginga and politician George Anyona (Former Kitutu Masaba MP) to register a socialist opposition party in 1982 were thwarted by the State.

After the failed coup, many politicians and scholars perceived to be sympathetic to leftist ideas were forced to go underground or seek political refugee status in friendlier countries.

While juxtaposing on the former events and the current where the ruling parties lean on Communist ideologies, the opponents of the move feel the decision  to seek ‘advisory opinion’ from parties like Communist in China would claw back the democratic gains made by the 2010 Constitution as ‘such parties rule with the iron fist’.

Kinuthia Wambui, a governance expert, said in communist countries, the state maintains a tight control in the country following the mantra of one party state.

“As UDA goes to the East to receive the lessons, they must also understand that the two countries’ have different forms of Constitution and should not turn to dictatorial leadership gimmicks under the guise of entrenching governance,” he observed.

He said in the neighboring country, Tanzania, political contenders who are not in good terms with the government and ruling party officials do not find their way to the legislative House due to the dangers of the government running a political party.

“In CCM just like in the Chinese Communist party, there is no separation between the government and the political party.The Chinese President is the Secretary General of the party and the Minister of political parties is a top official of the ruling party,” he said.

However, Malala allayed such fears, saying UDA was not in any way going to copy and paste all the ideologies of the Communist party but would pick the successes and implement them for both party leadership and to revolutionize the economy of the country.

“We do not intend to turn dictatorial, but we shall learn from the party and then pick what will work for us. China took only 30 years to revolutionize its economy as opposed to 200 years that it ought to have taken. That is what we intend to do,” he said.

In an interview with The Standard, the UDA Secretary General while describing the benchmarking as an exchange program explained that party officials will also be taught how to have the executive conform with the ruling party structure and to be accountable to party officials.

“This is why all Cabinet Ministers are now required to file their performance record with the party after every three months. We want to have a situation where the Executive is accountable to the political party,” said Malala.

He said the Chinese Communist party was also learning about the gender rule, a factor he said was given prominence in the UDA party leadership while in their party, they believe in meritocracy.

“In all the 24 members of the Political Bureau, the highest governing body of the party there are no women, but in our party, the President has been keen on ensuring that we have seats for women and youth, this is something they can also learn from us,” he said.

Former Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju in a phone interview with The Standard, said there was nothing wrong with the Communist party engaging with the ruling party adding that the move was largely brought about by the fact that Chinese Ministers also party officials and upon their state visit to Kenya, they also like associating with the ruling party.

“It is in the interest of the Chinese government to have a deepened political relationship with countries they are in bilateral agreements with. When the state officials who are also party officials visit Kenya, they tend to be interested in the running affairs of the ruling party. That does not mean that they join their socialist or the communism of the party,” said Tuju.