There was something rather pathetic yet revealing about reports in the public media of Chinese and Russian leaders sending birthday messages to President Robert Mugabe last week.
The Zimbabwe Independent Editorial
Even if there was nothing very newsworthy about that, Mugabe’s loyalists and supporters tried to milk it for what it is worth. There was no big deal. Just a rather polite and predictable greeting from a couple of states that are also in need of friends. But it helped to illustrate how Mugabe is isolated and badly needs friends.
What is remarkable is that in China’s case, President Xi Jinping has never bothered to visit the country he is hailing even when it stretched out below his aircraft for half an hour or more on his way to the last Brics summit in South Africa. No chance of popping in there. Xi hasn’t even met Mugabe! Neither has Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
That is why our state media felt it important to tell Zimbabweans that we have at least one friend — Beijing. China might be heading in the opposite direction ideologically, but it can be relied upon to spout the mantras that Zimbabwe also holds dear.
Something similar goes for Russia. The ex-Soviet state, which trained so many of our cadres in the 1960s and 70s, cannot get away without some acknowledgement of the cost. So that requires a message of solidarity every now and again.
Nobody would deny Mugabe’s “astute leadership”. “Wily” also comes to mind. But he has got it hopelessly wrong on the economy. Mugabe believes he can pick and choose who can invest here.
Technically, he is right. All countries that want to set up their stall here must respect our sovereignty. That is elementary. But it is Zimbabwe that needs investment. And that is not coming in any significant way. And here, as ever, we have the political dimension.
Mugabe feels slighted by the West and by Britain in particular. He saw himself in a post-Independence dispensation strutting upon the international stage and attracting international admiration of millions.
But he didn’t understand that the rules of engagement are more complicated. International investors need to know their money is safe. That requires wise leadership and sensible policies. Look at Botswana and Mozambique. From a one-party Marxist state in the 1970s, which nobody wanted to know, Mozambique is today a destination of investment and growth. It has seen off a clumsy rebel movement and attracted back former colonists.
Botswana, a desert state in the 1970s with nothing to go on — not even traffic lights — is now a diversified economy based on diamonds.
It has also built a thriving tourism industry which we could have done. Kenya got it instead. Other states in Sadc tend to regard Mugabe’s regime as a fossil locked in the mantras of the 1980s. That era has long since passed. “Get on with the programme” is the message sent to Mugabe by Sadc today. Because he can’t or won’t modernise the economy — and political system — we are all as a nation condemned to await delusional pronouncements of a 90-year-old ruler who is detached from reality. Until we get serious about ourselves, nobody will take us seriously.