Going beyond the ideological divide

THE Chinese were in town last week. There was a lot of fanfare to go with their visit, which almost overshadowed the hype of the American election that returned President George W Bush with a record majority.

There is

no doubt that the state media excitement about the Chinese visit was to showcase President Robert Mugabe’s Look East policy. Government has been trying to promote trade with countries in the Far East, especially in view of Zimbabwe’s isolation from the West. First it was Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Now China has come into the forefront.

Before leaving the Chinese reportedly signed eight agreements with Air Zimbabwe, Zesa Holdings, the National Railways of Zimbabwe plus Net*One and Tel*One. Zimbabwe, which has been buying military weapons from China, will now purchase two aircraft and get a third for free, according to state media reports. The Chinese have also pledged investment in agriculture and have already supplied hundreds of tractors. They have also supplied generators and transformers for use in Zesa’s rural electrification programme.

However, while China is the world’s sixth largest economy, it has not been known to make significant investments on the world’s poorest continent, except dumping its sub-standard products in our markets. It is not known for its mining adventures in the mould of transnationals like Rio Tinto or Anglo American. Or huge employers of labour such as BAT, Coca-Cola and Unilever.

While it may be true that jobs could be created in the agricultural sector where the Chinese have been active, not every Zimbabwean wants to be a farmer or a farm labourer.

China has realised that no economy can deliver prosperity on the basis of agriculture alone and is fast industrialising. Zimbabwe, arguably the most industrialised country in sub-Saharan Africa besides South Africa a few years ago, is going in the opposite direction. At least 800 manufacturing companies have closed shop in the past four years. The country is lurching towards a primitive agricultural economy driven by subsistence farming.

China is the world’s fastest expanding economy, having sustained an average 9% growth for over 25 years, and we thus need to gradually link our economy to it. But this can’t be done at the expense of our established trading partners. It would therefore be foolhardy to destroy our vibrant economic sectors to undermine Western interests in mining, manufacturing, and agriculture to spite Tony Blair or George W Bush.

Nothing will be gained from such populist illusions. Blair and Bush are not the real issues, except as a mask to conceal President Robert Mugabe’s policy failures.

The issues in Zimbabwe are the current political crisis, which stems from authoritarian politics and stolen elections, and the economic quagmire, which is a result of policy and institutional malfunctions.

We need to objectively analyse in depth the internal and external factors that have contributed to the current crisis and labour our way out. Trying to simplify our problems with the fiction that it is Blair and Bush is deceitful.

We need leaders who not only understand how countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Ireland, Germany and Japan rose from economic rubble to become some of the strongest in the world but are also bold enough to adopt tough measures in an environment with different dynamics. Only a bankrupt leadership can claim that Zimbabwe’s recovery will follow the same path as those of European countries after World War II or the Asian Tigers after the 1997/98 financial crisis.

Mugabe’s Look East policy — if it is a policy at all — appears to be predicated on such illusions and distortion of global economic realities. As we have pointed out in the past, it is relatively easy to refashion political relations in line with a country’s ideological considerations, but it’s extremely difficult to redefine economic links which were created through centuries of trade and financial circumstances.

Whether Mugabe likes it or not, we cannot wish away Britain and the European Union or North America because they are some of our established trading partners. Mugabe appears impervious to this reality. We have to engage economically as directed by our national interests, not individual or party interests.

China was among the first countries to congratulate Bush on his re-election despite periodic quarrels over democracy and human rights issues. This is because China knows there is nothing to be gained from irrational hostility or publicity-seeking showmanship. Despite its economic and even military leverage over Britain and the United States, China has avoided confrontation and sought cooperation for its own economic benefit.

Since China embarked on economic reforms in 1978, dozens of American companies have gone in to invest in manufacturing. China is also making inroads in Europe and the Americas.

There is no way a full economic recovery can be achieved when Zimbabwe is still isolated from the world’s powerful economies and when multilateral lending institutions, which we need badly, are still reluctant to resume business with us.

The point in the end is as we chart new economic territories in far-flung China and elsewhere, let’s try to patch up differences with our major trading partners and avoid self-destructive politics which undermine the very national interests which Mugabe purports to be promoting.

One thing we can learn from the Chinese is that it is possible to use American dollars and still remain a comrade. They are forging their trade links across the ideological divide.

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