Dating can be fun, involves making life-changing decisions that will stick with you forever, or that will at least be very costly to sever.
For this reason people usually think long and hard before choosing a life partner, taking into account different factors such as looks, religious beliefs and financial standing.
Such too is the seriousness with which Zimbabwe, and Africa at large, should consider the overtures of richer nations wanting to do business with us.
Two major world powers have been at the forefront of wooing African countries to do business.
China has a history of assisting African nations which predates the independence of many of these countries from colonial rule.
The Asian super power funded and trained freedom fighters that fought against foreign domination. The US also has a long running relationship with most African countries, providing aid in areas such as education, food security and health.
African leaders have recently become dissatisfied with both models of assistance and are clamouring for investments instead of paternalistic assistance.
Although many business relationships do exist already, they have mostly been limited to extractive industries like oil and mining. Many view Chinese and American business interests in Africa as motivated by the need for cheap raw materials to feed their resource-thirsty industrialised economies.
In a bid to sway this negative opinion of their involvement in Africa, both China and the US have been falling over themselves, trying to outdo each other in endearing themselves to Africa.
On the other hand, Africa and Zimbabwe, which desperately need all the investment that can come their way, have been torn between the two suitors.
Decisions that are made now on who Africa chooses to partner with will likely have a long-standing impact.
General perception has created stereotypes of the two. China is seen as a resource-hungry dragon that will suck out all the minerals it can get with little regard for the environment but without interfering in politics.
The US on the other hand is perceived as equally hungry for raw materials but with a tendency to push its domestic political agenda under the guise of promoting democracy.
Like all stereotypes, these two views are likely to have inaccuracies and exaggerations in them but with more than a bit of truth.
Earlier this week US President Barack Obama hosted leaders of 50 African states. Not all leaders from the continent were invited.
Only those that are in good standing with the US and the African Union (AU) were welcomed to the three-day event called the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit.
Due to travel sanctions imposed on President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe was one of the countries not invited. While many viewed this as a missed opportunity for Zimbabwe, government officials have described it as a “non-issue”, dismissing the summit as a desperate ploy by the US to outdo China’s growing influence.
Zimbabwe’s choice then is made! China is the preferred suitor between the two. But is this the right choice?
It should be clear by now that there are no benevolent do-gooders out there who are just waiting to generously assist poor African countries needing a hand.
It is primarily a business of self-interest. Indeed, when China was asked to provide funding for the “ZimAsset” economic blueprint, they retorted that they wanted “bankable projects” not a mere economic blueprint.
Although political ideologies may be put at the fore, it all boils down to the money. Zimbabwe must therefore be realistic about what exactly the country has to offer, businesswise, to China.
For the most part it is raw minerals. Platinum, nickel, chrome and other minerals are what the Chinese are seriously interested in. Until we have more than that to offer, that is all they will ever want. On the side-lines of the pursuit of these minerals there may be cultural exchanges, political fraternising and such other interactions.
But the truth remains that China, like any suitor, will engage in whatever mating dance is necessary but is ultimately interested in consummating its economic interests.
What Zimbabwe should be chasing is to take advantage of the situation, using whatever leverage we have to push for long lasting benefits. One area where we could do more is technological exchange. This would allow us to build our own capacity to value-add minerals and increase the benefits from their sale.
Assuming that China, or any other country will do it for us is dangerously naive. Likewise, shunning the US completely is likely to cost us dearly.
Instead we should perhaps give both countries a chance to work with us. Whichever country invests more in transferring technology to Zimbabwe gets the deal. But we should not aim to grant a monopoly to just one super power. That is the way to subservience. Beneficiation should allow us to choose the most appropriate partner.
Many pledges were made at the US-Africa Leader’s Summit, with a value of hundreds of billions of dollars. Past experience suggests that many of these will not come to fruition. The few that will be implemented will as always come with strings attached, financial and political.
Even the African leaders that are in good standing with the US should also be wary. The economic reality is that for the US and China, Africa is a big pool of resources and a small market for finished goods. As the gatekeepers to this pool, we should stretch our bargaining power to the limit for the benefit of this and future generations.