Mugabe must learn from Xi

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THIS week was quite eventful for Zimbabwe, a country that had become a pariah state due to sanctions and isolation over policy clashes and grisly human right abuses.

Editor’s Memo by Bernard Mpofu

Two events brought the country under the spotlight — the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa which ends today and the rare visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The latter clouded out the conference in a country where it is estimated that 1,5 million out of a total population of 14 million are living with the HIV virus.

Understandably so, this was the first visit by a Chinese leader to Zimbabwe since 1996 when former president Jiang Zemin set his foot on this land.

For President Robert Mugabe, who is in charge of an economy facing implosion as shown by the massive job losses, deflation and low foreign direct inflows, Xi’s visit was symbolic on many fronts.

Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, not only views China as a key trade partner, but as a counterbalance to the Western influence after being isolated and slapped, together with his cronies, with economic sanctions over failure to uphold the rule of law and human rights abuses at the turn of the millenium.

Facing immense pressure from a restless civil service as government revenues dwindle, Mugabe desperately needed some political capital to inspire confidence and manage expectations.

While the signing of investment deals in infrastructure projects such as energy were heralded as a firm foundation and launch pad for turning around the economy, the reality is 2016 is promising to be worse as economy implodes.

Instead of just celebrating Xi’s visit, Mugabe should take a leaf from China which in 1978 was a poor communist country transformed into a formidable force on global scale.

Now the world’s second largest economy after the United States, China has in the past 30 years consistently registered double-digits growth rates supported by structural reforms. But that has not been a stroll in the park.

Firstly, the Asian giant realised that it could not go it alone and realised that it needs to be a player in global affairs to be a force to reckon with. It adopted a policy of state capitalism where state enterprises took a leading role in driving the economy.

In this regard, Zimbabwe should speed up reforms in parastatals and state-owned entities which are currently haemorrhaging treasury, if it wishes to adopt China’s development model.

Former Chinese president Deng Xiaoping was instrumental in China’s economic reconstruction following the disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.

He introduced broad market reforms and spearheaded China’s rise despite resistance by die-hard Maoists.

Commenting on the role of ideology in economics, Deng famously said: “I don’t care if a cat is white or black so long as it catches mice”. That should be the starting point for Mugabe.

Having inherited a divided society fraught with instability during a turbulent transition from the Mao era, Deng became architect of a new brand of socialist thinking, balancing the Communist Party’s ideological imperatives with pragmatic market economic policies. Consequently, China rose like a phoenix from the ashes.

Mugabe must learn, if he still can, from that. While China has historically been supportive to Zimbabwe through its foreign policy of noninterference in domestic politics of allies, the economic powerhouse now fully understands the dynamics of globalisation and geo-politics.

Mugabe, who turns 92 next February, should also learn from the Chinese Communist Party that has a clear succession plan, something the Chinese have consistently told African leaders.

A clear demonstration on dealing ruthlessly with corruption that has writ large in government will be an indication that Mugabe is ready to embrace the chinese model.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

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