A WEEK ago I attended the annual Australia-Africa Week in Perth which brings together government leaders, policymakers, investors, financial experts, professionals, scholars, and journalists, among many other participants.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
The event was built around the Africa Down Under mining conference established in 2002 to raise awareness about Australia’s interests in African mining and energy. Over the years, the conference has grown to become the largest African mining-focussed event outside of Africa. It now has many other activities around it.
While other countries and their companies took advantage of the huge opportunities offered by the conference, Zimbabwe did not capitalise on it.
Minister of Mines Winston Chitando — whom many wanted to meet over mining issues and investment in Zimbabwe — was a no-show. There was no explanation why.
Embassy officials, if they were there at all, were not visible. That is why embassies must now be more focussed on economic diplomacy, the use of the full spectrum of economic tools of a state to achieve its national interests, not politics and diplomacy.
Interested participants and investors expressed big disappointment over the issue.
Only representatives from the Chamber of Mines and Zimbabwe is Open for Business, a local organisation which promotes investment, were there and did a good job.
Compared to other countries, for instance South Africa, Nigeria or Mauritius, Zimbabwe was not visible. In the end, it missed the opportunity.
However, the most important issue is that Zimbabwe must now take advantage of its natural resources and move from being a country with mines to a mining country.
South Africa and Botswana, for example, were built on mining. Australia is also a strong mining country with huge resources. Zimbabwe has a history of mining, but it is suffering in the midst of plenty.
Africa, endowed with vast natural resources, is seen as the next frontier for economic growth after Asia.
Decades after the European powers carved up the African continent at the Berlin Conference in 1884 for their own imperial interests, Africa is undergoing a new wave of resource and strategic pull. Some now call it the new scramble for Africa.
The scramble for Africa — which is what it was called after the Berlin Conference — is getting increasingly intense.
Big powers, the United States, China, Japan, the European Union, including Britain which is going out through Brexit, Germany and France, India, and Australia, among others, have their own different platforms and interests for engaging Africa.
There is also the Brics — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — platform which also does the same. Only recently the leaders of France, Germany and Britain crisscrossed Africa to engage leading and influential economies in search of resources, opportunities and markets.
Africa, which has massive resources, huge market and a big potential demographic dividend, has become more strategic globally, especially in economic and security terms.
As a result, the United States, for instance, is increasing its footprint across the continent through the Germany-based African Command, with fighting terrorism and ensuring stability trumpeted as motivations. Yet resource access and security are the real objectives.
Botswana will host an American military base.
But it is not just about the US.
During the last decade, China’s trade with Africa not only caught up with America’s; it has more than doubled it.
But China is still pushing further and deeper into Africa. Only last week African leaders were in Beijing for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit. China announced a US$60 billion facility in new funding for Africa.
Not only is US military capability in Africa expanding; other countries are also moving in as well. China announced in 2016 plans to open a military outpost in Djibouti where many other powers are also based for strategic reasons.
Given all this, Zimbabwe needs a plan of engagement to leverage its vast resources for recovery and growth.