By Brian Chitemba
CHINESE companies, according to recent reports by this publication, have won most of the lucrative infrastructure tenders. The most recent being a jaw-dropping US$109 million tender given to a Chinese firm for the construction of the long-awaited Kunzvi Dam — touted for many years as the panacea to Harare’s perennial water problems.
There are questions about the integrity of the Chinese company which won the tender, despite being one of the highest bidders. Several other Chinese companies have been given tenders for infrastructure projects, energy and pharmaceuticals.
Zimbabwe and China have a long history, dating back to the liberation struggle. After independence, China seems to be charting a new form of colonialism in Zimbabwe and other African countries. Chinese influence in Africa has tremendously grown with the trade between the two jumping from US$12 billion in 2002 to a staggering US$200 billion by the end of 2019. The China Development Bank has funded 500 projects in 43 countries worth US$50 billion by 2018.
In Zimbabwe, China is funding the US$1,5 billion Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion, the US$153 million refurbishment of the Robert Mugabe International Airport and the US$300 million new parliament building via a Chinese government grant to Zimbabwe. Undoubtedly, Chinese infrastructure loans are increasing Zimbabwe’s external debt.
It is a debt trap.
The private and Chinese-state owned entities’ participation in local projects mean the Asian companies expatriate profits back to Beijing.
Who is the biggest beneficiary in these transactions? In some instances, Zimbabwe is said to be mortgaging its natural resources to access Chinese funds. China, guided by the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy — Going Global Strategy — is raising serious questions about whether the World’s Number 2 economy is a genuine economic partner or a coloniser. The powerhouse has neo-colonial and imperialistic tendencies as it is focused on amassing more wealth from African and, indeed, Zimbabwean resources.
The awarding of lucrative public tenders to Chinese companies with a murky past also exposes the conflation between the elite ruling class in Zimbabwe and Chinese oligopolies. The biggest winners are a few ruling politicians and China, while the ordinary Zimbabwean continues to suffer under the throes of poverty as the World Bank estimates that over seven million people are living in extreme poverty.
While the Chinese have played a good role in donating 200 000 Sinopharm vaccines to Harare to help fight Covid-19 and its companies creating jobs and helping infrastructure development, it cannot be ignored how the Chinese are being favoured by Zimbabwe parastatals in winning tenders.
Chinese companies have often been accused of ill-treating and underpaying workers as company owners aim at maximising profits — a capitalistic tendency. This speaks to China’s nefarious activities in Africa.
We need a win-win situation and not a coloniser-colonised binary.