Before he came, President Robert Mugabe described the Chinese leader’s visit as very significant to the country, after signing several “mega deals” with the Asian economic giant in Beijing last August.
“We actually await the visit with very great interest and when he visits us, we shall be discussing some of the projects and programmes we would want China to assist us in undertaking.
“But it’s more than the visit of the Chinese Head of State — that is very important to us, yes. We’ll discuss programmes of co-operation,” Mugabe said recently.
For many Zanu PF loyalists who back Mugabe’s Look East Policy, China holds the key to Zimbabwe’s economic resurrection.
Xi’s visit was expected to herald the beginning of a new and prosperous Zimbabwe. Indeed, Xi and Mugabe signed deals worth $4 billion, the equivalent of Zimbabwe’s annual budget announced by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa last month.
Mugabe and several government ministers have made numerous visits to China, but the visits have yielded insignificant results to the country, whose economy has continued to fall.
Many would have hoped Zimbabwe would take lessons from China, which rose dramatically within the last 25 years to become the world’s second biggest economy.
After spending close to a month in the Asian country, seeing China’s rapid development, many questions crossed my mind, where is Zimbabwe going wrong?
The wise say birds of the same feathers flock together, but the adage is not true, same between China and Zimbabwe.
China’s transport industry, energy, communications, manufacturing and other sectors of that massive economy are expanding at an astonishing rate. The Gross Domestic Product of China, with a population of over 1,4 billion people is doubling every year.
Yet, despite the rapid growth, the new world giant is not contended.
Zimbabwe, with a free falling economy, appears contended and all is “so-far-so-good,” despite the country sliding to the world’s top 20 poorest countries.
China’s airports are busy, with planes taking off and landing every minute, while Zimbabwe’s biggest international airport, the Harare International Airport has been turned into a venue for rallies to welcome Mugabe back home from his many international trips, that hardly benefit the country.
China’s subway system is first class, while Zimbabwe still uses colonial railway facilities and locomotives that would compete for a permanent place in a museum.
Zimbabwe’s roads are derelict, that modern vehicles with sophisticated sensory equipment would easily display “no through road.” Potholes are the in thing, construction is at a standstill and unemployment is raging to all times high, the level of despair by most Zimbabweans cannot be explained.
Zimbabwe is in an economic bondage that Mugabe’s popular statement, “this country will not be a colony again,” can be easily rephrased to: “this colony can never be a country again.”
The country’s development has stalled due to incessant power fights in Mugabe’s party and lack of leadership renewal, which China has managed so well.
Looking at the development in China, I asked, where as a country are we going wrong, why can’t Mugabe learn from China?
Indeed, Mugabe has learnt something from his Chinese friends — how to ensure that his party remains in power through hook or crook, but has dismally failed to learn from the Chinese how they manage their economy.
China is a developmental dictatorship, while Zimbabwe has chosen to be retrogressive.
Mugabe’s foreign policy has been his worst enemy.
China has enemies, but understands that economically, it cannot do it alone. All countries are friends when there is an economic interest.
While Mugabe continues to castigate the West, Xi was in the United States and Britain in October, his most perceived enemies where he signed several agreements. China’s foreign currency reserves are in US dollars, a Chinese official, Li Guhea recently admitted to Zimbabwean journalists visiting China in September.
But should the country read much into the visit by the Chinese leader?
Former Zimbabwe Cabinet minister Fay Chung said Mugabe should look for an internal solution to problems, than pile his hopes on his Look East Policy.
Chung launched a new book, Zimbabwe Looking East, which provides a perspective of China’s economic policies and governing cultural ideology. She analyses how all these factors influences China’s foreign relations.
“Zimbabwe like many other African countries is highly donor-dependant, suffering from the concept. We are too poor to refuse anything. This is a recipe for disaster,” Chung observes in her book.
Despite the Chinese pouring millions of dollars in agriculture, energy and mining ventures, Chung said: “The Zimbabwean Look East political Policy has not been supported by more specific and realistic strategies.”
She added: “Until and unless Zimbabwe uses what little resources it has more judiciously for developmental purposes rather than for short-term political support, it will fail to develop. It is totally unsound to expect development to come from the East or from the West. Development will come from internal drives.”
More interesting is that, Chung makes this observation when Mugabe’s wife, Grace, is allegedly abusing a $98 million agricultural loan facility from Brazil for political expediency.
It is Mugabe’s patronage system that has taken us where we are, power is more important than economy.
Mugabe, therefore, should not look beyond himself for enemies. He should swallow his pride and foster economic ties with everyone for the good of the country. China is a good friend, yes, but Mugabe needs more than China to revive the collapsing economy.