Next week, on Wednesday, April 18, we shall be celebrating our Independence. And we do so with pride, 38 years of self-rule during which Zimbabwe has accomplished what few other African nations have dared: asserting authority over our land upon which all meaning economic activity must sink its foundation. Neighbours across the Limpopo in South Africa are only now beginning to tackle this fundamental matter of national sovereignty, and they will need our support.
Zimbabwe is celebrating its Independence for the first time without Robert Mugabe at the helm. Even the mood is different, the festivities rather low-key — deliberately so we believe.
President Mnangagwa was clear from the time of his inauguration that things would be done differently, that it was going to be business unusual. That action would speak louder than political rhetoric under the new dispensation. That Zimbabwe was entering a new era of economic diplomacy.
Actions must indeed speak louder, not because Operation Restore Legacy means delinking from Mugabe. That would be a failure to appreciate historical progression. Simply that the revolutionary ethos of taking back our land came at a huge cost, with the punishing sanctions wreaking havoc on the economy. In the words of their master promoter, one Chester Crocker, they made the economy scream. Fortunately Zimbabweans understood the price to be paid than to rush to stone their leaders on the streets as was anticipated. But it time to reconstruct.
Meaning of transition
The lack of fanfare and spectacle are not in any way intended to diminish the value of our Independence, what with the war veterans themselves taking strategic positions in key functions of the State! It is simply to distinguish tasks: there are tasks which require noise, and Mugabe did that at the political level in defence of our revolution. There are tasks which require more action than words. We have just embarked on such tasks, the fight against corruption and the building of an economically-empowered society. That means even the work ethic must change, and President Mnangagwa is leading the charge.
Zimbabwe celebrates its 38th Independence anniversary at a time President Mnangagwa has just returned from a six-day State visit to China. It was a visit, if we must repeat, which underlines the intricate link between politics and the economy, and he clearly underlined the two.
That President Mnangagwa’s first State visit outside Africa was to China was not a random act. First, it was to thank China for supporting Zimbabwe against the might of American, British and European diplomacy and economic sanctions at the time of the land reclamation process. China not only offered Zimbabwe financial support, but together with Russia, it took a bold stand at the United Nations to defend Zimbabwe’s sovereign right to own its natural resources, against wily machinations by the West to seek a UN mandate to invade the country. That is to say, China appreciated what Zimbabweans were fighting for beyond the hypocrisy of Western human and property rights. We could not have executed that battle alone.
China chose to fight our war, when it could very easily have supported a motion to invade Zimbabwe, and we would probably find ourselves reduced to the chaos and wasteland that is Libya today in the name of democracy. That is why Zimbabwe shall forever remain indebted to the people of China as we celebrate our Independence next week.
Second, at the core of President Mnangagwa’s visit to China was economic diplomacy. We got our land back at a great cost, the next stage is turning the country into an economic miracle like China. He has said Zimbabwe is open for business. What better place to begin the journey to economic recovery than learning from the Chinese?
China vs the West
Once again China offered itself. Many investment deals were signed. China elevated its relationship with Zimbabwe to that of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. That’s more than being an all-weather friend. It involves preferential economic treatment in which Zimbabwe is set to get financial assistance despite previous, unsettled debts. It consolidates Chinese President Xi Jinping’s refrain about equal partnerships, win-win economic deals and mutually-beneficial relationships with African nations in general and Zimbabwe in particular. It’s not charity or Chinese philanthropy. It’s business.
Third, and this is what must distinguish Zimbabwe’s relationship with China and Western nations. President Mnangagwa did not go to China as a beggar. He was not asking for donations or acts of charity. It was to consolidate his message that Zimbabwe is open for business. That is to say, Zimbabwe is open for investment, not for paternalistic patronage.
We have abundant natural resources and human capital, thanks to years of massive investment in education. What we do not have is capital. What we need is infrastructure to facilitate our economic recovery.
To be honest, we shall acknowledge what Western nations have contributed by way of relief assistance in times of extreme economic distress. They have helped fund our Aids programmes and small-scale community projects in urban and rural areas. They have helped with books and funding for our hospitals. Yet there is always the overarching political mischief brooding about these acts of philanthropy.
What we are saying is that without the manacles of sanctions, Zimbabwe doesn’t need acts of philanthropy. Our desire as a nation is to trade freely with other nations unfettered.
China is prepared to invest in infrastructure which transforms a national economy. We are talking about energy generation at Kariba and Hwange, international airports in Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls; Kunzvi Dam could soon come to fruition. There are plans to revive the National Railways of Zimbabwe. The Chinese are already involved in farming and mining locally.
No patronising political strings attached!
Like any nation, the Chinese set conditions for lending and investments to ensure judicious use of their resources. What distinguishes them from other nations is their respect for the sovereignty of every nation. They don’t seek to impose their political will on other countries, they don’t seek to determine who rules which country as a way of accessing its resources.
President Mnangagwa has insisted that Zimbabwe is open for business. Those who have money are free to come in. His Government has sent emissaries to America, China and European nations as part of re-engagement efforts. Yet there are still countries which maintain sanctions, and setting political preconditions for full engagement predicated on the outcome of the harmonised elections by end of July.
These countries are still trapped in ideological mindsets of the land reform phase of our struggle and will not accept that there is a new dispensation; that Zimbabwe wants to forge new friendships and partnerships based on mutual respect and mutual benefit in an intricately-interdependent globalised economy.
We are aware of course that at the heart of the matter in this investment drive is a desire to create employment opportunities for the youth in particular. The risk we face is to attract hustlers among genuine investors. There will soon be a need for careful regulation and screening of bad apples, and this is vital to resolving part of the Nation Question: a national currency.
This is an issue President Mnangagwa and his administration cannot shirk for too long if the overall aim of his investment drive is durable economic stability. This is why.
To all intents and purposes, Zimbabwe has more than dollarised the economy. It has “domesticated” the American currency although we keep referring to a multicurrency system. What that domestication of an international trade currency does is to attract all manner of foreign gamblers who think they can come and harvest cheap US dollars on the streets of Zimbabwe selling anything from cigarettes to potatoes, to skin lightening creams, fake drugs and illicit alcoholic drinks. Some bring second hand clothes, others unsafe chicken condemned in their own countries for dumping in exchange for hard currency.
Lately, Zimbabwe has become one of the hottest destinations for musicians of the most dubious type. Then of course we have a whole industry of often substandard vehicle spareparts in what is popularly known as Lagos in the Kopje area.
These people are investors, but the biggest attraction are American dollars. We have become an El Dorado for what is in fact scarce in the country.
What makes matters worse is that domestication of the US dollar has occurred at a time when confidence in the banking system is at its nadir. This comes with the twin evils of people refusing to bank cash from daily transactions and an inability by the authorities to limit how much cash an individual can carry on their person or keep at home or take across the border.
No amount of export incentive can earn enough foreign currency to meet the demands of those who keep it at home and foreigners who can freely harvest it on the streets — no questions asked! We need those American dollars at the Reserve Bank to be able to anchor a local currency. We require those American dollars to pay dividends to genuine foreign investors for them to keep investing or to attract more to grow the economy and to earn new hard currency.
These are issues which should exercise our mind as we celebrate our Independence. The revolution cannot be complete without our own currency. Economically, a local currency allows for flexibility and makes us competitive in trade and investment terms.
Lack of own currency can potentially be a dangerous source of vulnerability in the long term. By whatever name, a local currency is now an imperative.