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Look East Policy remains a mirage

The recent incident on February 6 where the mob chased away the “friends” from the Far East (United Arab Emirates) who had an intention to “invest” in Zimbabwe raises a lot of questions.

Goodbye Chinyama

Of interest is that the mob are said to be Zanu PF youth who did it to spite their Secretary for Administration, Ignatius Chombo.

The concern is, was it a result of the internal fights within the ruling party, or is it a clear sign that the youth wanted to send a clear message to the government that the Look East Policy is not benefiting the ordinary citizens? Have people in Mukumbura, Chikore, Checheche or Nkayi benefited from this policy since its inception in 2003?

A policy can be written or not written, but evidence has proved that serious and effective policies should have a policy document.

Zimbabwe has good well-written policy documents such as Zim Asset, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment policy, among others, but the implementation lacks the Five Cs — Context, Commitment, Clients, Coalitions, as well as Capacity and Communication.

The Look East Policy has no policy document and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has never released any formal document outlining the tenets of the policy, except a sentence in the foreign policy, but its basic thrust is clear in government pronouncements and the international travel patterns of Zimbabwean officials. “Look East” is more of a slogan than a genuine foreign policy. This signals the lack of seriousness on the part of the government towards the relationship with the Eastern bloc.

The policy is based on cooperation with the Far East countries, expansion of bilateral and trade relations and offers priority to investors, which literally means bilateral trade relations and investment as the West had imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. According to the policy, the thrust of Zimbabwe’s cooperation with the East is to prioritise projects in which the cooperating country has expressed interest, and it is designed on empowerment value.

But are these projects based on service provision? Looking around Zimbabwe, only projects relevant to military investment have been observed and a few hotels were constructed. These “friends” are busy cooking sadza and mazondo, which should be done by an ordinary citizen.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the policy clearly demonstrates Zimbabwe’s commitment to the furtherance of international peace, security and the search for sustainable economic development in various spheres.

But trade is often being conducted on barter terms due to Zimbabwe’s shortage of hard currency, while China is interested in Zimbabwe’s natural resources which include platinum and gold. These investors are not abiding by the Labour Relations Act as well as the Environmental Management Agency’s regulations.

A lot of labour disputes are filed at the Labour Court and a lot of unpaid EMA tickets, which in clear sense is prejudicing the government of the much-needed revenue. In the end China is bringing goods of poor quality when this kind of industry should be earmarked for the locals.

Zimbabwe’s poor governance and extraction-based economy means that foreign investments do not benefit large segments of the population, but are easily captured by the political elite.

Generally, Harare imports telecommunications equipment and manufactured goods from China and exports raw materials such as tobacco, platinum, chrome, steel, and diamonds. China processes the raw materials and exports cheap finished goods to Zimbabwe. Numerous deals have failed because Zimbabwe does not uphold its part of the agreement to the Chinese government.

For example, China International Water and Electric Corporation planned to clear 100 000 hectares of land and build an irrigation system, but withdrew when Mugabe ceased making payments, as well as the Tokwe Mukosi Dam for which the government is seeking a loan from a sugarcane company. China’s capital investments, technology, skills and money to Zimbabwe are not earmarked for processing commodities, but to expedite the extraction of commodities at low cost.

China is taking its economic relations with Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole as she has a voracious appetite for Africa’s vast and untapped natural resources.

If Zimbabwe is not careful, its vast natural and non-renewable raw materials will be used with no benefit to the nation. The economic benefits of the Look East Policy are perhaps the most tangible, the strategy has also given Zimbabwe greater protection within various international forums that include China and Russia vetoed against an arms embargo against Zimbabwe.

Of notable concern is the Zimbabwe trade deficit with China which amounted to $189 million in the first half of 2007; Zimbabwe exported $16 million of goods to China. These purchases were mainly military hardware at the expense of the hungry masses.

Due to the harsh political environment, business partners indicated that it is difficult to do business with their counterparts from the East, including Japan who insisted on insurance cover for political risk.

The Zimbabwean resource curse whereby the China’s capital investments, technology, skills and money to Zimbabwe are not earmarked for processing commodities, but to expedite the extraction of raw materials at low cost.

Interestingly, despite the Look East Policy, the European Union’s trade with Zimbabwe amounted to $860 million in 2011 with a trade surplus of $271 million in favour of Zimbabwe. South Africa now accounts for 68% of the exports and is followed by United Arab Emirates at 6% and China at 5%.

Despite strained relations, the United States has been the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe, providing more than $1,4 billion in assistance from 2001. China would like to portray herself as Africa’s all-weather friend, yet it is known that African dictators want to enter into economic relations with China mainly because the Asian country is hardly bothered about issues of governance, environmental sustainability and human rights.

China needs to acquire resources needed for its continued industrialisation and economic growth, as well as to find access to new markets for cheap consumer products it produces.

Basically, a good policy has certain qualities that should be observed. Zimbabwe’s Look East Policy is a bad policy because it makes individuals, policy entrepreneurs, investors and other well wishers think that Zimbabwe will excel without looking to other avenues of engagement.

This is not sustainable as it will not last for long and the new generations might look to the West or North when their time comes. Looking to the East is not the solution because the “hostile” nations — according to Zanu PF — are assisting Zimbabwe more than any other eastern country.

The Look East Policy is not concerned with service provision that addresses the needs of the general populace. It is only concerned with meeting the needs of the ruling elite through equipping them with military equipment, ignoring other service provision needs.

The policy does not have public support. Zimbabwe — with its high unemployment rate — by engaging with China who brings its own labour force, is increasing her burden, so the policy is not just and equitable. The mob has the right to confront the so-called investors and bar them from whatever investment they want as long as the policy ignores the general public.

A noble idea is that Zimbabwe should develop and sustain a win-win economic relationship with the East by categorising sectors or types of industries they can partner Zimbabwe. China is extracting natural resources for little benefit to Zimbabwe instead of establishing companies that turn raw materials into finished products that will see the locals being employed. Where is the value addition and beneficiation in the Zim Asset?

Zimbabwe can strengthen its sovereign status by engaging in well-coordinated and regionally integrated economic ties not only with the East, but indeed, with all the major economic powers of the world. The time for cheap politics is over in this global village.

Zimbabwe should increase its voice in accountability, rule of law, absence of corruption, government effectiveness and regulatory quality so as to get the confidence and trust from the global friends instead of denouncing publicly those that can assist the country.

There is a strong, though not visible in the eyes of Zanu PF, relationship between Zimbabwe and the West, as the West has not completely isolated Zimbabwe. This is a good starting point to re-engage the West, instead of waiting for the West to re-engage Zimbabwe.

There is a need to put in place clear and transparent mechanisms and programmes that will ensure that Chinese funds, loans and investments are channelled for the development of the country. Instead of just purchasing military equipment from China, development should be directed to special socio-economic sectors of the economy like health and education, as well as resuscitating closing companies and mines.

Lastly, it is clear that the Look East Policy has failed to reach to the expected benefits. The East is engaging Zimbabwe through a shoddy deal. It seems the ruling elite do not want to accept reality, that the policy is benefiting the East and not the Zimbabwean masses.

It is critical for the Zimbabwean government to come up with friendly investment policies that safeguard the countries’ local industries and natural resources. As we are living in a global village, it is critical to work with all economies than to look to one side of the globe.

It is important to know that the East is also working with the West and hence their economies are prospering. Let’s revisit the Look East Policy.

Goodbye Chinyama is a policy analyst. He can be reached on email; gchinyama@live.com

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