2 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Look East Policy a Failed Political Posture

column

IT now appears to have finally dawned on Zanu PF that its economic sleight of hand -- read the Look East policy -- no longer has any takers and could not solve the crisis facing Zimbabwe's sinking economy.

After being fed on the "Look East policy is beginning to bear fruit" mantra for many years, albeit with no concrete proof, it was interesting to hear Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa has "blasted" China for failing to help Zimbabwe revive its economy.

"The Chinese have not been forthcoming," Mutasa was quoted as bemoaning by a local daily. "We cannot look East or West. We need to look within ourselves."

Mutasa sentiments came hot on the heels of concerns expressed by Mugabe during his Independence Day speech in which he accused the Chinese of flooding the country with cheap labour.

"Even the Chinese, we are told they are coming into the country with their families and employing each other. We do not want that. Even if they are our friends we will not allow that... " Mugabe reportedly said.

So much for the much-touted Look East policy. In today's information age where the world has become a global village and with all these intricate interlinkages, countries are easily affected by events elsewhere.

The Look East policy forged around 2003 was always something of an anachronism -- like a relic of the Cold War. Suffice it to say Zimbabwe needs the East, West and countries in all other directions.

The likes of Russia and China, closed but struggling communist countries during the Cold War, have long since dumped rigid socialist dogmas and embraced market economies whose genuine fruits they currently enjoy.

China is currently the second largest economy in the world after the United States, which it is expected to overtake fairly shortly.

This is thanks to the economic reforms based on market principles instituted in 1978 by the Communist Party of China under Deng Xiaoping.

These reforms, among others, opened up the economy to foreign investment even from erstwhile foes.

While Zimbabwe is entitled to its own beliefs and aspirations, it is subject to global economic realities which preclude it from pursuing parochial economic policies such as the blinkered Look East framework which has helped devastate our once robust economy.

Mugabe -- who reoriented the country eastwards around 2003 in response to Western pressure over land invasions and human rights abuses -- must wake up and smell the coffee.

The likes of Asia's China, Malaysia and Indonesia alone cannot compensate for the loss of Western investment even if "that is where people who think like us are, same history of colonialism as ourselves, people who have started developing their economies", as Mugabe said in 2005.

Our "all-weather friends" the Chinese might well be, but they base their interactions with us not on charity, but their national and business interests informed by cost-to-benefit analyses.

Although business traffic between China and Zimbabwe has ballooned from US$310 million in 2003 to US$1,1 billion last year, Zimbabwe is only ranked 26th out of 58 African countries trading with China.

All the more reason why Zimbabwe must urgently re-engage the international community and create conditions conducive for investment.

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