Zimbabwe: The New Normal - Zimbabwe Leverages On China's Global Science and Technology Leadership

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China (file photo).
25 October 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping says that science and technology respond to the call of the times and have a global impact.

"To develop them we should have a global vision and meet the needs of the times," he said in the book The Governance of China.

It is this vision which has seen China rising to the top of the globe in the science and information and communication technology industries.

China's rise has proved to be timely for Zimbabwe.

Over the past two decades the Zimbabwean economy has been reeling from sanctions imposed by western countries in retaliation for the country's land reform programme. A programme which was designed to redress land ownership imbalances created by colonialism.

The sanctions have put huge limitations on the country. This should have made things catastrophic for the information and communication technology (ICT) sector where Zimbabwe was already a net importer.

But because of China's emergence as a global leader in ICT and the relationship between the two countries Zimbabwe has managed to gain access to some of the most advanced technology available on the global market, mainly from the global tech giant Huawei, on favourable terms.

"Zimbabwe has greatly benefited in terms of access to equipment. In the ICT space we don't have any company that manufactures ICT and telecommunications equipment. We wouldn't have been able to get access to the latest technology without that relationship.

"Remember Zimbabwe is a country under sanctions. There are other leading telecommunications and computer manufacturers on the globe like Cisco from the United States but the Zimbabwean government does not have access to Cisco technologies and equipment because of the political and economic standoff between those two countries," Shingi Muringi, a telecoms and network engineer, said.

ICT is an area that is constantly evolving and requires high levels of funding. Zimbabwe has taken advantage of its historical ties with China to overcome its funding challenges in this sector.

"Eighty percent of Zimbabwe's networks are now anchored on Huawei enterprise equipment which could not have happened if Zimbabwe and China didn't have that cooperation between them.

"We don't have funding. So what the Chinese have done is to offer us loans. Recently TelOne completed the National Broadband Project which was funded by the Chinese," says Muringi.

Huawei Zimbabwe earlier this year handed over Base Station Equipment worth US$100 000 to the University of Zimbabwe.

The company also runs the Seeds for the Future programme which has seen over 40 outstanding Zimbabwean students travel to China for training in the last four years.

"In terms of ICTs China is a powerhouse at par or even ahead of the United States now. Zimbabwe should continue its strong bilateral relations with China so that we continue leveraging on the technologies which China is producing.

"For example we are now talking about 5G, the fifth generation network and China happens to have the leading patents in 5G. So it's a plus for Zimbabwe to remain in good books with China.

"That means we are also going to get access to this technology at the same time when other countries are implementing it rather than waiting to get technology from third parties as is the case when dealing with the United States. We can now get it direct from China," Muringi said.

President Xi says that China is driven by its vision to push common interests and realise common development with its international partners.

"We will build up our strength and capacity to participate in the formulation of global economic, financial and trade rules, conduct international cooperation in economic development and scientific and technological innovation at a higher level, and participate in global governance in a more extensive community of common interests so as to realise common development.

"Science and technology are the bedrock upon which a country relies for its strength, enterprise for success, and people for a better life. Great scientific and technological capacity is a must if we are to make China strong and improve our lives," he explained in The Governance of China.

China's technological advancement is also responsive to a changing global environment, especially the need for green technology.

"Some major disruptive technologies are creating new industries and new forms of business, and information, biological, manufacturing, new materials and new technologies are diffusing into nearly all sectors. All this has brought about massive technological changes that are green, intelligent and ubiquitous.

"The integration of new generation information technology represented by big data, cloud computing and mobile internet with robot and smart manufacturing technologies is accelerating, and the innovation chain is becoming more flexible," President Xi said.

"We must seize the time because wait and see produces nothing and imitation gets us nowhere. Green development is needed for ecological conservation," he added.

President Xi describes China's rapid economic growth over the past three decades as the new normal. He identifies science and technology as two of the pillars of this growth.

"We should be adaptive as we face the new normal. We should fully understand it, adopt the right measures, and make concrete efforts, so as to keep pace with the times in our economic work," he said.

Zimbabwe can leverage on China's new normal to create its own new normal.

"There is no one size fits all development model in the world. The diversity of civilizations and development models should be respected by all. China will continue to firmly support African countries in their quest for development that suit their national conditions and increase experiences in governance with African countries," President Xi said.

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