By Takura Zhangazha*
The full details of ‘mega deals’ that President Mugabe is said to have been signing during his state visit to China are yet to emerge. From the snippets that we have read in the state controlled media, these deals range from infrastructural investments pacts through to a greater number of memorandums of understanding.
The latter will require feasibility studies while the former are largely related to Chinese corporations investing in our railways, roads and in the extraction of gas from Gwayi-Shangani in Matebeleland North.
The reception to these deals has been dual in tone. The state media has generally lauded these deals not only by describing them as major, but also referring to them as historic. The private media has urged caution and also sought to emphasise the point of how the country may now be beholden to the Chinese by mortgaging the meagre mineral resources that we have.
For ruling party supporters these bilateral investment agreements are something that they have celebrated even amidst their own factionalism. While on the other hand opposition party members and supporters have decried what they have referred to as the ‘selling of the country to the Chinese’.
Some civil society activists have also sought to frame these investment in the same manner as the opposition but perhaps for different reasons given the general public suspicion of the role of China in assisting Zanu PF maintain a repressive state apparatus.
There is however a third way of looking at these Chinese investment deals. And in order to do so, a key departure point is to consider the economic inevitability that, like our sister African countries, we would turn to China for economic assistance. Whether Zanu Pf celebrates or the opposition castigates the deals, the truth is that we have to engage and court Chinese investment.
Our only particular uniqueness in SADC and the African Union is that we do not have the political capital to also court such deals with the West. Largely due to the good governance and neo-liberal conditions the latter insist on. This is as opposed to the Chinese who do not put governance conditionalities to their aid even though they pursue neo-liberal frameworks couched in the rising hegemonic ideology of state capitalism.
What we must accept as Zimbabweans is that China is here to stay. Primarily because of its long history of direct support to our liberation struggles but also in search, as is the case elsewhere on the continent, for natural resources and new markets for its booming economy.
The problem that has always emerged with these sort of deals in Zimbabwe however is the ineptitude of our government in either implementing them according to specific development plans and allowing them to become part of our generally corrupt culture around state tenders, mining concessions, infrastructure development and elite aggrandisement via the state.
Add to this the utilisation of such investment deals to distribute political patronage has led to failure before launch of most of these investment packages or loans. The caseof the City of Harare loan from China for the refurbishment of Morton Jaffray waterworks is just one case in point at local government level.
The more pertinent issue is therefore not so much that these deals should not be made with China. Given the fact that every other country is flocking to the same seeking investments or intending to invest there, it is folly to argue plainly against Chinese investment in our economy.
The main problem instead has been how our government has not only negotiated these deals but even more importantly how they have been implemented.
Particularly with regards to infrastructural investments which should basically be self evident in their impact on our society. For example if we get investment (though not from the Chinese) for the dualisation of the Joshua Nkomo Highway from Harare International Airport in order for it to be ready before the world cup in South Africa in 2010, it must be completed. It is a road that five years after that and another world cup tournament in Brazil, is yet to be completed.
So it is not in itself a bad thing that President Mugabe is signing investment deals with China on behalf of the country. And the Chinese hold no brief for those that come to it seeking assistance. In the end they want their returns, in as far as we have promised those returns and by way of mutual agreement.
What matters is that these investments are used for what they are intended for instead of political patronage after the money comes or the tender application processes are opened. The Zimbabwean government has to depart from its unfortunate culture of cronyism, corruption, inefficiency and elitist economics if these ‘mega deals’ are to have any domestic meaning.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)