OPINION: You can’t make new friends

Continued from last week…

BY Cde. Chris Mutsvangwa

The challenge of Zimbabwe as we finally inch towards victory of EU sanctions and US Zdera is to re-discover our global business genie. As long as the West held rooster in the resources of finance capital, access to markets, technological advances and managerial expertise, the business space of our entrepreneurs was severely circumscribed.

The arrival of China and other Brics nations as well as the newly emergent economies have all changed the global landscape for the better. There cannot be any better time for Zimbabweans to reclaim their rightful place in international economic endeavour.

Thus, apart from the atmosphere of celebration that engulfed the Beijing State visit between Presidents Mugabe and Xi Jinping, the issue of business cooperation took centre stage. It was a holistic engagement that covered aspects of how business between the two friendly nations can best be nurtured and supported.

And here Zimbabwe had much to imbibe from a Xi Jinping whose father was tasked with the founding of ShenZhen, the sprawling megacity of 9 million people with a US$225 billion GDP.

Yet, this town which is the home of global modern hi-tech manufacturing was a mere fishing port of 200 000 as recently as 1978. All options were availed to Zimbabwe. With US$4 trillion in currency reserves, China has emerged as a source of FDI avidly courted by the highest offices of Obama, Merkel, Cameron et al, as they seek ways to recover from the 2008 world economic meltdown and its after-effects. The talk today is how the Chinese renminbi/yuan becomes a global currency in competition to the dominant US dollar. And every finance centre from Sydney to Luxembourg, London to Frankfurt, Singapore to Paris are all in a frenzied courtship of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen to win this lucrative business.

The Bilateral Joint Commission that had met prior to the State visit submitted dossiers on financing arrangements and the accompanying credit insurance facilities to the two leaders for approval. Merchants in mining, agro-processing, manufacturing, transport and logistics as well as tourism huddled with the various portfolio ministers as they offered their capabilities. Among them are emerging global brand names that are upsetting hitherto product and services nomenclature. These Chinese businessmen exhibited a keen awareness of Zimbabwe’s resource base and its educated and disciplined human resource base.

There was an even more exciting aspect of the State visit. President Mugabe demonstrated his sharp awareness to new business trends when he dedicated a business dinner and a factory visit to some of the most prominent of the new private sector business ventures of China in stainless steel manufacture and diamond cutting and polishing, respectively.

It is fact that the Chinese private sector is growing even faster than the eponymous state enterprises that have been the hallmark of Chinese economic activity.

Just as the Look East Policy spearheaded Chinese financial engagement with Africa in the 2000 decade, President Mugabe’s sharp eye is now turning its attention to this formidable private sector of China as it engages with the global economy.

There are attendant advantages of quicker and flexible investment decisions that are not weighed down by bureaucracy. This comes with exciting efficiencies.

This is yet another panacea leading to our economic revival and growth, possibility even more tantalising and imminent with the attention accorded to the Special Economic Zone phenomena as a vehicle of economic delivery. It is noteworthy that in all discussions, the accent was on conventional business models that have worked as global best practice and improved upon by Chinese business ingenuity.

There was no talk of doing things in a peculiar way. This was vintage Harvard Business School stuff enriched by Tsinghua University Business School.

After all, capital, in its quest for profit, continues to shed off the baggage of race, colour or creed it was burdened with in the Age of Imperialism.

Even as there is griping about hanging on to past discriminatory global business practices, nowhere was there an effort to disparage the West in any wholesale manner. Rather, there was emphasis on an inclusiveness and wholesome competition capital regime that fairly rewards business opportunity.

In this instance, there is simply no reason for the paranoid response we are reading in the Zimbabwe daily Press. During the heyday of British Empire, Queen Victoria never invited Lobengula, Mashayamombe or Chingaira to Buckingham Palace when she decided to grant a Pioneer Charter to her marauding Cecil John Rhodes in 1890. The violent new order was communicated by the staccato of the Maxim gun. Thereafter, no Zimbabwean African ever negotiated or signed a contract to any commercial transaction let alone global business. Yet, there is His Excellency President Robert Mugabe holding court in Beijing with nary a gun, not even a sword in sight on the part of his counterparts whose only soldiers outside of China are under the command of the United Nations Blue Helmets.

All said, there is no Chinese army or police resident in Zimbabwe to enforce business engagement with China. Agreements are all voluntary and freely entered into. They can also be willingly revisited by either party. Please do not burden the budding talent for business within Zimbabwe and its creative Diaspora with quaint ideological can’st and verbiage.

Journalists and reporters have a national call and a better obligation in fostering open and objective business discourse so that our entrepreneurs can respond to a rising giant, now the world’s second largest economy in proper and rightful manner.

Peddling lies foisted by sulky post imperial losers can only imprison them to blinded business opportunities. Zimbabwe does not need that at this hour of victory. For once, the media are being implored to believe in the vision of our HE President Mugabe. His eyes are firmly fixated on the future of unfettered entrepreneurial endeavour which our people and their long history of economic ingenuity rightly deserves.

A prospering economy offers more chances of shared ownership than the political space that has hitherto been our fixation. On a more practical note, it is a matter of record that the energy power deficit is the single most important obstacle to attracting both domestic and foreign direct investment into the national economy.

In the colonial era, both Hwange and Kariba were built for limited use of a small racial minority with no ambition outside of the needs of metropolitan United Kingdom. Post-Independence saw some marginal increase in power generation which was soon arrested by a hostile economic climate engendered by post-imperial Britain. Even as the population of Zimbabwe doubled, there has hardly been any new investment in power generation. Only the arrival of China on the global power market and its abundant capital is finally rising to this vexing national challenge facing Zimbabwe. Now we have work on Hwange 8, Kariba South and very soon Sunlight’s Gwai. In a short period since the 2008 meltdown, an improved economy has seen our mobile cellular phone register grow bigger than our population. Internet usage has exploded for this well-educated populace. Who has been at the forefront of this IT-mobile hi tech revolution? Chinese telecom giants, Huawei and ZTE are the ones that have been working with networks from both public and private companies with the support from Chinese financial houses.

Why pour spiteful scorn on such a rewarding bilateral relationship? In the event, a Britain that is aimed to be pleased by this gratuitously empty reportage no longer occupies that space in the telecommunication hardware and software domain. Finally, between February and July 2014, rural tobacco farmers pocketed US$670 million dollars out of the sale of tobacco.

Countless trips to Washington’s IMF and World Bank have not yet realised anything meaningful.

The other day I spoke to an executive from the European Investment Bank at a private dinner. He said even as our prospects begin to improve with them, lucky Zimbabwe can expect US$5 million from this lender at the most. It is an oxymoron to say without China’s engagement in contract tobacco growing, the land reform would have been an economic failure.

Now there are all these riches and more to come every year. Every day I am inundated by new contract farmers who seek a relationship with China’s Tianze.

None of them speak of a Chinese pistol pointed to their head directing them to work with Tianze.

Granted, every business relationship has its challenges. But as long as partners are freely negotiating according to national laws without any form of duress, an optimally satisfying arrangement can be attained.

Freely contracting Zimbabwe is also very capable of defending their interests. In such an environment, it is plainly misplaced and wrong for the Press to invoke the spectre of imperial control, when the ZDF, the ZRP and the Judiciary are under our full control as the means of adjudication and enforcement.

Cde Chris Mutsvangwa is Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zimbabwe’s former Ambassador to China, and a war veteran.

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