President Emmerson Mnangagwa is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the African Union Summit, and the questions we have to ask are: what does Zimbabwe have to offer the continental bloc, and what does the organisation give to our country?
For years, the AU Summit has been described by its harshest critics as nothing more than a talk shop, a club of leaders who congregate annually to give each other a pat on the back for holding office while the continent remains grossly underdeveloped.
There is some truth to that attack, though that is not to say the AU is a meaningless organisation and its Summit a useless gathering.
This is President Mnangagwa’s first AU Summit as leader of our Republic. And the citizenry will want to know what benefits the country will accrue from his participation in the Summit.
Last week, he spent much time in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum and for many people, the logic of his participation was apparent.
The task at hand is to make participation in the AU Summit relevant.
For the AU to have relevance to the people of Zimbabwe, discussions must move away from mere political statements to a practical economic growth and development agenda, an industrialisation strategy, and a trade integration drive.
The idea is to chart implementable ways of unlocking African countries respective competitive advantages and getting them to benefit the continent.
We are talking here about building synergies between African economies so that they develop and deliver tangible results that are seen in an improvement in the quality of living of the most deprived and disadvantaged among us.
As President Mnangagwa’s administration sets about establishing win-win ties with countries from the East and from the West, it should appreciate that economic partnerships must also be forged with diverse African nations.
We need not only look East and West. We must also look inwards.
Africa presents a market of more than one billion people and is home to natural resources worth trillions of dollars.
The bitter experience of more than 100 years informs us that these abundant human and natural resources are oft exploited for the benefit of people far from Africa with little benefit accruing to this continent by way of physical and social infrastructure.
The African Union Summit should be about mapping ways of reaping advantages from the fact that the continent has immense arable land, abundant water and energy resources, including for renewable energy, 13,5 percent of the world’s trade in minerals, a solid marine, fisheries and forestry base, and immense potential for tourism.
Why then should we continue to be beggars? Why then should we continue to negotiate bad economic and trade deals with the East and the West?
There is no need for Zimbabwe and other African countries to be importing toothpicks, combs and other such odds and ends from faraway lands as if we cannot manufacture such basic things on our own here.
So as we pursue better economic and trade deals with the East and the West, we must start to pursue better deals among ourselves as well.
The idea of looking inwards has recently been proven to work right here in Zimbabwe.
Consider how local resources were unlocked to create and implement the Specialised Maize Import Substitution Scheme, better known as Command Agriculture.
Command Agriculture showed that at a local level, we can develop ourselves.
A similar mind set can be extrapolated on a continental level so that we steer our own development by the sweat of our own brows and the ingenuity of our own minds.
This is how jobs are created, this is how food security is guaranteed, and this is how standards of living are improved.
Zimbabwe and Africa must realise that the condition of indigenous peoples here is far from ideal.
It is time we accepted that there is much hard work ahead of us and that the sooner we knuckle down to the core business of economic development and industrialisation, the better for us all.
It cannot be business as usual at the African Union Summit and in our individual homelands when we are faced with poverty and underdevelopment at the scale we see around us.
As Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Namibia, Prince Adegboya Christopher Ariyo, a firm proponent of the African industrialisation agenda, would put it: “We must act desperately.”
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