Harare and Beijing have been enjoying passionate relations for more than a decade now as the Southern African country was looking for new international exploits away from the West. On the other hand, China has been on an offensive foreign investment drive, particularly in Southern Africa.
To zero it down, China found a market in Africa where they can sell their goods and get fast-paced profits. To that end, even though the relationship has been sold to people as bilateral government relations, more Chinese private players are coming in to invest in Africa.
The coming in of the African Free Continental Trade Area (AfCTA) presents vast business opportunities for China to tap into a ready-made market of close to 1.3 billion people. For a viable free continental market, a lot of infrastructures has to be built, more raw materials are needed to sustain the demand and supply side and more capacity is required within the continent.
Speaking at the Global Trade in Services Summit of China International Fair of Trade in Services, where he was invited by the Chinese leader, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe is a strategic location for trade in Africa.
“Zimbabwe stands ready to strengthen international cooperation in the field of trade and services. We are situated in a strategic location in Southern Africa for regionally targeted investments. This can be taken advantage of under the Belt and Road initiative,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s huge natural resource base, educated and skilled workforce is also attractive investment incentives. I, therefore, invite China and the rest of the world to partner us,” he further stated.
Already, China has invested heavily in Zimbabwe. Most of the projects that the country is engaged in have profound Chinese connections. These investments range from infrastructure building, extractive industry, mineral processing, agriculture, WASH and even the national security of Zimbabwe.
However, critics from the opposition parties and the civil society have accused the government of signing opaque deals and lack of transparency. The question that has constantly been raised, is ‘if this is a win-win situation, what then was China promised by Zimbabwe in return?’
Intense project visibility
To paint a beautiful picture of a beneficial relationship between Harare and Beijing, the media has been awash with well-crafted stories of how the engagement has brought about fruits to the economy of Zimbabwe. This campaign is extended to social media, where government officials and ministry departments are pushing the same visibility agenda.
Recently, the country showcased the progress done by the Chinese on refurbishing the Robert Mugabe International Airport. The President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, applauded the Chinese government for continuously granting loans to Zimbabwe the status of its debt.
“In spite of the status of the government of Zimbabwe indebtedness to several Chinese companies, which in principle would have constrained China to extend facilitation to further projects because of that indebtedness, President Xi Jinping made a political decision and granted us three things.”
The three projects highlighted by the president included the revamp of the international airport, the Hwange power generating units 7 and 8, and the building of the national parliament.
The 80 per cent complete new parliament in Mt Hampden, which was a gift from China to Zimbabwe barely escapes the eye of the public media.
Under the China Aid Zimbabwe 500 Boreholes Project, 64 boreholes have been drilled in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South. Zimbabwe’s war against Covid-19 cannot be told without mentioning the Chinese contribution.
To tame the public transport crisis looming in Zimbabwe, the government has been importing batches of buses from China to boost the current ZUPCO fleet.
Despite the heavy project visibility and positive publicity, the Chinese companies have also been fighting a persistent voice of concern from the Zimbabwean citizens.
Recent clashes with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions over abuse of workers’ rights, loss of native land to booming Chinese mining activities, destruction of sacred sites and reserved spaces are some of the recently raised issues.
What of other countries?
Despite China overshadowing other countries on project publicity and the intentional publicity push by the government of Zimbabwe, other countries have also been doing stellar jobs in advancing Zimbabwe’s economic trajectory.
According to the 2021 midterm budget review, some of the top development partners disbursing grants in Zimbabwe include the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands and Canada in that order.
Despite this, on several occasions, the government of Zimbabwe has accused European nations of being standoffish and muzzling the growth of the economy through sanctions.