by Bayano Valy – SANF 08 No 16
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has said his government’s “Look East” policy is an effective measure to counter Western imposed sanctions and is empowering Zimbabweans.
Zimbabwe has strengthened its economic ties with several countries in Asia, the sub-continent and the Middle East (China, India, Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia) in a bid to counter the sanctions applied by Europe at the instigation of the United Kingdom and United States of America.
The sanctions which are supported by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition parties have hit the country hard, resulting in shortages of foreign currency needed to import raw materials for manufacturing and agro-industries.
Addressing a rally ahead of the forthcoming 29 March general elections, in the Mbare constituency just outside the emblematic Rufaro Stadium in the capital Harare, where the celebrations of independence took place in April 1980, Mugabe said that Zimbabwe was learning a lot from the Eastern nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia where the countries had implemented deliberate Small and Medium Enterprises policies that led to their economic growth.
The policies had empowered the people, he said, which compared favourably to the Western policies of funding projects which do not empower the people at the local level.
Mugabe expressed confidence that the economy will soon recover as the “Look East” policy is starting to bear fruit. The reason why it had taken a while for the economy to rebound owed much to the way the Zimbabwean economy had been aligned with the Western economies, he said.
Since Zimbabwe embarked on the “Look East” policy, there has been a flurry of activities as business people from Asian countries, notably China, seek to invest in the country, looking for lucrative deals in the power and mining sectors, as well as general trade.
State-owned companies such as China Aero-technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) have entered into investment deals with the ZESA Holdings, for the refurbishment of power plants. CATIC also pledged in 2005 that it would invest US$400 million in mining.
The refurbishment of the power plants at Hwange and Kariba will be a great boost to Zimbabwe since the country, much like others in the SADC region, is experiencing a deficit in power generational capacity which results in load-shedding.
Trade between Zimbabwe and China has increased significantly in recent years since a substantive rise a decade ago. The jump came between 1998 and 1999 when Zimbabwean exports to China in US$ terms increased from $17 million to $103 million.
The main export at that time was tobacco, which accounted for more than 90 percent of exports to China (US$101.5 million in 1999).
China has also supported Zimbabwe for the construction of sports facilities, hospitals and schools, and recent investments by Chinese companies include textile factories and cement. China has contributed to the development of steel manufacturing in Zimbabwe through its financial involvement in the refurbishment of the blast furnace at the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO).
China has also given interest-free loans and grants to Zimbabwe for various infrastructure development projects.
Legislation to indigenise the economy through an empowerment programme to ensure 51 percent ownership of shares by Zimbabweans has recently received presidential assent. This is intended to rectify a situation where the majority of Zimbabweans are labourers and do not own the means of production.
However, presidential hopefuls Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition MDC Tsvangirai party and Simba Makoni, former finance minister, argue that they are best placed to move Zimbabwe out of the current economic hardships.
Tsvangirai told a rally in Harare that, “I have a solution to the problems affecting Zimbabwe.” He said that his party would convene a national economic reconstruction programme that would ensure Zimbabwe’s economic structure could attract international investors.
Makoni added that “we’re not going to rely on Chinese companies to provide us with fertilisers for applying in our own fields.” Chinese companies are investing in the rehabilitation of fertilizer manufacturing in Zimbabwe, and meanwhile have been supplying fertiliser from China.
He advocated that Zimbabwe, to address the current economic difficulties, would have to attract the attention of international investors and financial institutions.
Not much has been heard of political debutante Langton Tawungana. Like Makoni, he is running as an independent candidate. Although Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Makoni have blazed the campaigning trail, Tawungana uses a different strategy: he says God is campaigning for him and just stays at home.
The political parties are also fielding candidates for senatorial, parliamentary and local council elections.
According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the official election administrator, there are 779 candidates for the 210 seats in the lower house of assembly in the harmonised election, and 197 aspirants for the 60 elected seats in the upper house, the senate, from 12 political parties and 116 independents.
ZEC has said that it will deploy 107,690 polling officers who will oversee voting in 11,000 polling stations throughout the country.
Zimbabwe’s electorate is estimated at around 5.9 million registered voters out of a population of around 12 million.