Zimbabwe: Will China feed us?

Vince Musewe says the country is not going to see the purported economic revolution until land ownership is corrected and rationalised

I find it incomprehensible that some of us are celebrating and boasting about the recent trip to China. The heap of papers that the President returned with, are not likely to convert into jobs for Zimbabweans in the short term, nor will they result in better liquidity for the banking sector. This should be our priority.

In my opinion, the role of the President is to protect the interests of Zimbabweans who pay his salary and maintain his luxurious lifestyle and protection. He mandate is to do whatever is necessary to create jobs for Zimbabweans and ensure that this economy grows and the country develops. On that score he has dismally failed us.

In the event that China proceeds to "loan" us the funds, it means that Zimbabweans will be paying their taxes over the next 20 years to China. That is the legacy that President Mugabe will leave us with. We will be feeding Chinese families while ours wallow in poverty, we will be creating jobs for them while our children must look for employment elsewhere, and we will provide business opportunities to their companies while our local companies are closing down. That is hardly something to celebrate!

In my opinion, infrastructure development is very important but not that urgent. What is urgent is for us to revive our local productive sector, cut imports and create jobs. My argument remains that infrastructure development is a result of economic growth and not the other way round. The economy does not grow simply because we have good roads. Of course we need decent roads but investment in roads must be as a result of a growing economy. Our focus must therefore be Zimbabwean jobs first and that can only be achieved by attracting foreign direct investment into our industrial sector.

I don't know how many times I must say this; the revival of our agriculture sector remains the only trigger to sustainable economic revival. The benefits to the economy of a vibrant agricultural sector are numerous; food security, employment creation, rehabilitation of agriculture related infrastructure, industrial revival and poverty alleviation. All it will take for us to achieve this is the removal of conflict on land properties, perform a thorough land audit and the issue of title deeds so that land can once more be a bankable asset. The resistance by ZANU (PF) to do the necessary is the fear of the exposure of the looting that went on and that the chefs may lose the multiple land assets which they stole.

Unfortunately we are not going to see an economic revolution as purported and hoped for by some until we correct and rationalise land ownership in Zimbabwe.

Having said the above, there is nothing wrong in principle in doing business with China but we must ensure that it creates jobs for Zimbabweans and thereby increase our disposable incomes. The deals signed with China can only be viable through creation of employment so that the government can earn more taxes to service the loans. That creation of employment can only be achieved in the agricultural and productive sectors and not through building of roads or dams.

The sad reality is that no local companies are set to benefit from Chinese deals. This government does not support local business and that is a historical problem. Instead we have the army partnering with the Chinese in all sectors and this has crowded out local businesses. We have a case of politicians who think they are businessmen and this continues to negatively impact of any potential economic recovery particularly the emergence of a vibrant private sector.

In the Zimbabwe we want to create, the private sector must play a more prominent role in business, state enterprises must be privatised and the role of government will only be to create a conducive environment for business and entrepreneurs to flourish. There should be no conflict of interest for government officials as is the case now. Government must stick to its core business which is to facilitate economic growth and development while providing basic social services.

It is interesting to note that the President only now speaks about how his ministers bungle and delay government projects which have cost the country dearly. This is hardly a revelation and has been the case since 1980. You will find out that these delays are mainly caused because of the patronage system which Mugabe has created over the years. Most of the delays are caused by disputes on who gets what from which deals. Government projects are a cesspit of greed corruption and on accountability.  Nothing is about to change.

Our fundamental problem remains the fact that the ZANU (PF) value system is just too rotten for any meaningful economic revival to come from its policies. A change in leadership and the resignation of Mugabe are our only hope to rebuild a new Zimbabwe for the benefit of all.

I therefore predict that nothing substantial will come out of the recently announced Chinese deals. We are going to see things worsen in the next four years because ZANU (PF) has no solution and continues to deny the reality that their time has come and gone; Zimbabwe needs fundamental political renewal first before we can create sustainable economic recovery.

China will not feed us.

Vince Musewe is an economist and author based in Harare. You may contact him on [email protected]

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