THE recently held US-Africa Leaders’ Summit, the first such United States-hosted event with over 50 African Heads of State attending, was a missed opportunity for Zimbabwe.
John Mokwetsi in Washington D.C
The summit, held in Washington, DC, followed similar Africa summits hosted by China, France, the European Union (EU), and others, and may be seen, in part, as a response to such events.
Zimbabwe was not invited to the conference because of President Robert Mugabe’s frosty relations with the West.
The US imposed travel and financial sanctions on Mugabe and his top officials in 2001 for alleged human rights abuses.
Other Heads of States who did not attend the summit include Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki and Central African Republic’s Catherine Samba-Panza.
The Zimbabwean government downplayed the significance of the summit choosing instead to blast America’s foreign policy.
The Harare administration used the summit snub to prop up its Look East policy, a venture that has yielded nothing significant since it was adopted about a decade ago.
In an interview with Voice of America, Foreign Affairs deputy minister Christopher Mutsvangwa, was dismissive: “Of course, we as Zimbabweans we are not invited. We have no misgivings when America decides to exclude us. It is a country which has been uncomfortable with an assertive nationalist. We brook no strictures from anybody, including America.”
The country’s economy continues to spiral south despite a breather during the 2009 to 2013 period when there was a modicum of political stability due to a government of national unity formed by the ruling party, Zanu PF and the two opposition MDC parties.
The Washington summit was organised around the theme Investing in the Next Generation. Summit participants — President Barack Obama, the chairperson of the African Union, and African Heads of States — discussed investment issues, peace and security, governance, and other topics.
Jonathan Berman, author of Success in Africa and a fellow at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, told Wall Street Journal that while some would measure the summit’s success by the deal announcements, it was all about the relationships that are formed.
“The most important aspect of the summit is the commercial interaction. The most valuable meetings will be the side meetings and dinners. That’s where the real action will be happening,” he said.
Zimbabwe, heavily in need of foreign direct investment, could have benefited from the business forum that even hosted President of South Africa Jacob Zuma and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania to discuss the potential of Africa in various sectors.
Mugabe has consistently looked to China for salvation; however, the leader of China in one of his African tours snubbed Zimbabwe despite visiting neighbouring countries.
China’s investment in the country has been criticised as employers complain of harsh working conditions and independent observers say the Chinese have been taking money out of the country than invest in infrastructure.
China, Japan, the EU, France, and India have all held heads of state and other high-level ministerial summits with African leaders in recent years, and all have long had or are rapidly increasing their trade and investment relations with Africa.
These foreign countries’ summit styles and objectives have varied, but typically they culminate in mutually agreed announcements regarding multiple pledges of security, development, and trade and investment co-operation and assistance.
China does not, however, commit leaders to issues of human rights.
Zimbabwe lags behind most African countries in development.
In recent years, many sub-Saharan African countries have achieved rapid economic growth, albeit starting from a low base by global standards.
According to the White House, this has spurred middle class expansion, massive increases in access to digital communications—notably economic activity boosting cellphone networks — and infrastructure construction.
The World Bank has not been lending Zimbabwe money because of debts the country has not serviced.
There was goodwill and understanding of the need to forgive these debts. It was a topic even Obama welcomed.
Zimbabwe’s total debt stands at $9,9 billion or 54 % of gross domestic product, according to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.
Obama speaking at the opening of the three-day Presidential Summit early this month, said the Group of 7 (G7) nations were open to cancelling debts of African countries that are saddled with debts from loans that might have been incurred and squandered by past leaders.
Pedzisai Ruhanya, a political analyst, said Zimbabwe was isolating itself further from the critical international partners when it needs to move forward as a country.
The forging of stronger relationships between US firms and their African counterparts; a growing recognition among US firms of the lucrative opportunities offered by Africa’s diverse markets is evident.
Yet it is clear that the country has missed out on the $33 billion investment money that Obama unveiled to Africa and the door he opened to investors from the US to have confidence in pouring money and creating employment for the highly educated African youths.
Zimbabwe is already not benefiting from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a non-reciprocal US trade preference programme that provides duty-free tariff treatment on certain imports from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.
The US Congress first passed AGOA in 2000 as part of an ongoing US effort to promote African development, deepen economic integration within the region, and strengthen US-African trade and investment ties.
Obama said of the summit: “We agreed that summits like this can be a critical part of our work together going forward, a forcing mechanism for decisions and action. So we agreed that the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit will be a recurring event to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and sustain our momentum.”
Reaching out will see us being involved in future so that Zimbabwe can use its human and natural resources to grow an economy that was once the envy of all.