IN God they trust – so they say. They have no permanent friends, but permanent interests.
They pursue those with vigour.
They keep an eagle eye on everyone and everything, even planet Mars. They believe in technological and innovation leadership. They sing the virtues of free markets. They are the Americans.
“Empires wax and wane; alliances coalesce and fall apart,” is a Chinese saying. It carries a warning to all. They see in the word the danger of it being “the opium of the masses”.
They believe in economic strength as the foundation of military capability. They note both strengths are important for a nation to be respected.
The Chinese are consciously following the footsteps of the Americans, taking care to avoid the mistakes.
“Kakara kununa kudya tumwe!” is a local Shona saying. It translates to the law of the jungle: “Eat or be eaten.” All countries should be aware of this. Enter Zimbabwe: “We have all-weather friends,” intones the leadership.
But wait a moment, where have all the Chiadzwa diamonds gone? Are they now with our “all-weather friends”, bought for a song, advantage taken as Zim’s frenemies were not in the market?
The last Chinese Vice -Premier to set foot in Zimbabwe warned the country that Chinese companies coming to invest in the country are not missionaries.
They are here for profit, for money. When that trait manifests itself, it has been a rude awakening for the Zimbabweans. But then they should have known better, given their local saying.
“Look to the East”, does not mean expect to be bailed out financially forever. It means study how China lifted 600 million people out of poverty in three decades.
Then apply the lessons to do a similar job at home, in Africa. The Chinese looked to the West, and adjusted their Marxist / Maoist doctrine.
The Western world looks everywhere, for business opportunities. In the process, they recognised that a strong, rich, consumerist China is a huge market, a global asset, while a poor one is an eyesore and security risk.
Indeed the same recognition by both the East and the West extends to Africa. No one needs an all-weather beggar.
However, because of unrealistic expectations, Afro perceptions of Afro-Chinese relationships may be straining.
Recent shrill headline in a government-owned daily to the effect that Chinese firms had taken advantage of the lack of competitive bidding to pad their costs and profits in power generation and telecom projects seem to confirm this.
The fear may be true, or it may not be. But why shouldn’t they take advantage of an opportunity? Isn’t that capitalism, though with “Chinese characteristics”, whatever those may be?
Business is business, and the purpose of a firm in the East or West, it has been argued, “is to make money”.
A similar report appeared later in the Financial Gazette. The pink paper (February 26, 2015) noted that Cottco and Cargill, cotton buying and cotton contract farming financiers, are no more and that indigenous cotton farmers are mourning their demise. Chinese merchants, it reported, had replaced the local firm and Western company respectively and as a result, the farmers insinuated, prices of cotton have reached rock bottom.
The paper said: “Farmers decried the closure of these companies, arguing that the Chinese merchants (Zim’s all-weather friends) were untrustworthy and were not interested in the development of the communities. Farmers are accusing the Chinese of being only interested in profit making, unlike other players not linked to China”. Really?
Where, one may ask, are these other players? And why are they not taking over the market if they are offering better prices?
China is said to have told Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance, to forget about budget support.
It cannot justify that given that a third or more of its own people are still living in abject poverty. Repeatedly it tells all and sundry that it is still a developing country, not a First World War one.
When aid comes from China, Zimbabweans should be mindful of that and that in other countries charity begins at home.
The unfair comparison between Chinese investors and nostalgic memories of traditional Western investors can lead to xenophobia at a cost to the Zimbabwean economy.
Foreign immigrants have been known to start firms more often than locals as data from Berlin and possibly London can demonstrate.
As the Afro/Zim–Chinese relationship evolves with time, with economic growth on both sides, the gap between Chinese firms’ behaviour and that of Western companies will narrow.
That is globalisation. It is colour-blind. “I do not care what colour a cat is so long as it catches mice,” the great Deng Xiaoping is reputed to have said launching China’s economic miracle.
It is a sentiment that would give our land reform and industrial policies a much- needed complete makeover.
The key is to open the economy to the highest bidder while removing all local rent-seeking behaviour.
Rising Chinese salaries are forcing both indigenous Chinese companies, and Western companies that sought offshore manufacturing bases in China to consider Africa as the new frontier.
Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana are already reaping the benefits of being friendly to both the East and West.
Shoes manufactured in Ethiopia by a Chinese firm end up in the huge Western market benefiting everyone in the production chain.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent admission that Zim has wasted a decade “fighting” the West caught the Press by surprise.
It may be a sign that even all-weather friends are telling each other the plain truth.
Tapiwa Nyandoro can be contacted on email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org