Let’s punch in a few figures, even though I know figures don’t make good, easy read. We need them all the same, more so when one realises certain prejudices have tended to entrench and misguide debate on national issues, all in the absence of hard figures and facts. I will start with tobacco, our area of real breakthrough.
Earnings have hit US$1.3bn this marketing season, up from slightly over US$700million recorded same season last year. This staggering figure comes from the 160million kg of tobacco sold during the season, well above the 130million of previous season. From this haul, we are set to export over US$1billion worth of tobacco, surpassing the US$800million exported last season.
The downside is that we process and consume a mere three percent from this staggering harvest, arguably good for national health but decidedly bad for value addition, for our movement away from the raw material export regime which has been the bane of our economy and economies of most Third World countries. All these are TIMB figures.
When the Chinaman smokes
But there are some key figures emerging from our raw tobacco exports. China is and has been the country’s biggest tobacco buyer, been so for more than a decade now. It takes in 46,3 million kg tobacco worth almost US$360million.
Indeed the Chinese love their smoke, and
need our tobacco to ginger up theirs. What is more, China also gives the country the highest average price by volumes of US$7,76 per kg. Additionally, China funds the growing of a sizeable portion of this tobacco through contract farming.
There is another shocker. The next best buyer of our tobacco after China is Belgium, accounting for 22million kg, just below half of what China
buys. Belgium’s value to the industry is US$114 million, at an average price of US$5,15 per kg, which is about US$2.5 dollars shy of the Chinese average price.
Next is South Africa, coming a distant third from imports accounting for 17million kg of our tobacco worth 56million at an average price of US$3,36. I am told the highest price came from Japan which paid US$10.03 per kg, but bought a mere 600kg. Of course the Congo offered the worst price of US$0.29. It accounted for 76 800kg of our tobacco.
I need to clinch the points: China is the biggest and best buyer of our tobacco whose growing it also sponsors through contract farming.
The next best customer is Belgium, followed by South Africa. Let us keep that order in mind in this industry which now records almost 84 000 growers who, arguably, are also households. Compute the welfare implications of this and the broader land reform programme which made this possible.
Indeed when the China man smokes, Zimbabwe catches a livelihood.
When size of concern outstrips trade
I move on to Zimbabwe’s broad trade with the rest of the world. Trade between China and Zimbabwe grew 30 percent in the nine months to September, with Zimbabwe enjoying a surplus of US$279million, according to figures released by the Chinese Embassy here. Zimbabwe’s exports were up 44 percent and valued at US$597million, against Chinese imports of US$318million.
Of course the greater portion of Zimbabwe’s exports to China subsist in raw tobacco. Not diamonds as widely believed! Noteworthy is the fact that our imports from China are largely machinery.
The Trade and Law Centre which captures trade statistics between Zimbabwe and the whole of the EU record a doubling of trade to US$888,12million in 2012, up from US$479million three years before in 2009. Of course sanctions made sure the trade between the bloc and Zimbabwe declined from an all-time high of US$1,2bn achieved in 2009, just before land reforms.
In fact the US$888,12million marks some decline from US$931,5 achieved in 2011, indicating some fluctuations but within a general upward trend in trade. Our exports are dominated by minerals but also include agricultural products.
Again, let me clinch the points. Let it be recorded that more of our finite mineral resources are going to the EU than to China, a point rarely acknowledged by our pseudo-European, African nationalist commentators!
Let it also be recorded that value of trade between Zimbabwe and China peeps that between Zimbabwe and the whole EU bloc. I hope we can give our policies and this notion of re-engagement with the West a sense of size and proportion. It makes little sense to go feverish about engaging people whose trade value to us is small and unpredictable, while bad mouthing those who are emerging as real trading partners. Let the size of our affection and concern be the size of our trade. Please!
The way to Brussels is via Brussels
How about boss America? Well, the US Department of Commerce says in the three quarters of this year, Zimbabwe has recorded a trade surplus of US$32million in its trade with America. Total trade between the two countries is worth US$106million.
The rises in the last three years have been marginal. Our exports to the Americans are predominantly minerals , then skins and a few agricultural commodities. Again, let our Eurocentric commentators take note — due note — of who is using up our finite mineral resources.
But a few more points are in order. The US$32 million trade surplus is a little shy from the US$20 million our companies have lost to the US by way of impounded receipts under the sanctions law, ZDERA. That makes America’s net cost to this economy huge, when read against the paltry US$32million surplus, so-called.
Our tobacco sales to Belgium mean more to us than our total trade with America. Surely it is much more than re-engaging the West; it is about quantifying the West’s value to us, and also forensically determining which polity in the whole western world is worth developing relations with.
Given Belgium’s role on our diamonds, Belgium is definitely worth cultivating, and Brussels is not reached through London or Washington.
China the investor
I move on to the area of investment. The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) recently revealed that China emerges as a consistent top investor in Zimbabwe from 2010, with its investments contributing 72 percent, or US$670million from a total of US$930million worth of projects approved last year. By end of October, ZIA had approved US$374,8million worth of investments mainly in the areas of energy and mining.
In fact in 2012, China’s cumulative investments in the mining sector (gold, diamonds and chrome) totalled US$583million, or 62percent of the total US$688million FDI approvals for the entire Zimbabwean mining industry last year. China offers 40 tradeable minerals, all of them in Zimbabwe.
Agriculture amounted to US$18,6million of her investments, manufacturing US$35,5million, while US$23million went into services. Construction accounted for US$7,4million.
There is clear evidence of balanced Chinese appetite across sectors, with an emphasis on medium to large-scale projects.
When not looking West really helps
There is another surprise. Russia emerges second on investments, with approvals from it worth US$40,1million. Next came South Africa with US$39million, and UK with US$34million.
Next comes Mauritius with approvals worth US$25million. But of course these are figures on mere approvals. Real figures on investments which come into the country are far lower, albeit with China still dominating.
ZIA figures show China as having invested US$100million in the first five months of the year, followed by Malaysia with US$11million and South Africa with US$7million.
The key points to make is that China is targeting extractive industries which it is still developing. Presently it cannot explain who is chewing our finite mineral resources, although it could in due course. But its partnership approach to investments gives us an equal share in the exploitation of those resources.
More important, Zimbabwe’s healthy resource base means more Chinese FDI is more than likely. Secondly, Russia is to be watched as a growing investor in Zimbabwe, with Zimbabwe gaining more from associating and cultivating South Africa and Mauritius than the hoary UK, all along its traditional circumstantial investor and decade-long tormentor.
China does, the West’s endless excuses
Even more important, China is entering the infrastructural and energy areas, both of which are key enablers to economic recovery as envisaged under Zim Asset. A good pointer to China’s responsiveness to local beneficiation policies are the US$100million-worth of five chrome processing plants underway, one of which is now virtually complete, sited at Selous.
Contrast this with the Americans who have been here, exploiting our Chrome since UDI days when they refused to obey UN sanctions citing security concerns. Contrast this with British extractive companies which have been here for well over a century without beneficiating.
Contrast this with Zimplats which has been dropping all manner of arguments on why a platinum refinery is not yet possible. Early December shall witness a major Chinese investment in the cotton ginning sector.
About this, let me not give away too much, except to say that job creation is going to be massive, both directly and indirectly. These are the hard facts, formidably backed by statistics. I take it we are all agreed that real jobs and real value come from value addition, not raw exports.
I apologise for this part which is so heavily laced with figures. But we needed it for what follows.
Another Caliban, again
I now turn to the dominant economic discourse in this country, all in the light of the above hard facts. One article which dominated headlines this week read: “Analysts, citizens slam Look East policy.”
The article expresses serious reservations about “the conduct of Asian investors in Zimbabwe”, adding “The Chinese in particular have become notorious for their violation of the labour laws, which in some instances involves long working hours, poor salaries and lack of protective clothing as well as physical abuse of employees.
They have also come under fire for failing to create employment amid allegations they are bringing cheap labour from their country. The extremely poor quality of products they sell here has become a major concern among consumers. Of late, the Chinese have been implicated in illegal activities such as smuggling of minerals and ivory poaching.”
Some economist is imported into the story — one Innocent Makwiramiti — who says the Chinese have failed to fill the void left by Western investors and have become “more looters than investors”.
“They have failed to create employment compared to Western investors, who come with their technology and skills and impart them to the locals,” adds the so-called economist.
It is almost the story of Caliban, the conquered native for whom gaining a new master — not getting emancipated from all mastery — seems a major milestone. It is so sad.
Why are you here, Chinese?
Then John Robertson weighs in: “Their objective is to make money for China and we should not be encouraging that kind of investment.” Then ZCTU’s Nkiwane who calls them “worst employers”. After Nkiwane comes ordinary black Zimbabweans from “Harare’s Central Business District”, all brought in to prove that “public opinion was very much against the Chinese.”
In reality, the article whips an anti-Chinese sentiment almost to xenophobic proportions. “I have not yet seen anything that would justify the Chinese staying here. Despite their presence, we still have a high unemployment rate unlike during the days of Western investors.
“They are only here because of Zanu-PF — their mission is to make money and go,” says one Last Chinodya from Mufakose. As a representative voice for us blacks, Chinodya sounds militant and nationalistic, averse to any occupation of national space by the Chinese. But only by the Chinese. No regard is paid to the rampant persisting unemployment, only matched by many westerners who remain here. So what justifies their staying here? And it is as if the small Chinese have toppled our dear, employing whites! Again, so, so sad!
We don’t need to look east!
In case you thought the above article is a fluke, here is the Zimbabwe Independent, a finance and business weekly. Its editorial comment this week, titled “We need coherent, pragmatic leaders”, rails against a hidebound, ideological approach to national issues by the political leadership, all in an increasingly complex and interdependent world. In part the editorial comment reads: “Zimbabwe is “looking east”, while the East is looking West and on every other direction.
Deng, with his cat metaphor, and Kwame Nkrumah’s words, long debunked this misleading linear thinking. The truth is we don’t need such things as the “Look East” policy; we need progressive thinking and strategies of economic development.
Government can’t afford to think within the “Us versus Them” premise; their policies and decisions must be based on research, data, technocratic advice and citizens needs. We live in a world of complex matrices and perplexing choices, so we need to be more nuanced and discerning in our understanding of issues. Crude and crass thinking doesn’t help anymore. Zimbabwe needs a coherent and pragmatic leadership, not insular and myopic rulers, more so when clashes over resources have become a political lightning rod in many mineral-rich countries like ours.” Of course in many ways the editorial reads like Manheru last week, except for very different reasons.
On whose behalf are we angry?
I want to raise key questions in the continuing discussion on our national visioning task. What factual and statistical basis supports Zimbabwe’s incipient but clearly growing anti-Chinese discourse in its economic arguments and visioning escapades? The above statistics clearly attest to a growing role for Chinese capital at a time of sanctions-induced severe contraction on the part of western capital, whether actual or prospective. What supports this reflexive deriding of Chinese capital which has waded into our market in spite of greater politics, against all caution? Are we dealing with an economic argument or a political attitude?
If it’s a political attitude, whose is it, ours, congenitally ours, or induced and borrowed? The figures above show who has been moving Zimbabwe in its lean years. Who, in other words, has been stopping the country from collapsing. I would want to believe that is our real interest, collective national interest. So, in whose interest is this anti-Chinese sentiment which comes through us as raw anger, indigenous and very black? On whose behalf are we angry with the Chinese? It is a question Arthur Mutambara once raised, but we ducked responsibility for answering it by turning it into a rhetorical question.
Blaming China for western ruin
Or the obverse, before the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, western capital was dominant here, both before and after our Independence. By the mid nineties and certainly after the 2000 land reform programme, that capital deserted this market on political instructions and as part of building pressure against our taking back our land. The current industrial dysfunction has nothing to do with the Chinese. It has everything to do with western resistance to Zimbabwe’s post-independence nationalist policies before we looked East, everything to do with western economic sabotage to force the hand of local politics. Blair even wanted to follow that hostile action through with military action. Yet we don’t blame the offending West, don’t blame ourselves, our entitlement policies and the land we have recovered.
Accept that this is the price we pay for our freedom and heritage. No, we blame the Chinese, ostensibly for not replacing the westerners effectively after they have ruined our country, by creating many jobs for us and by transferring technology to us! Except the westerners took back their jobs and never injected new technology here, which is why this country beats the rest of the world as an industrial museum showcase for decrepit technologies. It is as if the West left in protest at the arrival of the Chinese, and not that the Chinese only coming in after the West has left in a huff.
Don’t we sense we have a problem, ourselves as Zimbabweans and how we understand and appreciate our total circumstances? Surely it makes better sense to blame and attack the West for ruining our jobs and destroying our economy?
And then our understanding of rules for investors who come here. When we say Government must be pro-business and pro-investors, indeed berate it for being ideological in a pragmatic era, are we laying down ground rules for all investors regardless of colour, shape of face, height and geographical origin? Or are we hiding behind these seemingly broad, neutral rules to push through our pro-West ideological hide-boundedness whose flip side is the same ideological inflexibility we charge the political leadership with? When we say “we don’t need such things as the “Look East” policy”, are we not saying we only need “Look West” policy, and saying so with a sense of supreme flexibility, wisdom and fashionable bigotry? Are we not being “insular and myopic”, like our rulers against whom we reserve full rheum?
White, western and Rhodesian
Robertson says the objective of Chinese businesses “is to make money for China and we should not be encouraging that kind of investment.” Although I don’t know who “we” is, I still say fair enough. But what has been the objectives of British, American, German, Dutch, Swedish investments since 1890? For whom have they been making money? For the Chinese, for the Russians, for the Africans? Which investor in this country has made money for someone else other than themselves , their country and race?
Where are the national returns on the countless mining dumps, industrial chimneys, broken lives and livelihoods that are ours to count and endure as the once colonised? Robertson confuses me. And when his fellow Rhodesian – Eddie Cross – tells Parliament only this week that: “There is no investor in the world that is going to put a dollar on the table and have fifty-one cents taken by ZANU-PF,” might such a rule of thumb on investor handling encompass, accommodate the Chinese? Where would that leave Robertson and is arguments? And Cross makes remarks that yield an amusing yet far-reaching double-meaning: “We cannot expect any substantial new investment in Zimbabwe until we are able to guarantee
those investors power”! Could we concede such power to all investors, including the Chinese? Or an investor is more than he who brings in capital? He must be white, western or Rhodesian? What would be our stake as Africans in such a racialised definition?
One senses not just double standards, but a deep-seated racism which we have met sometime in our history, but which we have never fully grasped by way of its full scope in history, its extraordinary adaptability in post-colonial, global times. What is worse, we have internalised it. Historically, racism developed in circumstances of colonial invasion, occupation and plunder. Whilst its core tenets were the same, it adapted itself to circumstances of subject nations and peoples against whom it was practised. We Africans mistakenly think we are the only victims of racism. No, we aren’t.
The Chinese, the Indians and the Latinos were. What is not known by many in Zimbabwe is that just as we blacks were profiled as indolent, infantile and lewd, the Chinese were characterised as sly, deceitful and given to stealing, so mischaracterised by the same British who dehumanised us here. Before British eyes, we were the same subjects who had to be redeemed from damnation. How different is this image from the dummy Robertson and his ilk are selling us today, in spite of China’s powerful role in global affairs? Don’t we see the incongruity of a black mouth spouting the same dehumanising epithets as was reserved for a fellow oppressed Chinese by the British in colonial heyday?
If China is so deceitful and so bad for nations, why is the West looking and courting East, something apparently unknown to the Zimbabwe Independent? But it is also funny that we black Zimbabweans are incited to hate the Chinese who gave us guns and the technology of liberation yesterday, give us technology and capital for development today, while loving uxoriously the very westerners who have crafted and imposed hurtful sanctions that daily ravage our lives and destroy our collective livelihoods. Or that we who have suffered more than 400 000 white intruders and occupiers here for well over a century, suddenly invent xenophobia against a handful of Chinese people who are here to do business with us, indeed have only been here less than a decade ago. Why are we taught to hate people with whom we have a shared colonial history, taught to hate each other by our common enemy?
It helps to recall that one enduring ruse of imperialism is turn its real victims into its “freed” beneficiaries from another and even imaginary evil power invented solely to burnish its own otherwise glaring misdeeds and evil acts. So in 1890 the Shonas were not invaded, conquered, occupied and enslaved; they were saved from a marauding despot called Lobengula. So goes the colonial lore. Similarly, today Zimbabweans have to fear and be saved from the Chinese who loot their diamonds and “invest only for China”, and not from the British who have looted their country, independence, resources and personality since 1890.
Not saved from the same British who seek the old colonial mastery. I thought we had come of age, grown older than child-men and child-women of yore, bearded infantiles who are given new, diversionary scapegoats by their real enemies. That way we forget that China became a powerhouse not by smoking British opium, not by aping British ways, but by skillfully riding the hyena of capitalism, taming it until it accepted to have Chinese characteristics. I have no problem in Zimbabweans not wanting to lose their finite resources to the Chinese; what bothers me is their readiness to lose them to the West. And feeling most holy and righteous about it. Icho!