Zimbabwe’s Look East policy introduced at the height of the country’s isolation by the international community can be best described as one sided marriage that benefited the Chinese economy who gained access to mineral resources including diamond, gold and many others while the general population continued to wallow in poverty.
With the change in administration last year, former President Robert Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa has continued to head east with the recent trip reported to have resulted in mega deals being signed but the question that still lingers around is if there is anything for the ordinary man on the street.
The popularly signed mega deals have largely revolved around monetary issues despite the fact that the country could have benefited from China’s technological wealth that has seen global brands including Apple, Cisco, Huawei, ZTE and HP among others setting up factories in the world’s second largest economy.
As a technocrat, I believe if Zimbabwe was to foster its foreign relations based on the strengths of each nation, then definitely when dealing with the Chinese, our government could derive maximum benefit from technology exchange deals rather than direct monetary value.
Engaging China for foreign direct investments is good but deals should be structured in a way that will benefit Zimbabwe both in the present and long run. One of such deals is to sign technology & research exchange programme that will see the country producing its own blueprints in the production of locally designed technologies in the coming years.
As long as Zimbabwe does not start to produce its own technologies in areas of digital systems and hardware, we will continue to be net importers of foreign technologies, further draining the already overburdened fiscus. Over the past five years, Zimbabwe has spend hundreds of millions importing banking systems, and technology hardware leaving the country with a negative Balance of Payments.
SO what is the solution? I believe if we are to make anything out of these China deals, then its high time our government start courting the Chinese to invest through establishing technology research centers across our tertiary institutions. This will allow our young technocrats to have access to resources and start designing practical solutions which will benefit local industries in the long run.
BUT in recent years, the Chinese have managed to sell their end user technologies to us and reap millions of dollars in hardware sales through their trailblazings Huawei & ZTE brands. Through the ChinaExim Bank loan facility, Huawei has managed to deploy its telecommunications equipment to almost every operator’s core network infrastructure, including big players like TelOne, NetOne, and Transmedia. But the sad thing is that not a single portion of that equipment was locally assembled. The hardware came into Zimbabwe as finished products from China, creating a serious leakage of forex and an untapped market for creating jobs for the locals.
Maybe its now time we dare to think different. Zimbabwe must look east with a curious eye of learning how the Chinese go about in their technology trade. We must learn the secrets of successfully producing our own technology firms, and if we are to do it right, maybe we will see the birth of our very own technology giants that can save our treasury from foreign currency leakages.