OPINION | China vs USA: In the battles over lowly Zimbabwe, it is what Zimbabweans want that is important

Neither East, nor West (pic: AFP)

By Takura Zhangazha

There are a number of new stories that are emerging about the role of China in Zimbabwe. 

In the past, the Chinese Embassy would have been less robust in defense of its bilateral aid to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government, given its re-engagement policy, would be a bit more circumspect about what it puts out into the public domain about how it views either global superpower’s perception of events that unfold in its own jurisdiction, in relation to the United States of America. 

The fact of the matter is that there is some sort of social media diplomatic spat between China and the United States of America (USA) over Zimbabwe.  

It appears to be relatively causal, but it obviously has deeper issues that we may not be privy to as ordinary Zimbabweans. This is not just because Zimbabwe’s ruling establishment evidently has closer historical ties to China, but also because of given contemporary mainstream global media narratives on the role of the latter on the African continent.

But more specifically to Zimbabwe, there is the added narrative that China is exploiting our natural resources in order to prop up the current Mnangagwa government. It is a narrative that again has multiple sources that are directly linked to what would be a newer, potentially emerging global cold war from China’s rising role in the political economy of globalization, and not necessarily about who or what Zimbabwe is in the ‘global’ scheme of things. 

What, however, cannot be wished away at least historically is that Zimbabwe and China have always had closer relations. This is mainly based on the fact of the liberation struggle that China directly and militarily supported, but also its role at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) where it vetoed (together with Russia) direct international sanctions on our country. 

Recently, the USA and Chinese local embassies have gone into slight overdrive about their role in  Zimbabwe’s domestic politics, as enunciated via their social media handles (surprise surprise with China).

Whether they are commenting about the need for by-elections in Zimbabwe (USA) or the alleged deliberate besmirching of Chinese bilateral aid and investment in Zimbabwe’s mining/agricultural economy (Chinese Embassy). 

China vs USA: Whose side?

What becomes interesting beyond populist discourse is reading between the lines of this new approach by both governments. 

The USA has a long standing official view on Zimbabwe, which is based on the issue of sanctioning what it considers a ‘rogue regime’ since the 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA). It continues to claim these are targeted sanctions.   

China, on the other hand, has an official foreign policy of ‘non-interference’ and utilitarian mutual benefit between countries’. Never mind the status of ‘democracy and human rights’ in the same said country. 

To paraphrase the Godfather movie, this, in China’s view, would be ‘nothing personal, just business’. 

What is apparent is that Zimbabwe has, thanks to its international re-engagement policy, found itself inadvertently having to pick what it considers a better side. In this instance, this would, at least according to some government statements, be China. This is not only because of the UN veto in 2008, but because of the economic and COVID-19 pandemic mitigation support that the latter has given the country. 

But is still boils down to domestic perception of either global superpowers’ role in Zimbabwe. In most populist instances, be they urban or rural, there is what Edward Said would have referred to as ‘Orientalism’. This is the false and partially racist assumption that anything coming from the Global East is not only exploitative to the African but also not preferable when compared with that which comes from the Global West. 

What do we want?

The key considerations therefore then come to revolve around the question; what do Zimbabweans want? 

Where there have been arguments against a Chinese new-colonialism, the alternative arguments have indicated a preferential alternative. 

I do not know what the apparatchiks in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office think, but the possibility of the matter is that their re-engagement policy needs to crosscheck Nkrumah’s statement on neither looking East or West but forward, and embracing a progressive world view that thinks beyond the global international relations placement of Zimbabwe beyond the immediate for neoliberal convenience, but for social democratic posterity.

Finally, Zimbabwe will always interact with the world in one form or the other, from various ideological and historical standpoints. But we are better off making these contextual, historical and realistic perspectives, based on our own national values and beliefs before they are either fashionable, convenient or populist.  

So where the USA and China have divergent viewpoints about their foreign policy impact on Zimbabwe, it does not really matter. What matters is what we Zimbabweans think is more important, in tandem with SADC, to be better partnerships, for not only ourselves but also our Southern African region. 

As a final point, Zimbabwe has become emblematic of how to attempt to reverse colonial history and in the process is emblematic of a new form of African liberation globally. But history should never cripple us, and neither should it be the raison-de-etre of other countries’ foreign policies toward us.   

Be that as it may, by way of global perception, China or USA should not make us their ideological playing ground. 


Takura Zhangazha wrties here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)