The policy was officially declared in 2003 following the imposition of targeted sanctions by the west against President Robert Mugabe and his top officials.
The Look East Policy simply describes Zimbabwe’s relationship with Eastern states such as China, Korea, Japan, India and oddly also Russia according to Zanu (PF).
Since then the government has entered into various deals with Eastern countries, particularly with China and Russia, all meant to revamp the economy. In 2014, Zimbabwe signed ‘mega deals’ – according to the state-controlled media – with Russian and Chinese governments. However the country is still waiting for these deals to bear fruit and to be translated into tangible projects. It has become te norm whereby the government enters into these ‘mega deals’ but nothing much takes place on the ground.
The deals were expected to create employment opportunities and complement the economic blue print ZIMASSET – aimed at fostering infrastructural development at various government departments, including the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) and ZESA Holdings.
In August 2011,the ESSAR Group, an Indian investment company, entered into a deal with the government to resuscitate the virtually dead Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO). In the same month the company was re-launched and renamed NewZim Private Limited. There was so much hype and enthusiasm that the project would be accelerated and begin to bear fruit in a short time.
Actually, the experts had projected that the company would realise a 9, 3 % growth by the same year end (2011). The deal was meant to create over 3 000 new jobs and further retain about 3 500 workers who had been employed by the company before it collapsed. But alas – four years later, nothing meaningful has transpired to resuscitate the steel company.
The economy continues to spiral downwards despite government’s insistence that the Look East policy is paying dividends. This is pure propaganda. It seems the state has mortgaged critical resources in exchange for a handful of Chinese products of questionable quality.
The government is now in a Catch22 situation whereby the LEP is being preserved to save face. Admitting to its failure would be tantamount to treachery in Zanu (PF) quarters and would discredit President Mugabe who for years has championed the policy. On the other hand, its continued implementation would further damage the ailing economy and condemn the country to more isolation from the international community. The recent plans by the government to scrap civil servants’ bonuses, which were overturned by Mugabe after a public backlash, are all indicators that the LEP is a mere charade.
There is massive trade deficit between the ‘East’ and Zimbabwe. We are importing more machinery, electrical items, motor parts, telecommunication products and military equipment while exporting mainly agricultural products. With a massive agricultural output decline expected this year, Zimbabwe will only be able to export insignificant quantities to China.
There has also been a marginal increase of Chinese tourists despite moves by both governments to make travel easier between the countries. The relationship is not reciprocal and China is the outright winner in this economic marriage.
Cheap Chinese products have flooded the local market. Interestingly, this has seen the decline in sales of locally produced goods, which cost more but are of much higher quality. The cheap Chinese products have choked the local textile and leather industry, with many producers being compelled to fold operations.
The local producers and manufactures cannot compete with Chinese prices. Retail trade continues to be one-sided in favour of China with local people failing to penetrate the Chinese retail industry. The Chinese now dominate the local construction industry, which is a positive development as it should enable house seekers to finally own their homes.
However, it should be categorically be made clear that the economy cannot be sustained by private construction enterprises. In fact it requires the construction of large projects such as roads, schools, dams for it to contribute meaningfully to the national wealth.
The major drawback of depending on LEP is that the benefits are short-lived. For example Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) several years ago acquired about 135 buses and 40 mini-buses. These vehicles were able to temporarily ease the transport woes. However the vehicles soon depleted due to their short life span and poor quality.
The Zimbabwe government needs a wake-up call. The Look East Policy is retrogressive and the country needs to re-engage the West. The country needs to look in all directions; East, West, North and South, in order to revive the economy. Twelve years have elapsed since the adoption of the LEP, but few economic inroads have been made.
The government should realise that China and other Eastern counties are motivated by the same things as the Western ones: by their own economic, political and diplomatic interests. They will never do anything for free for Zimbabwe.
The mortgaging of our national resources in return for a few paltry services is detrimental and will in future come back to bite the nation thus if it has not already started.
Paradoxically, the main enemy – according to Zanu (PF) – the United States of America still remains the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe.
It has provided over US $1.4 billion in assistance since 2001 despite the strained relations. – Mthandazo Nsingo is a Journalism student at the National University of Science and Technology. He can be contacted at [email protected]Post published in: Analysis