Zimbabwe must learn from China

HARARE - China's President Xi Jingpin was in the country since Tuesday on his way to the China-Africa summit starting on Friday in South Africa. What is interesting about Jingpin’s visit to Zimbabwe is the vast difference in the two countries’ economies.

While China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Zimbabwe is on the verge of sliding into another recession, thanks to President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF-led government’s mismanagement of national resources and unbridled corruption.  

If there is any solace that Zimbabweans can get from the Chinese president’s visit, then Mugabe and company must learn from this great Asian nation to implement strong economic reforms for the benefit of all citizens and not just a few greedy and corrupt individuals in government. 

Not long ago, China was a poor underdeveloped country in which goods were scarce and people were poor. This was true in Beijing and Shanghai as well as in other cities and in the rural countryside.

But growth rates that averaged nearly 10 percent a year during those past 30 years mean that China’s gross domestic product is about eight times as great now as it was in 1985. This enormous rise in prosperity is visible not only in the major cities but also in the cross-road towns and smaller cities.

Today, goods are plentiful and hundreds of millions of people have been transferred from poverty to the middle class. The reverse is true in Zimbabwe where millions of people — including graduates and qualified personnel — have been turned into destitute by the Mugabe administration.

China’s economic reforms started towards the end of the 1970s premised on the goal to modernise four sectors of the economy — agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defence.  

To reform agriculture, China switched from inefficient State-owned collective farms and gave farmers the freedom to sell any production above a quota onto their local market. In response to this incentive, farm output soared, and national nutrition levels increased.

Supply quickly became so large that China abandoned food rationing. Today, China feeds its population on a relatively small amount of land, in proportion to other countries, and imports little.

To attract foreign investment and technology, China started by opening up four Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which offered tax-free opportunities for foreign joint-ventures with Chinese firms. Sole ventures were allowed later. This was part of an initial export-driven economic strategy, modelled on Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan at the time.

However, this all needs a new policy environment, with a change in business culture, and an uplifting of the spirit of society itself. This requires true leadership. True leaders see the future, and lead people towards that future.

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