Policy & Politics
The shifting of Zim’s foreign policy
From The Herald
DIPLOMACY is about each nation serving its self-interests in a climate of decency and decorum. The world we live in is not so much about ideological slants anymore. That is more of interest to academics than statesmen, whose interest now is about what brings economic realities and therefore touches the common person positively.
It is these practical realities that make the United States sell so many weapons to Saudi Arabia, whose geopolitical ideology couldn’t be more at variance with its own. It is the same pragmatic approach that has seen the United Kingdom selling six billion pounds of weapons to the Middle East, even though there was more than a fair chance that those weapons would end up in the hands of terrorist organisations or states it characterised as “rogue”. This is where the cliché money talks is shown at play.
Now both the United States and the United Kingdom are world powers, who to some extent, can afford to choose or lose friends. But Zimbabwe is not. We are a very small country with a massive budget deficit and suffocating debt overhang. This reality seemed to escape us for a long time as we pursued the massaging of our burgeoning ego, which grew in tandem with our expanding unemployment rate.
Our approach to diplomacy was self-defeating. It is great to announce that this self-defeating diplomacy appears to be something of the past now. Zimbabwe has changed its diplomatic course. On December 14, 2017 Zimbabwe emphatically announced a bold and brave shift in its foreign policy.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on an occasion on which he met Heads of Diplomatic Missions accredited to Zimbabwe couldn’t have been more charming and engaging. This is the day when he explained what he meant by saying that Zimbabwe’s foreign policy will be a close interaction between diplomacy and economics in a very complementary way.
There is dynamism in the way Zimbabwe is approaching its relations with other countries, with the economic direction of the country also determining the diplomatic approach and direction of the country.
For about 15 years, Zimbabwe’s foreign policy was pointing in one direction; eastwards. This was because we had fallen out with the West and also because we approached diplomacy as if we were still entrenched in the Cold War. During the Cold War, one needed to be someone else’s enemy in order to be another person’s friend.
But not in today’s world; one can be everyone’s friend. Conditions have altered so much from the old power frameworks that China trades with the United Kingdom and Europe as well as the United States and still trades and invests in Africa and North Korea and Russia. There is no contradiction in that approach.
The policy statement by the Minister Dr Sibusiso B Moyo emphasised that we have no intention of lecturing anyone and of course we prefer to be engaged and not to be lectured to. He noted that we have had problems in our relationships with certain countries in the past, but stressed the need to bury the hatchet. This is Zimbabwe saying let the past be left where it belongs.
There was no attempt to rewrite history or change that past. But the emphasis is on a pragmatic foreign policy that serves our national interests more than an egotistic grandstanding at every international event whenever we rise to the podium. Zimbabwe now views that approach as blind and self-defeating. This is an attitude many Zimbabweans can identify with. Our foreign policy was way too inconsistent and appeared chaotic.
Whilst the Ministries of Finance, Ministry of Tourism and that of Industry and Commerce were embarking on a rapprochement approach, offices higher up would unravel all that in a single moment of an emphatic diatribe against the very same countries whose support we would be seeking.
We had Great Britain lending a helping hand to Minister Chinamasa and Governor Mangudya during the Lima negotiations, and then all of a sudden we are attacking the British, scoring an own goal in the process. It is such contradictions which made policymakers find it difficult to read where Zimbabwe actually stood.
As sad as this may sound, but we deployed too much bitterness in our diplomacy where we just needed to have realistic and practical considerations. To many it was quite straight forward. We needed to look at our very small budget of $4 billion and note that we could not even raise that small amount. Noting that would have made us pick fights which were in line with our stature as a small nation with a big mouth. This is because sometimes we were picking fights with countries that were 500 times more powerful than us in economic terms.
There is normally one winner in such wide odds. It certainly was not us.
Whilst leadership would get away with it because they are shielded from the day-to-day grinding, their citizens did not have such protection. Leadership would get all the accolades for standing up to world powers whilst the pursuit of such ego trips would also leave the population subjected to the vagaries of economic retribution by the more powerful nations smarting from our loaded insults.
On one hand we pretended we did not need other nations, on another we proved that we actually did by making countless international trips at a very heavy cost to our finances. Most of these trips did not add value to the country.
Today, Zimbabwe is not abandoning old friends. She is nurturing and consolidating those friendships. However, she is also re-engaging with those nations she has had differences with in the past as well as “exploring new investment frontiers and partnerships”.
This is a multi-pronged approach which is a deviation from the one-dimensional one in the past, where we all had to look in one direction; East. This approach weakened our negotiating hand because we had no leverage. We were looking in one direction and that direction could afford to do what it wanted with us as it held all the cards, as we had nowhere else to go. But the new approach gives us options.
As Dr SB Moyo embarks on this re-engagement, it places a big responsibility on the citizenry to create a positive vibe for the country by highlighting the many positives in its public sphere engagements. This is not to say that citizens should be unpaid spin-doctors for the Government.
But that when we say, “Iwe neni tine basa” or “None but ourselves”, we are emphasising that every Zimbabwean has a role to play in turning the fortunes of our nation. They only need to find their niche, but the low hanging fruit is on the social media branch.
The role of the citizen is in the external reputation management. It is a patriotic responsibility for example not to generate fake news about our country and propagate a negative agenda which besmirchs our country. On the contrary, there is a need to influence positive views about the country.
It is important to show that all the good statements that have emerged out of Harare in the last month were well meant and policy thrusts than lip service to a certain agenda. Zimbabwe needs a genuine structural and cultural reform. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
It is so important that Zimbabwe has moved away from self-defeating diplomatic contradictions. A cogent and coherent diplomatic direction was articulated. The two primary authorities from this policy were the President’s Inaugural Speech of November 24, 2017 and the 2018 National Budget Statement.
The sources of this foreign policy statement ensure that there are no contradictions between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the other ministries. It also reduces the risk of having a silo effect. Our foreign policy objective is to bring trade and investment in the country and safeguard the welfare of Zimbabweans outside the country.
This can only be met if everyone recognises that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will play a critical role in Zimbabwe’s economy and therefore needs the support of colleague ministries which all stand to benefit from the work of the former.
Our national pre-occupation and emphasis is to create jobs for our young people. This columnist is comforted in noting that the current Government has its figure on the pulse of this matter. It recognises the national tragedy upon us, of children who are marrying before they have experienced a day of work since leaving universities with a good degree years ago.
The same Government is aware of the realities that urban houses are now treated like villages in that grandparents, parents and grandchildren are all living under one roof just because that household has someone with a consistent income or is gainfully employed.
This is why the emphasis on Foreign Direct Investment is an ideal many find resonance in. No longer is Zimbabwe fixated on things that may reach high sounding notes but do not put bread on the table of Zimbabwean kitchens. Zimbabwe is now focused on creating jobs through investment by other countries.
She has emphasised that her diamonds and platinum are not for plunder by foreigners, but will be happy to have partners to work with to unlock the value now lying idle under its soil. It is great that we now have anchored our diplomacy on the things that serve the national good as contrary to the things that grab international headlines for one individual. Iwe neni tine basa.