Dumped by the West, Zimbabwe Looks East

Published on 3rd April 2007

Josephat Juma of The African Executive was privileged to meet His Excellency Kelebert Nkomani, Ambassador of Zimbabwe to Kenya and Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN-Habitat in his office.  The two discussed wide ranging issues. In this extract however, Kelebert shares insights on trade and foreign policy.


Having served as an envoy in foreign countries, how do you compare your experience serving in non African countries and serving in Africa?


I stayed in Belgium for three years and France for two years. This posting in Nairobi is my third. Before, I was in government but focused more on trade. I feel much happier serving in an African country because I can relate better with it. For example, most of the challenges that Kenya is going through are similar to the experiences we are going through in Zimbabwe. Sometimes I see what you do here and I say, I wish Zimbabwe would do it the same way. Other times I ask myself: why can’t  Kenyans do it the way we do?


I have been looking at how you run your tourism sector, your agriculture (particularly the small scale), your experiences in wildlife - they relate to what is of interest to my country. The developed world is however ahead of us, so there’s much less to relate to in terms of what may be transferable or relevant to our home situation. Our relation with the developed world hinges on trying to attract investment, encourage technology transfer and woo tourists among others.


Why is the developed world ahead of us?


There isn't a single answer to this. However, countries have developed at different paces. One can go to the theory of need. Some people talk about the weather in Europe forcing europeans to create ways and means of coping with the environment in order to survive whereas the heat in Africa probably encourages laziness- but let me not get into that. If a country puts systems that reward effort and encourage productivity in place, it will develop.


Some analysts ascribe it to plunder.


That’s a later development after the partitioning of Africa. There was a lot of looting of wealth. I was in Belgium for example, and Belgians actually say they’re grateful to their King Leopold for having been in DRC because he brought so much wealth  from Congo, which they used to build their country. It is a fact that our minerals and forest resources among others have been taken out of Africa, contributing to the development of the developed world.


What can we learn from the developed world?


The organizational systems that they have been able to put in place to manage their economic and political life. There’s a lot too that we can learn from their technology. With technology however, you have to borrow it in accordance with what you require. You can’t just transplant what is working out there and transfer it to your own environment and expect it to work. You have to take into account where you are as a country and what you require in order to make maximum use of the technology and resources at your disposal.


What is the impact of economic sanctions on your country?


They definitely are affecting the Zimbabwe economy negatively. Some people argue that there are no economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. They say we have ‘targeted’ sanctions and travel sanctions on senior leadership. The fact is, we are under sanctions that are affecting everybody, particularly the common man. If you in a country where there is difficulty in accessing credit lines, you don’t have the support that you expect from the donor community, there are deliberate efforts to stop anybody who wants to invest in your country and negative reports are spread about you, all these put off investors – they are all sanctions. Sanctions do not just mean barring the movement of goods. It means creating an environment where a country cannot relate well with the international community. That’s what the sanctions are doing. Some of them are pronounced while others are not outrightly pronounced. I must also add that in the last 5-6 years, we’ve had very unfortunate drought situations. It is last year that we had fairly decent rains. That, combined with sanctions, has had a negative effect on our economic development.


Is Zimbabwe coming to a standstill?


That is what the foreign media would have the world believe. We have considerable challenges, I must admit, but we are not the devils we are painted to be. People are trying to survive as best as they can under difficult circumstances. We have booming trade and entrepreneurial initiatives at private and local level. Let me give you an example. Countries badly affected by HIV/Aids have been receiving global funds to fight it. Zimbabwe used to get this money but it has been reduced to a tenth of what other countries are receiving. In spite of this, we have been able to bring down the Aids prevalence- even the international community recognizes this in their reports. How? From every tax money; a percentage goes directly to the Aids fund. Through that kind of initiative and other private initiatives by Zimbabweans, Aids awareness and management has been created hence cutting down its prevalence. Where is the humanity in denying  a country health support?


What is your view on African integration?


The process towards the integration of Africa is positive. It should be embraced and supported by all Africans. When the colonial powers broke up Africa, they did this with their own maps in mind- disregarding populations, tribal setups, and economic life of African populations. Those are unnatural boundaries that do not conform to any economic logic. We don’t have to go by those barriers but open up to each for trade.


Generally speaking our countries are small. You cannot expect to create a major industry around a population of 1 million. It won’t be viable. You need volumes in order to bring down the unit cost. You need a large market in order to enable you build viable operations be it in agriculture or in manufacturing. So I support the thrust towards the integration of Africa totally. In fact I am happy to say that I was closely associated with development of the SADC and COMESA processes (at a junior level) and I think they are contributing towards understanding among Africans and more so creating a market which will make it viable for operations to be set up in our areas.


When you were secretary for Industry and Commerce, you were quoted in The Star, a Malaysian daily saying that “Most developing countries are already having difficulties in reconciling their legal, administrative and economic systems to the Uruguay Round.” Were developing countries being forced to adopt the Round against their wish?


That was long ago and I can’t remember very well in which context I spoke those words. However, there were certain positions being advanced in the WTO which the developing world felt were not in their interest as it would impact negatively on their trade revenues and legal structures. The international trade arrangements as they stand currently are unequal. Certain goods that are of interest to African countries are finding difficulty in accessing developed countries’ markets. This is due to subsidies given to farmers in the developed world and non tariff barriers – where developing countries are required to meet very stringent standards before they can export into a foreign country. They will say the level of pesticide residue in a particular product should be at this level- but they know very well that you need to use pesticides in order to ensure that your plant survives. Even for fertilizer, they require certain standards that are almost unattainable.


Now there is a new measure in relation to climate change which is bound to affect your flowers. If food travels for long distance in the air, say from Africa to Europe, they say that carbon is emitted into the air, hence contributing to global warming. They forget that in Kenya, you grow your flowers under the open sun. Out there, they need green houses with inbuilt systems to control temperature. This calls for energy to heat up the place – hence carbon emission.They don’t want to take that into account. This is not fair!  Some studies have found out that there are more carbon emissions generated by products from Holland, where they grow flowers, than Kenya and Africa by extension.The developed world is obviously out to shut out products from  developing  countries using unsustainable arguments.


Why is it difficult for African Countries to make a clear stand in crucial situations?


The cost implication. I don’t however imply that this is the only reason. Suppose you get aid from somewhere, you must really weigh the stand you take, as your pronouncement might make you lose aid.


Does it mean foreign aid influences Africa's policies?


Foreign aid is an instrument of foreign policy. The giver gives it with a view of attaining certain objectives in his foreign policy. If you are given aid, there’s always a condition to it. It may not always be plain or outright, but aid always has a measurable foreign policy component.


What is your relationship with China?


We’ve had a good relationship with China right from the time we were fighting our liberation war. China together with Russia and other Eastern Europe countries were backing us up. The West didn’t see anything wrong with the likes of Ian Smith and apartheid in South Africa. China is giving us economic as well as social development support. We are adopting a ‘Look East’ policy as a result of the difficulties we are having with the West. China, Malaysia and India are very supportive and with their collaboration, we hope to revitalize our roads and power generation infrastructure, among other deals. This does not that we don’t want to work with the West, but why not work with somebody who is ready to work with you instead of one who is against you? We can’t force the West to work with us.African countries should be free to choose their partners!

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