How China and Zim have switched places

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IN 1980 when we came to Independence, one of the first things we did was to join the World Bank and the IMF. Membership of these global financial institutions is accepted as an essential step towards growth and stability. That year two countries were accepted into the club – China and Zimbabwe.
China had a GDP per capita that was half of the GDP per capita of Zimbabwe, did not have a fraction of its natural resources, was half desert and had come out of a long period of political and economic repression that had culminated in the Red Revolution during which tens of millions had died. Agriculture in China was not able to feed its population and millions died of starvation and malnutrition each year. China faced a hostile global community which was determined to isolate the country and to minimize its influence in the region.
Zimbabwe had 17 PhD graduates in its first Cabinet, virtually no debt, a GDP per capita that was the second highest in Africa, a diverse economy based on agriculture and industry, a small but growing mining sector and a currency that was worth US$2 per Z$1. Its human resource base was excellent with an abundance of skilled and experienced labour. It had just emerged from 15 years of civil war, 13 years of mandatory UN sanctions and over 80 years of settler administration and dominance. It had the unstinting support of the Western world who promptly pledged US$5 billion in aid to the new country. 
If this had been the start of a race to see which country would develop, who would you have backed as most likely to succeed? On paper, clearly Zimbabwe had the edge over China. 
Today, there simply is no contest, China has the second largest economy in the world and although it is still poor in per capita terms, has lifted half its population out of poverty and created a vast middle class. It has grown steadily at rates that most economists would have said were unobtainable – exceeding 10 per cent each year for over 30 years. It not only feeds itself but has been able to meet growing demand for better foods and a higher quality of life by its people. Far from being isolated and ignored, China has sound political and economic relations with the whole world and is a highly regarded member in good standing of the IMF and the World Bank. 
By contrast Zimbabwe has hardly grown its GDP, GDP per capita has declined to among the lowest in the world, our agriculture has collapsed and a quarter of our population face starvation this year. Our industrial base has shrunk to a quarter of what it was 30 years ago and 70 per cent of our population lives in absolute poverty. When our currency collapsed to trillions to one, we simply abandoned it and adopted the US dollar as our main means of exchange. We could not even manage our Reserve Bank. Millions of our skilled and experienced working class have left the country and made new lives for themselves in other countries. Advertisement

The political track record is just as damming – we are isolated from the global community, have committed genocide against our people, displaced millions by force under the Murambatsvina programme and the programme to displace the commercial farmers and their staff. We are no longer in good standing with the IMF and the World Bank and no one will lend us money. China lends money to the rest of the world. 
What did we do wrong? The answer to that question needs a book, but let’s just say we got just about everything wrong and we have paid the price. Have we learned from these mistakes? Do we have a road map to the future? I am afraid that as we look to 2014 and beyond we have to accept that we do not seem to have learned anything from our past mistakes and it is all about leadership. 
In China it was the transition from Mao to Deng Zhou Ping (“it does not matter what colour that cat is, can it catch mice”) that started China on a new road into the future. While they retained the grip on power of the Communist Party and the Red Army, they completely revamped their economic policies and gave their people economic freedom. They gave security and protection to the rural population; they allowed markets to distribute resources and to reward initiative and hard work. The result was an economic and political revolution that has left the Communist Party in charge but lifted the people out of poverty and created an economy that is busy not just reshaping China but the whole world.
The other astonishing transition we celebrate this week is that of South Africa and the death last Thursday night of Nelson Mandela. What an amazing outpouring of global grief we saw – the BBC broadcast nothing else but his life for the next 48 hours. Celebrating the life of a man who rescued his country and its people from 300 years of stupid racial segregation and discrimination; a man who prevented a racial conflagration and started the long process of creating a new society that could carry South Africans into the future. It is all about leadership.
In Mandela’s case we all have our anecdotes: I have a friend in South Africa who runs a large business, he got a call one day from the President who asked him to fund a small rural school in Natal. Two years later he was invited to the opening ceremony by Mandela who had a gift for every child and who introduced the white South African as the man who had made the changes possible. He told me that anytime Mandela called – he would do it again even though it cost him millions of Rand. On another occasion a friend was jogging past State House with his 12 year old son, Mandela was taking a walk with a security detail and stopped to talk to the two of them.
We have a President who is cold and distant, who drives in a motorcade that pushes everyone else off the road with the threat of violence. He will have you locked up if you disparage his name or deface his picture; he demands loyalty from his staff and people with the ever ready threat of retribution and punishment if they do not obey or kow tow. When our President passes on we need to ask how will his passing be celebrated? 
For 2014 in Zimbabwe there is no road map into the future. Zim Asset is a wish list that is not based on reality. We are sliding once again into a collapse of our economy and in the lives of our people and we simply do not seem to have the leadership to get us out of our predicament. 
Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website