The Chinese example Zimbabwe is trying but failing to copy

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By Leopold Munhende recently in China

I TRIED showering unparalleled praises on Zimbabwe, exaggerated our beauty, and even made efforts to ignore all the obvious negatives.

If there is any one of the 26 African media practitioners I was with on the Chinese Young Journalists programme who believed me, then to them Zimbabwe is just a Dubai battling currency challenges and human rights issues.

I could not defend our volatile RTGS dollar, not even Deputy Finance Minister Kudakwashe Mnangagwa can.

They already knew that it was worthless, and I feared they would do a quick internet search and expose me. They did not even marvel at Mbuya Nehanda’s ZW$50 note which buys nothing.

Ethiopians seemed disappointed we no longer had billion dollar notes, Nigerians expected it, Ghanaians were civil about it and South Sudanese have their own problems.

I did not attempt to defend our human rights record, its levels are yet to be scaled on the African continent in the modern era, and they already knew how bad we had it in 2008 and have been following developments around this year’s contested August 23 polls.

Heated discussions on what was deemed illegal by the Patriot Act resulted in two points: Zimbabweans had to be deliberate in their sharing of national issues, choosing what to say or what not to say to certain audiences, and always prioritising positives.

Sensible yes.

The second, my own, was that the truth had to be stated be it negative or positive depending on whatever perspective. I argued the bad can only be changed once laid out in the open not hidden—a very intelligent argument.

What was not up for discussion however, self-evident for each one of us was that in China “Nyika irikuvakwa nevene vayo” (The country is being built by its own people). The China Radio and TV (CRTV) facilitated programme emphasized this.

Participants at a provincial TV station in China

This mantra has been used for over five years but after this visit, one would be forgiven if they were to argue that Zimbabwe has not even started. That China still regards itself as a developing country despite its megatronic state should scare many.

We witnessed over a thousand skyscrapers under construction, we saw new towns being built, brand new roads, spaghetti roads Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) President Nelson Chamisa is known for having promised.

A view from one of China’s many Bullet Trains

We walked a Beijing Capital International Airport so big there are trains and buses that you have to board to get to its exit points.

My black and light African colleagues marveled at China’s transport system; public buses that do not require any hailing, subway systems that we are yet to imagine, speed trains and stations whose system works better than the rehabilitated Robert Mugabe International Airport.

These are facts.

What the Chinese have done to a country that in 1980 characterised 80% of its population as rural, is exceptional.

Their efforts mock what Zimbabwe has turned into despite having been competitive when Zanu PF took over from colonial Rhodesia in terms of development at Independence.

A visit to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shian Lo (which looks better than Harare but is classified as rural) made us realise two things…again.

One, the Chinese can do far more than they already are in Africa, they have the capacity, and the grounds for such a boom are fertile considering what the continent holds underneath her soil, lithium included.

Remember these are people who managed to build a 52-story building in 19 days and a world-class hospital in five days at the height of Covid-19.

Two, our African leaders (directly pointing a finger at an adult is regarded as rude in African culture), are not learning anything from their visits to Beijing.

These Comrades of the liberation struggle visit China, are exposed to real development, use spaghetti roads, enjoy new technologies being built, marvel at what we marveled at but still choose to keep our urban areas rural.

We drink water from wells, live in houses that could fall at three wolf huffs and have fast gotten used to the smell of sewer.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose pictures are not pasted everywhere as our colleagues do in every office, public building, or as recently witnessed international fora, has managed to ensure that 1.4 billion people are well taken care of.

It is not about the massive public works that are in constant development, it is about the will of government despite criticism of how it has managed affairs since opting for a one-party state against globally accepted democracy.

China, normal or not, has created a community of content citizens.

From being a competitor, Africa now finds itself a mere receiver of donations, from a country it could have stood toe to toe with had it not been marred by rampant maladministration, corruption and disgusting nepotism.

Young media practitioners agreed to these truths in social interactions throughout the month-long visit. Possible solutions were shared but when have African leaders ever listened to anything coming from outside their circle of power?

In the midst of all serious discussions, we did agree on some things; Africa is a sleeping giant whose rise one day will shock the world and knock existing powers off their perches.

We agreed Africa needs a well-thought-out public relations strategy that will create and maintain a balance between telling facts and ensuring its “dark continent” tag becomes a thing of the past.

The narrative that Africa is a continent of poverty, wars, diseases and crime has done little for its development and although some of these might be factual, promotion of our motherland’s positive side could go a long way in shifting perspectives.

We also agreed Winky D was a continental treasure, his Disappear shut social engagements we hosted. The Gaffa President stood alongside Afrobeats giants such as Nigeria’s Burna Boy, Cameroon’s Mr. Leo, Sierra Leone’s The Therapist and Lesotho’s Nobody hit maker Malome Vector.