Zimbabwe Crisis: A Credibility Handicap for China's Africa Politics

China and Zimbabwe

Essay, 2012

20 Pages

Free online reading


Since the Cold War ended, Africa-China relationship has taken deeper roots. Africans believe that China can inspire fresh hopes for their development and have wittingly and unwittingly been encouraging her deepening presence on their continent. They believe that a closer relationship can play a very big role in their efforts to scale down their dependence on their traditional aid givers and development partners such as the US and the former colonial masters. In short, what Africa expects from China is an assurance that she can play the role of benefactor and protector which the US and other Western countries have been playing for their clients on the continent. This expectation, however, is being jeopardised by China's inability to give Mugabe sufficient protection against his critics and to help his country recover immediately from the political/economic crisis which has dragged it to the brink of failed statehood. This paper looked at how China’s efforts to help the country recover have been unable to bring remarkable change in the status-quo. It concluded that this could undermine Africa's image of China .


The last one decade has not been a happy ten years for Zimbabweans who have had to grapple with the ogres of hunger, diseases, run-away inflation, and uncertainty of body-politic.The crisis which has made their country a pathetic headline in international media broadcasts is not letting up; neither are the efforts being made by Mugabe's friends such as China having the desired impacts. The brooding visage of this crisis have triggered speculations about the country becoming a failed state . For example, in 2008, the U.S Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, lamented that the country was "rapidly deteriorating into failed-state status.”1 Of course, these speculations are not unreasonably alarmist because she has already manifested all the known symptoms of state bankruptcy. Inflation has gone out of control; there is anomie, with the people being so unsure what to do with the remainder of their life; famine is endemic, HIV/AIDS is having a field day; and political leadership is atomized, with the members of the coalition government pulling in different directions.

This crisis started in the early 1990s when Mugabe began losing control over both the political and economic directions of his country. Certain factors wrong footed him, severely damaging his credentials as a liberation hero . Zimbabwe is a country which, a few years ago, could boast a credible capacity to glut the whole of southern Africa with food. Before the crisis , she was famously referred to as the “bread basket” of southern Africa. But now, according to the World Food Programme, about 1.6 million people, "will be food insecure between January and March 2013, the peak hunger months in Zimbabwe."2 The crisis has shrivelled the purchasing power of the national currency, the Zimbabwe dollar. The country boasts the second-highest inflation rate in history . In mid-November 2008, her monthly inflation rate reached 79,600,000,000 % (seventy-nine billion, six hundred million percent).3 The following year, 2009, a loaf of leavened bread ran away with 300(three hundred) billion Zimbabwe dollars4 (CNN). By creating a hostile domestic environment in which life has become ‘solitary, nasty, brutish, and short’, the crisis has also caused serious demographic hemorrhage by generating about one million internally displaced persons , and causing a forcible cross-border flight of several millions of the citizenry. (many more are straining at the leash to flee too). In South Africa alone, there are about 3 million Zimbabwean refugees 5. In fact, the crisis has pulped this country into a spectacle of humanitarian disaster.

The origin of the crisis has been disputed. But it should be ascribed to any, or a combination, of these three factors: President Robert Mugabe’s refusal to retire from power and politics, his bungled land reform programme, and the structural adjustment programme he was compelled to implement by the International Monetary Organisation in the 1990s. The West, whose involvement in the crisis has helped to exacerbate it, ascribe the crisis to the first two of the above factors. They accuse Mugabe of both refusing to give up power and injecting indecency and publicity gimmickry into his land reform programme. Essentially, they accuse him of playing carrot-and-stick politics with the land reform by using it as an alibi for tenancy extension in power. In contrast, those who empathise with Mugabe believe that the crisis was created by the West to sabotage his land reform. They see the crisis as a neocolonialist effort to torpedo Africa’s renaissance. One such empathiser, Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia, said that

Leaders in the West say Robert Mugabe is a demon, that he has destroyed Zimbabwe, and he must be got rid of. This demonising is made by people who may not understand what Robert Mugabe and his fellow freedom fighters have gone through...Of course, there are some things which President Mugabe and his colleagues have done which I totally disagree with. For example, the police beating of Morgan Tsvangirai... On the other hand, given their experience, I can understand the fury that goes through President Mugabe and his colleagues.6

The IMF's involvement is her agreement to give Zimbabwe the loan she requested on condition that she would reduce her fiscal deficit, reduce tax rate, deregulate both the financial and labour markets, dismantle protection of the manufacturing sector, lower minimum wage, remove certain guarantees of employment securities. Unfortunately, Mugabe's compliance with these conditionalities made his country’s economy to slip out of gear. According to Naiman and Watkins, compliance with these conditionalities “combined with the effects of a severe drought on agricultural production to send the Zimbabwean economy into recession in 1992 -- real GDP fell by nearly 8% that year… In Zimbabwe, economic crisis actually followed rather than preceded the implementation of structural adjustment.”7

Whatever are the true causes of the crisis, it can hardly be denied that all the factors implicated in it are traceable to Zimbabwe's exposure to the vagaries of international politics--- a game in which Africa is a cannon fodder used by the major players to advance their selfish interests. Involved in the international politics of the crisis, on the one hand, is the West (especially the United States of America, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand), and on the other hand, is China whose support for Mugabe has not been able to staunch the economic and political bleeding the crisis has caused his country. However, essentially, it is the defective insurance cover which China has given her staunch ally, Mugabe, that should astound all those that are familiar with the history of their relationship.

Mugabe’s close relationship with China is a secret which is known to the whole world. It predates the reclamation of political independence by Zimbabwe in 1980. It started when liberation leaders such as Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa were fighting to end white minority rule in their country. As was the case with all liberation struggles during the Cold War, the Zimbabwe struggle for freedom was inexorably entangled in the ideological rivalry among the major powers. Thus, Mugabe and other freedom fighters were, willy-nilly, involved in the Russo-Sino rivalry for the control of the soul of international communism. Mugabe and China became friends as a result of a default action of the Soviets. After the racist actions of the Ian Smith-led white minority regime forced them to resort to the use of violence in their struggle against the white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia starting from the 60’s, African freedom fighters turned to the USSR for armed support.

The USSR armed Joshua Nkomo who was leading the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), but cold shouldered the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), led by Ndabaningi Sithole. Whereupon, ZANU turned to Chairman Mao Zedong’s China which at that time was snooping around the world for friends to co-opt into her struggle with the USSR for the control of the soul of international communism. She hosted and trained some ZANU guerrilla cadres and indoctrinated them with Maoism .The initial contacts between the two (on the Zimbabwean side) were supervised and fostered by leaders such as Ndabaningi Sithole, Herbert Chitepo, and Robert Mugabe. Among these three, Mugabe played the most dynamic role at the initial stage of the relationship.8

After many years of inspiring guerrilla war by Africans and unmitigated racist violence by whites, Zimbabwe regained political independence on April 18, 1980. On the very same day, she established diplomatic relationship with China. Mugabe became prime minister since his ZANU won the most parliamentary votes. Two months after the independence, in June, he dispatched his foreign minister Simon Muzenda to Beijing to thank Mao Zedong for supporting ZANU's armed struggle against colonialism . Prime Minister Mugabe who later became President in 1987 himself visited Beijing the following year, 1981.9 It is those contacts which predated and immediately followed the independence that explain the buoyancy of his close friendship with China . The two friends love to flaunt their chummy relationship, and never hesitate to seize every opportunity that will make it a bold media headline. For example, in February 2010, the Chinese embassy in Harare threw a lavish party to celebrate Mugabe’s 86th birthday. The bash was held inside the Chinese embassy, and Mugabe’s physical presence at the embassy marked the first time he would visit an embassy in Harare since his country's independence. Mugabe reserves the prerogative to keep his friendship with the Chinese. No one begrudges him this freedom of association. However, the rapidity with which his country’s economy has raced downstairs has brought the whole wisdom of his carrying on with this friendship into question.


1. Stephen Kaufman, “Zimbabwe Approaching “Failed State” Status, U.S Ambassador Says.” http://www.america.gov/st/democracy-english/2008/December/20081211164826esnamfuak0.6706354.html; accessed Jun 3,2010.

2. WFP, "Zimbabwe: Over 1.6 million People in Need of Food Assistance," http://www.wfp.org/countries/zimbabwe ; accessed Oct 30, 2012.

3. Steve H. Hanke, "R.I.P. Zimbabwean Dollar," http://www.cato.org/zimbabwe, August 15, 2012; accessed Nov 12, 2012.

4. CNN, “Zimbabwe to print first $100 trillion note,” www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/01/16/zimbawe.currency/ , Jan 16, 2009; accessed Oct 30, 2012.

5. Alex Bell,"Zimbabwe: Refugees Protest Closure of South Africa Asylum Offices," http://allafrica.com/stories/201206210103.html, June 20, 2012; accessed October 29, 2012.

6 . Kenneth Kaunda, "Understanding the Fury," BBC Focus on Africa July-September, 2007, 14.

7. Robert Naiman and Neil Watkins, “A Survey of the Impacts of IMF Structural Adjustment in Africa: Growth, Social Spending, and Debt Relief.” April, 1999, http://www.cepr.net/a-survey-of-the-impacts-of-imf-structural-adjustment-in-africa/#zim; accessed Jun 5, 2010.

8. Richard Gibson, African Liberation Movements: Contemporary Struggles Against White Minority Rule) , (London: OUP, 1972), 145-184.

9. Joshua Eisenman,”Zimbabwe: China’s African Ally, China Brief 5 no. 15.

19 of 20 pages


Zimbabwe Crisis: A Credibility Handicap for China's Africa Politics
China and Zimbabwe
Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
File size
646 KB
zimbabwe, crisis, credibility, handicap, china, africa, politics
Quote paper
Anas Elochukwu (Author), 2012, Zimbabwe Crisis: A Credibility Handicap for China's Africa Politics, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/207161


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Zimbabwe Crisis: A Credibility Handicap for China's Africa Politics

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free