Sunday, April 28, 2013

Editorial Comment: Sovereignty Is Self-Reliance

Editorial Comment: Sovereignty is self-reliance

Sunday, 28 April 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

She came, she saw and she was impressed.

That, in a nutshell, describes President Joyce Banda’s four-day State visit to Zimbabwe. The Malawian leader, at the end of her tour, declared: “Africa is a continent on the rise.” Indeed, Cde President, we are marching forward.

By all standards, it was a remarkable visit, during which she officially opened the 54th Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), had engagements with Malawians based in Zimbabwe, saw the commendable fruits of the land reform programme and went to see the sterling work being done by the First Family at the Amai Mugabe Children’s Home and at Gushungo Dairy. Most importantly, President Banda got to see for herself what Zimbabwe is all about.

No doubt, the Zimbabwe that she saw is totally different from the Zimbabwe that has been portrayed on CNN, BBC and other megaphones of Western propaganda.

There was a frenzy of speculation on the Internet as soon as it was announced that President Banda was scheduled to officiate at ZITF. The questions came thick and fast: How could President Mugabe invite President Banda? Had she really accepted the invitation? Surely, these two leaders had nothing in common ideologically? What will the West say about such a visit? So many questions.

Well, in the world of realpolitik, life is not always what it seems. Zimbabwe and Malawi are African nations. As sovereign states, they have a right to choose their friends and chart their own path among the community of nations.

President Banda shamed the naysayers by hailing Zimbabwe’s land revolution and denouncing the illegal Western sanctions. To all right-thinking people out there, there was particularly nothing astonishing in this. It may have surprised and angered some politicians in London, Brussels and Washington DC, but President Banda must be commended for her courage, dignity and humility. After all, why should relations between two African nations be determined by Western governments? In any case, are those Western governments not reaching out to Harare these days?

Ahead of this year’s make-or-break elections, the European Union is reaching out to Harare. The Obama administration is also reaching out. Why should African nations not reach out to Harare while the rest of the world is doing exactly that?

Some figures show that a staggering 40 percent of Malawi’s budget is funded by donors. As Zimbabweans, we would be happy to see the people of Malawi moving away from donor dependency to economic self-sustenance. Western donors are very ruthless. They pamper you with all sorts of aid, as long as you dance to their tune. Once you try to assert your rights, the donors are quick to remind you that they call the shots.

The late President Bingu wa Mutarika tried to break the West’s donor stranglehold on Malawi, but what did the donor warlords do to his country? The nation’s foreign currency coffers ran dry instantly, fuel queues mushroomed all over the country, hospitals ran out of drugs, and inflation ruined the lives of ordinary citizens. The retribution was swift and pitiless. From a darling of the Western donor community, Malawi became a pariah state in the eyes of the powerful nations.

When President Banda succeeded Dr wa Mutarika, she brought back the donors. But before the money could begin flowing in, the donors demanded their pound of flesh. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In exchange, she had to devalue the kwacha, sell her presidential jet, pray that Sudanese President Omar al Bashir would never attempt to set foot on Malawian soil, and generally “reverse” the damage wrought on Malawi by the former president who had “unfriended” many Western governments.

Donor aid, to be sure, is not inherently evil. There are many practical examples of donor support that has made a difference in the lives of people in the developing world. A nation like South Korea, for instance, shows you the impact of donor money. But in most parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, donor aid has worsened the situation. When the World Bank directs an African government to scrap subsidies on education or fertilizer, the prescription almost always ends in disaster.

Millions of children who are denied an education are condemned to a life of servitude and farmers who are deprived of a subsidy are left counting the losses.

Western donors can bring their support to Africa, but they must never use the assistance as an instrument of blackmail.

Africans, for their part, should stop moaning and start safeguarding their interests. Zimbabwe and Malawi both grow lots of tobacco, yet the countries that buy their crops are making 10 times the money that the farmers on the ground are getting.

Zimbabwe and Malawi both mine precious minerals, yet the maker of jewellery in India who buys our diamonds and platinum is raking in 100 times more we are getting. The time for beneficiation is now.

Africa needs to address the issue of economic integration. In many respects, regional economic integration remains a pipe dream. For instance, not much progress is being made in creating a truly integrated Southern African economy.

There has been too much mutual mistrust among the regional states. Although the heads of state, at the level of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), appear united, in reality some of the countries are only paying lip service to regional integration.

Intra-regional trade remains stifled, trade barriers are still a hindrance and some countries have not dismantled their protectionist policies. There is a Sadc roadmap which outlines the milestones to full integration. By 2008, a Free Trade Area should have been created. After that, a common market and monetary integration were supposed to be achieved. None of these goals have been met.

In analysing the root causes of this failure to attain regional economic integration, one is struck by a stark reality that there are still many impediments. These are economic, political and legal.

Economists have pointed to the bottlenecks associated with aid dependence, natural resource dependence and the fact that each nation has a unique economic cycle that makes it more difficult to synchronise with the other regional states.

Ultimately, Africans must move beyond complaining about Western economic exploitation and begin safeguarding their interests through economic self-sustenance, regional integration and strategic thinking.

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