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Zimbabwe President Faces East

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressing thousands of members of the country’s ruling ZANU-PF party in Epworth about 40 minutes south east of Harare on February 12, 2022.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressing thousands of members of the country’s ruling ZANU-PF party in Epworth about 40 minutes south east of Harare on February 12, 2022.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa is positioning his nation toward Beijing, rejecting Western nations and institutions in favor of Chinese assistance. He frames the West as post-colonial oppressors while praising the PRC for its long-standing support for the end of Rhodesia and white rule.

While Zimbabwe's leader waves a friendly hand toward Beijing, he slaps the West with his other one.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his latest Sunday Mail newspaper column, wrote “Unlike Western interests which have been exploiting our continent even well before its formal occupation,” he stated the Chinese “have now come back to the continent they helped liberate as new, non-traditional investors."

Mnangagwa's statement went on highlight why he believes Beijing is Zimbabwe's best fit.

"Here in Zimbabwe," he wrote, "China has helped fund and implement several projects in the sectors of energy, air transport, water, real estate, industrial value addition, mining and defense. "

"All these have secured and bolstered our independence," he wrote "while changing the structure of our economy in this season of punitive Western sanctions."

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Zimbabwean corporations and persons for the past 20 years. The actions were triggered when late President Robert Mugabe was accused of election rigging and human rights abuses in the early 2000s. Western nations have resisted calls to remove the sanctions, pointing to the ruling ZANU-PF party’s continued suppression of protests and opposition figures.

Sensing and taking advantage of an opportunity, China has stepped in to offer loans not tied to democratic reforms and human rights. In the industrial sector, China has poured funds into Zimbabwe's mining sector, and is picking up the tab to build a massive new parliament building in the capital, Harare.

China, today, is Zimbabwe's largest investor. And Chinese cash has clearly had its sway. Additionally, Beijing plays the "Rhodesia" card - its historic support for the nation's Black majority during the years it was a British colony and then ruled by a white minority.

Zimbabwe government spokeswoman Monica Mutsvangwa praises the president's eastward stance.

“A number of Zimbabwe's detractors have long hidden behind the false veil of democracy and human rights gauntlet. ... This heinous policy has met its match in the sly and alert president,” she told VOA.

“More and better money is winning the day,” she added in apparent reference to Chinese investment.

Zimbabwe’s state-run media echoes the government’s anti-U.S. stance, with articles accusing the country’s opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), NGOs and civil society organizations of being U.S. “proxies” working to overthrow the ZANU-PF-led government.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Harare is adopting an increasingly shrill tone in tweets frequently accusing U.S.-backed organizations of paying journalists to write anti-China articles.

Last September, the embassy’s official Twitter page coined the hashtag “Mr1K,” retweeting an article in The Herald newspaper that claimed, “The United States is sponsoring a strategy to undermine Chinese investments in Zimbabwe … through disinformation, lies and sensationalism in independent media and on social platforms.”

The article in The Herald, which is closely aligned to ZANU-PF, claimed the U.S. Embassy in Harare funded a training session for independent journalists and that reporters who pitched negative stories on Chinese businesses were being paid $1,000 per article.

The Chinese embassy renewed its #Mr1K tweets this month after the Standard newspaper published an investigation into labor violations at a Chinese-owned coal mine, and declared reporting had been “supported by the U.S. Embassy’s public diplomacy section.”
Asked about such comments, the U.S. Embassy in Harare replied to VOA by email. “We routinely provide training and U.S. exchange opportunities to journalists and other professionals in Zimbabwe and around the world to build expertise.”

The embassy said it had supported a September journalism workshop on labor rights and natural resource governance reporting that “did not focus on any particular country, government, or company. “

Meanwhile, the United States has told Zimbabwe and other African nations not to get caught in a so-called "debt trap" in which nations that owe huge sums to China could find themselves pressed to do Beijing's bidding as the price for that largesse.