Zimbabwe Looking East (2015) by Fay Chung is more than just a mere examination of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the country’s foreign policy in the post-Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) era which culminated in the fast-track land reform programme.
Rather, the book takes the reader on a historical journey of the Asian nation from the Middle Ages to the post-Mao Zedong era where leaders focused more on economic development and equality rather than communist dogmas.
The uniqueness of the book is in its author whose narrative is authenticated by her personal history as a Zimbabwean national of Chinese descent.
The author further derives her legitimation in critiquing the country’s Look East policy mainly because of her participation in the liberation struggle and also her active role in the making of a new nation in the early years of independence.
As an academic, Chung definitely took her time in ensuring that authorial intrusion will not take hold of her narratives as evidenced by various footnotes and actual historical references to authenticate certain points or deductions.
Chung’s autobiography is interestingly interlinked with Zimbabwe’s trajectory from colonialism to independence. She was educated at Leeds University in England where she obtained a Masters Degree in English Literature. It was at Leeds that she met Jack Straw who was later to become Foreign Secretary in the Labour Party government and Clare Short later renowned for her retrogressive decision to stop British support for land and resettlement that precipitated the fast-track land reform programme.
She later returned to Africa, Zambia where she taught English Literature at the University of Zambia. Her political views and Marxist inclination were fashioned in Zambia where she interacted with several nationalists who had fled the then Rhodesia.
In 1975, she joined the liberation struggle as a ZANU cadre during the détente period brokered by American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
At independence, Chung participated in the expansion of the education system from a third of children at primary and 4 percent and 65 percent for secondary school. She later served as Minister of Education and later as Minister of State for Employment Creation. In Looking East, Chung eloquently explains the reasons behind Zimbabwe looking east. While she highlights that the policy was a knee-jerk reaction, she also acknowledges the apparent benefits that have so far been accrued from the country’s ties with China.
Chung makes it clear that the decision by Zimbabwe to turn east has evidently rattled most Western nations that would have wanted the country to economically crumble and render the rule by the
Zanu-PF government ineffectual and untenable.
The uniqueness of the book is that it relies on actual historical material to explain a particular epoch. Chung gives background of the Look East policy so that any reader has a general idea of what informed its enunciation.
“The genesis of this book is the policy enunciated by President Robert Mugabe in 2002 when Western sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe, as characterized by the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) passed by the United States of America Congress. While this was an emotional “gut instinct” response, it also indicated political astuteness,” says Chung in her preface to the book.
On the Chinese history since the Middle Ages up to when Communists led by Mao Zedong took over power, Chung provides raw data that clearly shows the arduous journey that the Asian country has trudged on, including its various experiments with various existential models different from the Washington consensus or the Western capitalist model which emphasizes democracy and private ownership of the means of production.
In her narrative of the Chinese history, Chung debunks the notion of closed country that is inhospitable to foreigners and notes the contributions of particular foreign nationals to the Chinese revolution.
Notable individuals include Norman Bethune (1890- 1939), a Canadian medical doctor who worked at the front as part of the Communist Party of China’s Eight Route Army, Gearge Hatem aka Ma Haide
(1910- 1988), an American medical doctor of Lebanese origin, who became the first foreigner to be accepted in the Communist party and worked hard in the elimination of leprosy and many venereal diseases in China after 1949, and Agnes Smedley (1892-1950), born to poor parents in United States and migrated to China where she was a journalists and penned several books in support of the Communist Party of China.
In evaluating Zimbabwe’s Looking East policy, Chung looks at the historical relations between China and the then Soviet Union and its impact on Africa.
It is her fervent view that the relationship between the Chinse Communists and the Soviet Union influenced what happened in some African countries particularly in Zimbabwe where the two main liberation movements were supported by the two countries. China supported ZANU while ZAPU got its support from Soviet Union.
“The Sino-Soviet conflict affected the liberation struggle for Zimbabwean independence more than it did other African liberation movements.
Liberation movements such as the African National Congress, ANC, of South Africa; the Movimento para la Liberatacao Popular da Angola, MPLA; The Frente para la
Liberatacao de Mozambique, FRELIMO; and the South West African People’s Organisation, SWAPO, were supported by the Soviet Union, and so were not as deeply affected by the ideological struggle between the two communists giants,” says Chung on page 77.
Some readers, however, may find Chung’s focus on the influence of Chinese on the ZANLA military wing very dreary but this is an essential detail that explains why it was convenient for the ruling ZANU-PF to resort to the East when “push comes to shove.”
Maoism was so rampant among ZANLA cadres including the development of a Code of Conduct for soldiers, which was recited everyday at rallies.
The three main rules according to Chung were:
1 – Obey orders in all your actions
2 – Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses
3 – Turn in everything captured
And the points of attention are:
1 – Speak politely
2 – Pay fairly for what you buy
3 – Return everything you borrow
4 – Do not hit or swear at people
5 – Do not damage crops
6 – Do not take liberties with women
7 – Do not ill-treat captives
According to Chung the Code of Conduct, which closely resembles the Eight Points of Attention of the People’s Army in China, was followed very strictly and accounted for the fact that the freedom fighters were able to win so much support from the peasantry.
One thing apparent throughout the book is the mark of rigorous research that went into the consummation of the book. After highlighting the astuteness of the Zimbabwean government in turning east, she believes there were a whole lot of issues that the country needed to undertake in order to make the relationship mutually beneficial.
In her view, Zimbabwe must move away from over-reliance on aid as was the case during the formative years of independence when huge donor funds poured into the country from Western nations particularly from Britain and the United States.
What needs to be remedied first was to clearly define the trade transactions between the two nations.
As it stands, Chung contends that China plays the determinant and dominant role as the benefactor while Zimbabwe is satisfied with being the recipient of financial help.
Zimbabwe, she says , must learn from China itself, whose development has thus far
been propelled with less foreign aid as it had to galvanise its own internal resources and had the advantage of a gigantic human resource base.
Similarly, she says, the “Zimbabwe government has managed to survive with little or no donor funds for more than a decade since the introduction of the Fast Track Resettlement Programme.
This should provide an important lesson for Zimbabwe to stop its corrosive dependence on donor aid, and instead look at dependence on its own resources.”
In a nutshell, Zimbabwe Looking East is more than just a technical examination of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy in the aftermaths of the economic sanctions imposed on the country but is rich on history as well.
It is after an appreciation of the Chinese history and including tracing Zimbabwe’s relationship with the Asian nation that one understands the current state of amiable relations between the two nations. (Reported by Lovemore Ranga Mataire