If there’s a new cold war brewing and both China and the United States are trying to get African countries on their side, it’s clear where Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allegiance lies.
“Unlike Western interests which have been exploiting our continent even well before its formal occupation,” the Chinese “have now come back to the continent they helped liberate as new, non-traditional investors,” he said, referring to Beijing’s backing of Zimbabwe’s independence war against white minority rule.
"Here in Zimbabwe, China has helped fund and implement several projects in the sectors of energy, air transport, water, real estate, industrial value addition, mining and defense," the president said. "All these have secured and bolstered our independence while changing the structure of our economy in this season of punitive Western sanctions."
The United States and European Union have maintained sanctions on Zimbabwean individuals and companies for two decades, since longtime 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.
Beijing has stepped into the void left by Western powers — offering generous loans that aren’t dependent on democratic reform — to become the country’s top investor. It has invested heavily in the lithium-rich country’s mines and is funding the country’s massive new parliament building.
While Washington says it’s not in competition with China in Africa, officials have warned governments here against what are often dubbed China’s “debt trap” loans. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been trying to win support for its stance on the war in Ukraine — something that many governments on the continent, including Zimbabwe’s, have been loathe to give.
When asked about the war of words with the West, Zimbabwe government spokeswoman Monica Mutsvangwa echoed the president’s remarks.
“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.
Mutsvangwa pointed to several Chinese-owned lithium mines and a steel plant being built by Chinese mining giant Tsingshan Group Holdings as proof that Zimbabwe’s detractors had been “shunted by the wayside.”
Zimbabwe’s state-run media, too, is echoing 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” intent on regime change.
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 Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, said the U.S. Embassy in Harare had 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.”
“Smearing Chinese investment hurts Zimbabweans’ interests and helps illegal sanctions. Clowns like #Mr1K & their master need to realize China-Zim friendship & cooperation is unshakable,” the embassy tweeted last week.
Asked about such comments, the Public Diplomacy Section at 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. “
But an article this week in China’s Global Times showed Beijing isn’t letting up.
“The U.S. is playing a part in smearing Chinese investment in Zimbabwe, in a malicious attempt to incite anti-China sentiment in the country and sabotage China-Zimbabwe economic and trade cooperation,” it read.