It was sad to learn during President Hage Geingob’s state visit to Zimbabwe last week, that trade between our two countries generated only N$24 million in the whole of 2016.
This revelation brings into sharper focus the low level of commercial engagement between African nations on a continent that continues to swim in an ocean of poverty due to stunted economic growth.
Although intra-African trade is not a panacea for development, it is quite important. It can help the continent’s industries become more competitive by creating economies of scale and weeding out producers that are less productive in the marketplace. It can establish and strengthen product value chains and facilitate the transfer of technology and knowledge via spillover effects.
To its credit, the Zimbabwean private sector has been more enterprising and has shown a better attitude to exploiting the generally good relations that exist between the two countries. In fact, the trade balance has been positive in favour of Zimbabwe, partly because Namibian businesses have not adequately explored demand on the Zimbabwean market in order to improve their export to that country.
Even with the Zimbabwe-Namibia Joint Permanent Commission of Co-operation in existence, trade between the two nations has been deplorable. True, Zimbabwe’s economy has been on its knees for more than a decade and has thus not produced enough output, but that cannot justify a paltry N$24 million generated in trade last year. It is, for lack of a better word, a pittance.
Apart from forging a united front on rebels to help maintain safety and security in DRC, the secondment of Zimbabwean professionals to Namibia and sending Namibians to study mostly teaching and agriculture in Zimbabwe, there is hardly anything else substantive that has flowed from the cordial relations between the two countries.
Frankly, there are more political pleasantries between the two countries than there is trade. It is perhaps with this realisation that President Geingob saw the need to visit Zimbabwe and help hype up economic cooperation between our two nations. His visit is therefore commendable.
In all fairness, the countries have done well in terms of cooperation on energy and human capital development, but if this could be replicated in trade terms, our respective economies would become bigger than they are today.
If the continent pursued intra-Africa trade to the letter, the illegal sanctions imposed on the people of Zimbabwe would not have had the severe impact we have witnessed over the last decade in that country.
Zimbabwe would have simply traded with fellow African nations and kept its economy growing, to the chagrin of Downing Street and Washington.
Admittedly, African countries produce similar products – mostly in raw form – and therefore cannot always trade between each other. But perhaps this should ring alarm bells regarding the need to diversify our economies beyond tobacco, timber and raw minerals. Africa must move beyond over-reliance on commodities and venture into services.
The 8th session of the Zimbabwe-Namibia Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation held last week could usher the two countries into a new era of doing business.
But as delegates stated during the session several agreements have either not taken off or the parties have not fully signed the implementation of agreements such as the MoU on SME cooperation, which affects aspirations of trade and other engagements.
Lastly, we want to see more state visits between African countries. It cannot be correct, for example, that President Robert Mugabe’s state visit to South Africa in April 2015 was his first to that country in 20 years. That’s not good neighbourliness.