For the first time in more than 15 years, Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old president, Robert Mugabe, openly asked for western re-engagement in his ‘state of the nation’ address in August. A decade ago, Mugabe told a packed rally at the Chinese-built national sports stadium in Harare: ‘We have turned east, where the sun rises, and given our back to the west, where the sun sets.’ Angola’s equally long-serving president, José Eduardo dos Santos, has also encouraged better relations with the United States in 2015.
Why this sudden change of mind? The fall in commodity prices, brought about by cooling demand for oil and minerals from China, and an improving US economy partly explain it. China imports nearly 60 per cent of the world’s iron ore and about 30 per cent of the world’s copper. A slowdown in Chinese demand hits exporting countries such as Zambia and South Africa.