THE catch phrase “Zimbabwe is open for business” was popularised when the current Zanu PF administration was trying to woo foreign investors and foreign direct investment (FDI) into Zimbabwe. During President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s trip to Davos in 2018, he re-iterated that he was serious about opening Zimbabwe for business. This was music to all our ears until people began to feel the pain of some of the economic reforms being implemented by his administration.
Business operations are being frustrated, investors are still not ready to pour their hard-earned capital into a country that, according to them, still has a bad track record of property rights, which it has not been fixed yet, and also does not guarantee a return of their investments. It then begs the question: Zimbabwe is open for whose business?
The path chosen by the President to go around the world trying to source for FDIs does not bear much fruit, seeing as people will only invest in a country once it has demonstrated its ability to protect investors’ interests, respect property rights and be politically stable. As it stands, all that the country can get are mere expressions of “interest to do business in Zimbabwe” and not actual investments. Our economic quagmire is one key area of concern. When it comes to establishing business operations in Zimbabwe, one may pour out United States dollars, but they may not necessarily be guaranteed to get that back. Instead, one may end up stuck with the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar, which, in all honesty, has been rendered useless even within our borders and worse off, is not recognised as legal tender beyond our borders. This, in turn, translates into losses for those who may be interested in injecting FDI in Zimbabwe. Further making the situation worrisome is when Mnangagwa publicly says the RTGS dollar is the strongest currency in southern Africa.
A bit on the dark side of our ages
The nation has been recently plagued by a serious case of load-shedding, which has been affecting more than just households, but most businesses as well. The new Energy and Power Development minister , Fortune Chasi, recently suspended the Zesa board, a move which was welcomed by many. This decision is an example of what needs to be done with many key bodies which are crucial to service delivery.
However good this was, it has not solved the current power outages affecting the normal running of businesses. Without businesses running properly, there will be little to no revenue generated, which is a negative for the economy. This also comes at a time when the price of fuel has recently gone up again, forcing another hike in the prices of basic commodities. Sustaining a business has become harder than it normally should be under such unfavourable conditions. Startups are barely surviving, before crumbling under the harsh economic conditions.
Hopefully, the suspension of the Zesa board will result in the next batch being chosen based strictly on their merit, and actually producing results as opposed to being a board only in name.
The infamous list we forgot about
Unforgotten to many may be the list of externalisation, which was released by the President early last year. This list contained 1 844 externalisers and looters whose acts were reported to have externalised a total of $1,4 billion, of which only $591,1 million was recovered during the amnesty which the President offered them, leaving an outstanding $826.5 million. Will there be more action taken by the government against these corporates and individuals, given that their names were publicised and their information is known? Was this just a smoke screen to make it look like the current administration is serious about fighting corruption, while it is not? Adding onto this, what does it say about the President’s stance on corruption, given that he set up a Special Anti-Corruption Unit which reports to his office, but which to date has been snubbing courts and not producing results?
If Mnangagwa is to be taken seriously by both local and foreign investors, then he must clamp down on corruption, otherwise his word becomes empty and the confidence needed to get things going remains an unattainable goal for Zimbabwe.
What must be done?
Firstly, Mnangagwa must task his administration with getting the actual work done. They must ensure that they are sincere and actually reforming policies as opposed to just changing a few things under the guise of “reformation”.
Secondly, the players who are involved in corruption are known. The President must, instead, make an example of those in government and at the top levels if he is to send out a message of how serious he is about ridding the nation of a cancer that has plagued it for far too long. As long as he goes for the low-hanging fruit, leaving the bigwigs, it becomes difficult to believe his mantra on fighting corruption.
Thirdly, Mnangagwa must engage the main opposition and all opposition parties collectively in the process of the national political dialogue. Proceeding with the dialogue without the key players may not be beneficial for the nation, given that it is a national dialogue and the MDC as a key stakeholder remains unrepresented. However, on the other hand, the MDC must stop snubbing the dialogue and be willing to put egos aside and not demand special treatment, merely because they are the biggest opposition party. If they truly care about the well-being of all Zimbabweans as they preach, they should sit down with all players and air out their grievances and suggestions.
Lastly, before Mnangagwa can rush to globetrot, he must attend to the domestic issues which remain an impediment to attracting any meaningful FDI.
Thabani Mnyama is an academic with special interests in international, constitutional and human rights law, diplomacy and public policy. He writes in his own capacity.