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Politics overshadows economics

Ngoni Chanakira

BUSINESS executives trying to lure investors despite the country’s skewed macroeconomic fundamentals say they are in a quandary because the tense political climate continues to take centre st

age.


Next Wednesday a delegation comprising 18 top businessmen from various sectors travels to Durban, South Africa, where they will try and “sell” Zimbabwe at the influential Africa Economic Forum (AEF).


The forum will be held from June 11 to 13 and has as its theme: “Harnessing the power of partnership”.


The Forum, which is linked to the World Economic Forum, comprises more than 500 world business and political leaders including Microsoft’s Bill Gates – arguably the world’s richest individual.


It also includes executives from mining giant Anglo American Corporation, IBM, Coca-Cola, Nike, Mercedes Benz and Levi Straus.


The heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank also participate in these gatherings.


From Zimbabwe’s banking sector the following will attend; Trustfin managing director Glenn Conrad, Trust Holdings Ltd chief executive officer William Nyemba and executive director Chris Goromonzi, Kingdom Financial Holdings Ltd executive deputy chairman Nigel Chanakira, NDH Holdings Ltd managing director Ernest Matienga, Finhold chief executive officer Elisha Mushayakarara, and Agribank managing director Taka Mutunhu.


Executives from other sectors of business include Dairibord Zimbabwe Ltd chief executive officer and Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries boss Anthony Mandiwanza, Zimsun Leisure group chief executive officer Shingi Munyeza, Meikles Africa Ltd’s Chris Parvin, Astra Industries Ltd chairman and managing director respectively Elias Ngugama and Nicholas Nyandoro, PG Industries (Zimbabwe) Ltd chief executive officer Gerald Mujaji, acting Zimbabwe Investment Centre executive director Richard Mbaiwa, and former Finance minister Simba Makoni, in his capacity as Makonsult (Pvt) Ltd managing director.


The Minister of Finance and Economic Development Herbert Murerwa will lead the delegation, accompanied by his counterpart, Industry and International Trade minister, Samuel Mumbengegwi.


Murerwa and Mumbengegwi are expected to meet with South Africa’s Finance and Trade ministers Trevor Manuel and Alec Erwin, respectively, on the sidelines of the WEF to try and thrash out trade issues that have resulted in tension brewing between the two trading partners.


The rand is down against the euro and the US dollar because of the economic downturn in Zimbabwe – its largest trading partner.


This was worsened by this week’s five-day stayaway called by the major opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


The MDC, which has been invited to the WEF, is expected to send individuals from its economics and foreign affairs departments to tell its side of the Zimbabwe story.


MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, who attended the last event, cannot attend this one because government confiscated his travel documents pending the outcome of his ongoing treason trial.


To boost Zimbabwe’s appearance at the WEF will be Barclays Bank’s Isaac Takawira, now based in Kenya and former Industry and International Trade minister Nkosana Moyo, now employed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a subsidiary of the World Bank.


In an interview Murerwa said: “We do have a story to tell despite the challenges facing Zimbabwe right now. We need to coordinate our efforts and put up a good showing in Durban.”


Nyemba, who coordinates the Zimbabwe chapter jointly with Chanakira, said 10 countries had already signed up for the summit’s peer review mechanism, while more than 100 institutions had signed up in solidarity.


He said: “Presentations will be made for beneficiaries of Nepad so far. There will be a task force meeting between South African and Zimbabwean business leaders.”


Chanakira said: “We should not pretend that the political situation has nothing to do with the economic situation because this has haunted us at other forums.”


He said government needed to “come clean” on issues at the forum, including sensitive political ones because business “cannot continue defending some unclear policies”.


Chanakira said: “The other time when we were discussing investment somebody stood up and asked about the political climate in Zimbabwe. At the moment there is the succession debate and we need to know what to say. We can’t just ignore such important issues. The press will be there and they will take this opportunity to go to town again about Zimbabwe if we are not coordinated.”


Insiders said as part of its strategy to focus on “success stories” government would again harp on its “land tune” this time telling the international community that it had been “successfully completed”. They will publicise the new land audit team, headed by former cabinet secretary Charles Utete, as well as talk about the New Economic Revival Programme.


The insiders said government would also take the opportunity to market the flourishing financial sector, which has reaped billions in profits despite the economic downturn. The WEF meeting comes at a time when Zimbabwe is in a severely weakened condition after experiencing a fourth successive year of economic decline.


The main areas of concern are a declining gross domestic product, hyperinflation of 269,2%, unemployment of more than 75%, high domestic and foreign debts, as well as a weak balance of payments position which has resulted in the country being rated a risky trading partner.


Analysts said as long as government and the MDC did not agree on basic political and economic fundamentals the WEF “would provide just another shouting opportunity for the two parties which does not benefit ordinary Zimbabweans”.


Economist John Robertson said: “I hope the individuals going to South Africa won’t defend the current economic policies otherwise they will just embarrass not only the country, but also themselves. They might just meet a hostile crowd of executives who won’t listen to outdated economic principles.”

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