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Comment: Living a lie

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai next week returns from his US and European trip with a few dimes in the bag relative to the needs here.

Naïve opponents in the inclusive government expected him to fight hard to have sanctions lifted and with it secure more aid for the country. This did not happen on this trip but Tsvangirai returns with volumes of useful information on what the Western World thinks about Zimbabwe and areas our rulers need to concentrate on for this economy to turn the corner.

These are basic issues dealing with the rule of law, an end to repression, protection of property rights and respect for other fundamental freedoms.
On Tsvangirai’s trip, it was not just politicians pointing out the deficit on each of the fundamental issues, but potential investors to this market too. They are not convinced that Zimbabwe is a good investment destination. Tsvangirai’s blandishments in Washington when he met business leaders, that government had rolled back inflation from 500 million percent to three percent and that there was increased government accountability was not convincing at all. In Sweden he tried another strategy.
He said at a press conference: “We are making a case for re-engagement because we, as Zimbabweans, have decided not for the sake of the international community, but for own sake, that we need the freedoms, the reforms and we need economic recovery whether Mugabe is there or not.”  
He is right that the country needs to move on but those investors and donors unhappy with Mugabe’s continued stay in office want to be convinced that the inclusive government is working well under his stewardship.  Tsvangirai’s statement in Stockholm therefore sought to airbrush the Mugabe factor in the quest to present Zimbabwe as rehabilitating.
Just as he has tried lately but failed to wish away the negative impact of attacks on media freedom and continued disturbances on the farms, the issue of Mugabe’s commitment to the reform process will continue to haunt Tsvangirai on his trips to Western capitals. This trip has therefore taught Tsvangirai an important lesson. To the West, Tsvangirai is a change agent for a government whose transformation process is either too slow or barely noticeable.
Therefore it was not surprising that the Corporate Council on Africa, which represents 180 companies dedicated to strengthening the commercial relationship between the US and Africa, told Tsvangirai’s delegation that they were not looking at Zimbabwe as an investment destination at the moment. The council said before investing in Zimbabwe, most American companies wanted to see a combination of political and economic reforms to create a sustainable investment climate.
On the same day, the council’s president and CEO, Stephen Hayes, who was visiting Zimbabwe at the invitation of the US, advised the Zimbabwean business community not to expect any significant new American private-sector investments in the near-term until reforms are made. He said the American business community looked forward to the day when Zimbabwe became a “beacon of investment and a leader in addressing Africa’s economic development needs”.
At the moment Zimbabwe is not the flavour of the month, notwithstanding the propaganda surrounding the country’s taking over the chair of Comesa earlier in the month. We were at the time bombarded with positive news about the Zimbabwean economy turning the corner because of the new business configuration in the Comesa region and the benefits to local industry. President Mugabe’s assumption of the Comesa chair was feted as if it was a meritorious appointment in recognition of prudent business leadership in the region. This is what we have become good at: celebrating expectation as a success. Those pontificating on the benefits of regional integration and the formation of the customs union in Victoria Falls chose not to examine the parlous state of the Zimbabwean economy, neither did they take time to examine real causes of economic stagnation in Zimbabwe. The formation of the customs union became the panacea for the region’s woes.
This ruse does not address concerns of investors as observed by the Corporate Council on Africa. These concerns are aptly captured by the Africa Competitiveness Report released at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town last week.
Zimbabwe has fared badly in all respects. It is at the bottom of the pile in competitiveness on the continent; only a point better than Benin. Zimbabwe’s overall performance was sabotaged by very poor ranking in key indicators like protection of property rights, the independence of the judiciary, state profligacy, corruption, unclear regulations, political instability, opaque policy-making and high taxation. Zimbabwe has also fared poorly in its ability to provide adequate infrastructure for business and in social protection programmes, especially in health.
To this add the incident of the Information minister Webster Shamu recently saying that he does not take orders from Tsvangirai and the resultant contemptuous move by the minister to disregard a court order allowing journalists to attend the Comesa Summit and we have a perfect example of a Zimbabwe which remains unattractive to investors. Tsvangirai and his colleagues in the inclusive government know what needs to be done. They must stop living a lie and get to work.

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