AMID the pervasive gloom that appears to perpetually envelope the country, with frequent reports of company closures, retrenchments, bank failures, late or non-payment of salaries, endemic corruption and infrastructural collapse, among others, some rays of light seem to be filtering through.
Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja
Certainly, Zimbabwe continues to be firmly stuck in an economic morass with economists asserting average incomes are at their lowest in 60 years, while a recent FinScope survey reveals most adults earn less than US$100 per month in an economy where unemployment is north of 80%.
It is against such a gloomy backdrop that moves over the past couple of months, which attest to the country’s quickening steps towards rejoining the family of nations, give precious hope President Mugabe’s administration is seized with pulling the economy back from the brink. Not that the government has any choice despite its residual swaggering bombast from the ruling elite about the country’s sovereignty, its right to master its own destiny and the reputed fruits of the Look East policy.
Last October Zimbabwe welcomed the first British trade delegation in, according to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, about 20 years, with the minister lauding the visit as “the first step in our normalisation of relations between the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe”.
Said Chinamasa: “Zimbabwe is open to investment from any part of the world … We have to create a conducive environment to attract investors …”
The forging of such an environment desperately needs to crystallise from constant rhetoric into concrete action, for Zimbabwe continues to occupy the lowest rungs of the global ease-of-doing-business ladder.
Still, there was a follow-up visit this month by a 19-member British business delegation to explore investment opportunities and sign a business deal with government that is expected to create jobs.
And last week, the country signed an agreement in which the European Union will provide US$270 million to develop governance structures, health and the agriculture sectors under the National Indicative Programme — the first time since 2002 the bloc is channeling funds through Treasury.
The European Investment Bank is also due for a mission visit to Zimbabwe in another step towards resuming financial relations.
What’s more, in January a French business delegation was also here to explore business opportunities, as has recently various investors from France, China, Russia and Turkey some of which signed concrete deals.
A common thread to the investors’ worries are concerns over the country’s indigenisation law — which has a clarity and consistency deficit — and long-term guarantees of their investment. Even “all-weather friend” China has balked at providing a rescue package citing the country’s political risk and uncertainty over Mugabe’s health and succession.
Zimbabwe needs to take full advantage of the current momentum by riding on the wave of re-engagement to breathe life into the comatose economy. This means acting urgently to address investor concerns, chiefly the indigenisation problem.