THERE are signs of a growing rapprochement between Zimbabwe and Western countries whose relations had been strained to the point of near collapse at the height of diplomatic clashes over policy differences as President Robert Mugabe’s exit draws closer.
It might still be uncertain when Mugabe is going to quit, but all those who plan ahead are already looking beyond him. In fact, even insiders are also doing that.
State-controlled daily Herald ghost columnist Nathaniel Manheru, believed to be Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, dropped the clearest hint on that yet in his installment last Saturday. “In the twilight of President Mugabe’s leadership, we badly need a frank debate on leadership. I am ready to lead the charge right away, from as early as next week. Or else I quit,” Manheru wrote.
Although Zimbabwe is still in the throes of a protracted social and economic crunch, foreign governments, investors and political pundits, as well as those into scenario-planning are looking at the light at the end of the tunnel far away out rather than the darkness currently consuming them. Down there they see the cusp of a new era, not gloom and doom. Private equity firm Spear Capital recently paid US$6 million to acquire a 27% stake in Zimbabwe’s Dendairy, a leading dairy producer. According to Muvirimi Kupara, head of the firm’s corporate communications, one motivation behind the investment is that the local dairy industry offers higher returns than most other markets.
We say all this because of late there is a growing trend of Western business and political delegations streaming into Zimbabwe to engage or re-engage with stakeholders. There is a process underway seeking to take things forward albeit at a snail slow and sometimes painful pace. Over the past couple of months, Western delegations, Americans and Europeans in particular, as well as multilateral lending institutions have been to Zimbabwe to explore a wide range of issues. Every now and then foreign delegations come in and out looking at the situation on the ground mainly for purposes of planning for the future.
Only yesterday Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa — who is proving to be useful on re-engagement after all — addressed journalists in Harare with a delegation from the IFC delegation, the World Bank’s private sector lending arm making its first visit to the country since 2001. Last week there was a French delegation. The Americans were here recently. There British, Chinese, Russians and Scandinavians have also been around. The IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank have been here too.
Zimbabwe’s re-engagement process brings with it the challenge and opportunity of engaging investors in competitive advantage not ideological terms. If Zimbabwe is to attract investment it must show it is a good and worthwhile business destination and partner in a global economy crowded with competing nations and interests.
Ideological baggage and cheap rhetoric must be abandoned. This means unprogressive policies like indigenisation, which has helped destroy the economy, must be discarded. All other similarly ill-advised policies must also go. With economic stakes so high, and global interdependence matrices getting more complex, constructive engagement between Zimbabwe and the West is no longer a superfluity but a necessity.
Government must play itspart to rebuild the country.