Mugabe takes begging bowl to far-off Japan

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has lined up a number of critical bilateral meetings with his purported “all-weather friends” when he goes for the United Nations General Assembly in New York next month as he seeks a financial rescue package in a bid to avoid a looming economic implosion.

Elias Mambo

This comes as Mugabe and his officials are planning to visit far-flung Japan to cultivate ties and seek help after failing to get any meaningful funding from Brics giants like China, Russia and South Africa.

“The president will travel to New York for the United Nations General Assembly next month and the idea is that he will have a number of bilateral meetings with top officials from friendly countries, particularly from Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) aimed at securing investment and funding,” said a senior government official.

“Although arrangements have not yet been finalised, there is also a plan to visit Japan to look for help. Government will also send a delegation to reciprocate a visit by French officials and business persons to the country, last month to attract much-needed investment.”

Before travelling to Japan, however, officials say Harare would first host officials and a business delegation from the Asian giant, the world’s third largest economy.

A Japan embassy official Masashi Iidah yesterday refused to comment saying they were not ready to release information on the issue.

“At the moment nothing is yet out. When we are ready we will comment. Give me your contacts so that we get in touch when we are ready,” said Iidah.

Since his controversial re-election in 2013, Mugabe has been to Brics countries which form an emerging powerful bloc of developing nations counterweighting the G7, a grouping of developed countries that includes the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada.

Last month Brics launched a US$100 billion development bank ahead of its summit in the Russian industrial city of Ufa. The bank aimed at financing projects mainly in member countries will select its first projects to finance by the end of the year. China will contribute US$41 billion to the currency pool. Brazil, India and Russia will each provide US$18 billion, while the remaining US$5 billion will come from South Africa.

Mugabe was in Beijing in August last year but came back almost empty-handed after getting the usual US$26 million given to any visiting leader to use as they see fit. The “gift” is widely seen as an inducement mainly for African leaders to play ball with Chinese authorities who desperately want natural resources and markets on the continent.

Mugabe only secured long-term infrastructure deals with China which gave Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa a sobering reality check when he visited Beijing last month. Beijing wants change of leadership and policy reforms in Harare before releasing big money.

In April Mugabe was in Pretoria for trade talks and looking for funding.

During his state visit to South Africa Mugabe painted a gloomy picture of the state of Zimbabwe’s economy to his South African counterpart President Jacob Zuma, as the country reached a milestone 35 years of Independence.

In meetings with Zuma, South African ministers and senior government officials, Mugabe was to the amazement of his hosts candid on the state of the economy, which he said was in dire straits.

Top South African and Zimbabwean officials who attended the meetings at the time told the Zimbabwe Independent Mugabe painted a “very bleak” picture of the economy, shocking Zuma and his ministers who had apparently underestimated the severity of the economic crisis.

Mugabe reportedly spoke about company closures, massive retrenchments, high unemployment and the liquidity crunch suffocating the economy. Zimbabwe is currently battling an obdurate economic crisis now in its second decade.

In May Mugabe was in Moscow to take part in the 70th anniversary of Russia’s World War II victory over Nazi Germany. This came against a background of a US$4 billion platinum deal between the two countries, although no bailout has been offered.

The Zimbabwean government also intends to send high-ranking officials to France to engage government officials and investors. This follows a visit by French Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Rémy Rioux to Harare last month.
In June Mugabe turned to his bitter regional rival Botswana President Ian Khama for a model to exploit diamonds to fuel economic recovery in Zimbabwe.

A government official said this week after failing to secure an economic rescue package as it has also become clear that multilateral lending institutions will not help out the country before it implements reforms and clears arrears, Mugabe and his officials are desperate to extend the begging bowl to any friendly country which can afford to help out.

Zimbabwe is grappling with a severe liquidity crunch and is saddled with an unsustainable US$10 billion debt overhang and arrears. The International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lenders have ruled out funding to Harare unless sit clears arrears first and embarks on a serious reform process.

The current wave of massive company closures and job losses have apparently left Mugabe and his officials panic-stricken after their dream to create two millions jobs by 2018 following the 2013 elections turned into a nightmare. They have not only failed to fulfil their promise but cannot even protect the few but dwindling existing job opportunities.

The government is under extreme pressure to do something to raise hopes of a nation shaken by wholesale job loses following the July 17 Supreme Court ruling which allowed employers to retrench workers on giving them a three-months’ notice without paying severance packages.

A government official said that is why the old and frail Mugabe wants to go for a three-day state visit to Tokyo after which he will pass through Singapore for medical treatment.

In March this year Mugabe went on a visit to Japan, but got nothing.

While investment delegations have been trooping in to Zimbabwe from the Unites States, European Union states, Scandinavian countries, Russia and China, no money has been flowing in. Investors are scared of the country’s political, economic and sovereign risks, poor credit rating, while being kept at bay by hostile policies and an inhospitable investment climate.

Danish embassy Chargé d’Affaires Erik Brøgger has said most business delegations which come to Zimbabwe also visit other countries in the region and ultimately choose to do business elsewhere.

Government’s wishy-washy ZimAsset economic blueprint which requires about US$27 billion to implement is virtually dead in the water.

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