Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs minister — who is viewed in the West as a tough-talking diplomat, but in his home country is considered a level-headed statesman — was in Harare this week where he cut various deals with the government.
Editor’s Memo,Brezhnev malaba
A skilled negotiator, the man is no slouch in the field of diplomacy, having worked in the Russian system since 1972.
Although he is vastly experienced and has been described as one of the most popular cabinet ministers in Moscow, he is afforded no space to put his personal signature on Russian foreign policy. Instructions come directly from President Vladimir Putin, whose iron-clad grip on the establishment is the stuff of legend.
Massive mining deals were concluded, primarily with respect to Darunland Platinum. In 2014, Russia and Zimbabwe signed a US$3 billion deal on platinum mining although that agreement was not fully consumated. There were also interesting discussions this week centred on “military and technical co-operation”. That is a story for another day.
Diamonds were obviously in the offing. Emerging from the bilateral talks in Harare, Lavrov said he was glad he had “a good conversation about the good prospects for co-operation in the diamond industry”.
The Russians are not the only global economic heavyweights hunting for bargains in Harare. Last week, German business executives from Airbus and Bosch visited Zimbabwe to explore opportunities, a significant development in this country’s quest to lure foreign direct investment.
Airbus is Europe’s largest aerospace company. Bosch, a German multinational engineering and electronics firm, is the world’s largest supplier of automotive components measured by revenues.
These corporate giants enjoyed combined revenues last year of US$177 billion. To put this in perspective, Zimbabwe’s entire gross domestic product is about US$16 billion and the annual national budget rarely exceeds US$4 billion. Looking at these metrics alone, there is no doubt that these companies are big hitters on the international landscape.
Last week, the Zimbabwe Independent interviewed Germany’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Thorsten Hutter, who raised wide-ranging issues affecting trade and investment. The diplomat — whose country is the largest economy in Europe and the third largest exporter in the world — spoke frankly about what needs to be done to set Zimbabwe on a sustainable path to recovery.
Hutter said if this country is to make progress, the government urgently needs to address the legal framework as well as foreign currency and liquidity challenges so as to lure much-needed investment.
More importantly, the German ambassador highlighted a vital point which the officials in Harare ought to take seriously. He said considering that there is stiff competition for foreign direct investment in Africa and elsewhere, Zimbabwe cannot behave as though it has a monopoly over precious minerals and business opportunities.
Riding on a wave international goodwill, Zimbabwe must reach out to investors and make a convincing case why foreign companies should invest in the country.
The ambassador is spot-on. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has to move beyond mere rhetoric and prove to the world that new policies are in the offing. In that connection, it’s a blot on the record of the new administration that the much-condemned Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act has neither been amended nor repealed, despite official pretense to the contrary.
The time has come for the authorities in this country to understand the workings of international capital. Zimbabwe is not the world’s only magnificent El Dorado. We are competing for investment with other countries. All these nations offer enticing incentives, environments conducive for business and mouth-watering opportunities for profit and growth.
Zimbabwe, the diplomat emphasised, must out-compete and outsmart other nations in the race for foreign investment. Although we are a world leader in mineral diversity, other countries have precious minerals too.
“So Zimbabwe is in a competitive situation with its neighbouring countries and beyond, and yes, Zimbabwe has a number of minerals that are attractive, but as far as I know Zimbabwe does not have a monopoly on any of those. These minerals can also be mined elsewhere. Zimbabwe has to reach out to investors and has to make a convincing case why those companies should invest here. There are several other aspects that are important in this context.”
Zimbabwe is in competition with other countries for foreign direct investment and this is a timely wake-up call for the government. The world does not owe us a living — we must work for every cent.