PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, which took over from former president Robert Mugabe in November last year, has embarked on a diplomatic charm offensive to re-engage the international community and restore diplomatic, trade, financial and investment relations, as well as attract investment and new funding. Zimbabwe Independent senior political reporter Wongai Zhangazha (WZ) this week spoke to Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister, Retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo (SB) about these issues and related matters. Below are excerpts of the interview:
WZ: The government of Zimbabwe is pursuing an agenda for economic recovery and promoting itself as a trade and investment destination following a change of government in November 2017. How has this process been going so far?
SB: The repositioning and rebranding of Zimbabwe, led by His Excellency President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a process.
As such, that takes time and is a continuous effort. The process is proceeding very well and international partners are listening closely and accepting that we are moving in the positive direction. Investors are responding well to government’s efforts to level the economic playing field on which to do business. The ease of doing business is a goal which government takes very seriously. Additionally, amendments to the indigenisation law has been well received as the investor has been freed from ceding a certain percentage of equity to anyone. We are reviving the economy and freeing the political space in our country.
WZ: It has been raised that international and regional governmental engagement does not guarantee success of long-term reform, but continued isolation will almost certainly lead to the failure of reforms to take hold. What are some of the issues that government is undertaking to ensure national recovery and economic success?
SB: Isolationism has been ended by His Excellency President Mnangagwa. There is tremendous reception to the economic and political reforms which have been accomplished in barely five months in office. We have opened dialogue with the IFIs (international financial institutions) so that once we have addressed our debt arrears and are in good books with them, new lines of credit will be available and foreign investors will have greater confidence in our economy. National economic recovery is afoot and there is no stopping us now!
WZ: You were recently in London during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). What were some of the major issues you discussed with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin?
SB: I accepted the invitation from the Right Honourable Boris Johnson to join him and 11 fellow foreign ministers from all regions of the Commonwealth so that together, we could address the eventual return to the Commonwealth by the Republic of Zimbabwe. The CHOGM was about to conclude, but these colleague ministers joined Mr Johnson at a breakfast to engage with Zimbabwe. From Canada to Australia, the African continent to Asia, there was palpable joy by all that, without further delay, Zimbabwe should be one of them again. The reasons why we left the Commonwealth are known and relegated to the past. Centre-stage were calls to assist Zimbabwe to recover economically and for all to do whatever they could to assist in that regard. So, I was energised by this reception and I have since briefed His Excellency the President about this event and about what he, no doubt, will do to take back Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth.
WZ: Does Zimbabwe intend to rejoin the Commonwealth? If so, what is the roadmap?
SB: There is interest to rejoin the Commonwealth. This is why the President ordered me to go to London to engage with key representatives of that group. I also called in at the Commonwealth Secretariat, where I was informed of what remains to be done if our country wanted to rejoin that esteemed group of nations. At their 2009 and 2011 CHOGMs, all members of the Commonwealth indicated that Zimbabwe would be welcomed back into the group once certain conditions obtained. Government is seized with the roadmap and the steps to be followed for rejoining the Commonwealth.
WZ: Do you see a good opportunity for Zimbabwe to strengthen its relations with Britain in light of Brexit?
SB: Brexit is a UK matter. Our main trade interests with the UK thus far have been served, while the UK has been part and parcel of the EU. The UK will only be able to conclude and operationalise new bilateral trade relations with other countries, including us, once they have completely delinked from the EU’s customs union.
WZ: Although the EU and Australia have reviewed their policies on Zimbabwe, including responding to Harare’s re-engagement strategy by revising and in some cases easing their sanctions, the United States and Canada have lagged behind with sanctions regimes. How is government addressing re-engagement as far as sanctions are concerned?
SB: We are engaged with all erstwhile hostile nations to Zimbabwe. The US and Canada are no exceptions. We look forward to advancing our relations with these two very important countries with speed. There are no insurmountable challenges between them and us. The future looks bright and I am dedicated to realising much improved relations with both of them at the soonest.
WZ: Do you think government will meet the conditions set out in the proposals by the US for the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act to be reviewed?
SB: Zidera is an Act of the US Congress. They had their goals when they enacted the ruinous measures against our country. Intrinsically, we shall behave to fulfil the dictates of the people of our land. There is no other master.
As we do all we can to advance the social and political needs of our people, it will be up to the US Congress to interrogate themselves whether our developments dictate that they change their posture towards us. I am convinced that the US Congress will address the incongruity between their demands and the people-driven goals we achieve as we develop our country economically and politically. We do not deserve the hostile posture towards us which is almost two decades old now. We are cultivating a healthy relationship with the US administration.
WZ: Zimbabwe’s “new economic order” includes ambitions to normalise relationships with international partners, creditors and investors. Which creditors and investors has Zimbabwe been dealing with?
SB: Our country is in debt arrears relationship with the World Bank and African Development Bank (WB and ADB respectively). We also owe large sums of money to creditor nations of the Paris Club of developed countries. To access new funds from the IFIs, our country needs to address these arrears and engage the creditor nations. The Lima Process is truly revived and government is cultivating renewed relations as she seeks modalities to address the arrears and relate with the world as an unencumbered viable member of the community of nations. We have developed the policies to take our country to new shores of economic viability and enhanced quality of life for the people.
WZ: In that connection, is the Lima Plan still alive? If so, what has been the result of engagements with international financial institutions and major creditors?
SB: The Lima Process is well and truly alive again. Engagements and re-engagements with IFIs and major creditors are works in progress. There is tremendous goodwill for our country out there. But, we must realise and accept that no one owes us a free lunch. Our people are resilient, but they have no desire to be abused. The reforms the government has formulated and the measures which have made life difficult at times, are borne not of cruelty, but to prepare our nation for healthier economic conditions which revive foreign direct investment and revival of industries, thereby creating jobs for the people. To get to those better times, we are working hard and minding the pennies until they grow to larger sums and uplift the quality of life for all. There is no substitute for hard work. The world out there will come to invest in our economy. It is up to us to demonstrate hard work and careful management of others’ funds as we apply ourselves to develop our country.
WZ: President Mnangagwa recently revealed that government had secured US$11 billion in foreign direct investment commitments. Can you give a breakdown of the investors the government is referring to as well as the figures?
SB: You, the media, have been covering these developments as if they have taken place. If I could just ask you to go into your archives and retrieve this information. The RBZ, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Tourism and Hospitality Management and, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry are the line ministries for most of these prospective investment inflows.
WZ: Does the UK have a place in front of the queue or Zimbabwe is treating all countries the same in terms of trade deals?
SB: Our economy is steeped in the face enterprise traditions. Many of our industries and the tasks in our market have roots in UK traditions! There is no need to give anyone a favour for position in the queue. The UK will situate themselves according to their energies. For certain, the UK is a favourite market for many of our products.
Likewise, Zimbabwe is a market of repute for the UK for more than 100 years. As we restore relations in all respects, I am certain that our commercial relations will be among the most flourishing.
WZ: Rebuilding foreign trade and investment relations requires political legitimacy and stability, and a clear and consistent policy agenda. How is government demonstrating this?
SB: On his inauguration day, one of the clearest messages His Excellency Mnangagwa enunciated to the nation and the world was that of his rootedness in democracy. In that regard, he said that his government would seek a new mandate from the people at general elections in 2018. The constitution says the next elections must be held in the window July 22–August 22 2018. His Excellency the President will proclaim the date for the general elections when Zec informs him that it is ready to conduct national elections. These elections will be observed by people from all corners of the world. The media are free to go anyway in the country and witness democracy in action. The BVR system will favour no one and we expect no challenges to electoral outcomes. Every voter will be certain that their vote has been accounted for. There could be no greater demonstration of the legitimacy for the next government and leadership of country than the outcome of the next general election.
Those elections will be beyond reproach. Foreigners will pronounce themselves on the conduct of our elections, but the most important constituency to satisfy will be the people of this great nation. The world should accept us without reservation as we emerge from those free, fair, non-violent, transparent and credible elections. The acceptability of the freeness, fairness or credibility of these elections must surely be based on whether the people have freely chosen, cast their vote, in a manner which is a true expression of their will.
WZ: A lot of countries have been concerned about Zimbabwe’s lack of commitment to Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa), for example Germany’s concerns regarding the invasion of Save Conservancy. Has the issue been completely sorted?
SB: The previous government had challenges with issues to do with the rule of law. His Excellency President Mnangagwa and his ministers are committed to honouring all Bippa obligations. The German investments and those from other countries will enjoy safety from Bippas. Any variations from properly enacted Bippas will only be in accord with the law of the land as applied without favour to citizens and foreigners alike.
WZ: What is the current position with regards the Indigenisation Act as far as attracting foreign investment is concerned? Has it been completely scrapped?
SB: The indigenisation law has been amended to remove all equity restrictions on all investors, domestic and foreign. The law temporarily only exists for the exploitation of diamonds and platinum. It is foreseen that restrictions in these two sectors will also be removed when appropriate laws have been put in place.
WZ: Chinese investors have of late been unhappy at how they have been treated by the government in view of the Anjin diamond mining saga and the externalisation list. As you interact with Chinese foreign investors how are you addressing that?
SB: Government is addressing concerns of anyone who is unhappy with any issue of the illegal externalisation of funds. Fair legal redress will ensure that all issues are dealt with according to the laws of Zimbabwe. There is full transparency and fairness in government approach to these matters. Our Chinese friends have not been unfairly singled out.