THESE days Zimbabwe, compared to the past two decades, is buzzing with activity and positive talk. It’s really refreshing. The general polarised environment is fading, although the politics remains toxic after the army putsch last November.
The historic opportunity still remains. There are investment conferences galore on Zimbabwe. A delegation of British investors is on its way to Harare. British peer Lord Peter Hain, who now works with big corporates as a consultant or adviser, was in the country this week. He met President Emmerson Mnangagwa and senior government officials to discuss the country’s new economic and policy agenda.
Many other business leaders and delegations have of late been here. Investors from Western Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and North American have been here too and will continue coming; for Zimbabwe has huge opportunities. It has vast resources even if it is a sea of poverty; reeling from the paradox of plenty.
There is so much that is happening even though that has not yet brought discernible change and benefits for the long-suffering population on the socio-economic front.
The most noticeable change, naturally, has been the removal of former president Robert Mugabe, a cold-bloodied ruler who ran a corrupt and incompetent regime which mismanaged the economy and left the country in ruins. Of course, leaders of the current administration were part of the ancien regime, in other words part of the problem and that is a big challenge for the country to have a clean break with the past. One of the first questions a newly democratic nation must face is that of what to do with its old dictator and his/her enforcers.
Since the French Revolution, it has been clear that the choices for new democracies are very difficult, worse still if the change of leadership was from within as was the case here in Zimbabwe.
However, the fundamental issue is that recent the political developments and subsequent events in Zimbabwe bode well for the economic policy environment.
However, for Zimbabwe to succeed an overhaul is needed. It’s not good enough to just say “Zimbabwe is open for business. There is also need for an economic vision and blueprint to capture that, and a framework for implementation. That is not there yet. Slogans and rhetoric are not enough. Investors and capital need to be channelled into a democratic, accountable and functional state to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth. This implies comprehensive reforms.
Mnangagwa’s immediate challenge is to hold free and fairs elections, which must be credible and transparent. The good thing is he has promised that, but it is difficult to see how the polls will be free and fair given military involvement in partisan and electoral politics, dodgy behaviour by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which is staffed with former security personnel, and the ruling Zanu PF’s manipulative and fraud propensities. Besides elections, Mnangagwa has to come up with political and institutional reforms if he really wants meaningful change to take Zimbabwe forward. Investors may be trickling in and waiting to flock in after elections, but Zimbabwe still needs a shake-up of its base and superstructure to thrive.