WHEN Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote made bold and strategic moves to invest into Zimbabwe’s coal mining sector six years ago, it seemed Harare’s investment drought was halfway solved.
The hype and excitement that follows Dangote wherever he sets foot on this continent is tremendous. It gives free positive publicity to destination countries.
The spinoffs from Dangote’s entry into the largely untapped coalfields would be huge. Zimbabwe was set to benefit from the US$1 billion that his conglomerate would inject into coal mines and other projects downstream. In addition, a romance with the much respected tycoon would ignite other investors’ curiosity to understand why he was taking the risk.
Unfortunately, even before the ink was dry, sleaze allegations emerged. These were never pursued because those behind the alleged corruption were too powerful to dare question; they were above the law.
What is clear is that the tycoon quietly packed up and headed off. But Zimbabwe lost an opportunity to leverage on its resources to rise out of the ruins created by decades of plunder and mismanagement.
The bribes or “facilitation fees” that bigwigs demand from investors are notoriously huge running into several millions of dollars; which unfortunately adds to high costs of doing business in Zimbabwe.
Such incidents as the Dangote debacle, demonstrate why Zimbabwe has been such a hard sell. It is a tragedy because investors have too many options to have politicians and civil servants push them around. Coal, for instance, is available in much larger quantities in neighbouring Mozambique.
The latest such tragedy came under the spotlight only last week, when reports emerged that crooks at the Ministry of Mines attempted to extort South African investors out of their investment money.
No amounts have been mentioned, but it is possible that the South Africans were going to pay through the nose to secure a mining licence. The risk is that like others, they may, or have already, withdrawn and headed for other destinations.
Other investors are watching, and they will develop cold feet and back off. This is why it is important for key state agencies to fish out and punish bad apples like the fortune seekers that attempted to seek bribes from these South African investors.
They must be removed from their jobs because they have demonstrated that they are not ready to serve, instead, they are enemies of progress.
By throwing corrupt individuals behind bars and busting cartels that sponsor them, Zimbabwe would be sending a clear message that it is determined to combat commercial crimes and establish a good environment for investors to flourish. An operation like this is long overdue if Zimbabwe wants to live up to its claim that it is open for investment.
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission should deploy its energy where it is most wanted — arresting the haters of progress who demand substantial amounts from investors and scare them away. Until this is done, the fight to transform Zimbabwe into a world-class investment destination is dead before it starts.