IS ZIMBABWE OPEN FOR BUSINESS?

How is Zimbabwe faring since the arrival of President Emmerson Mnangagwa?

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How is Zimbabwe faring since the arrival of President Emmerson Mnangagwa? Mwangi Githahu spoke to entrepreneurs and civil society to gauge their view on whether, in fact, Zimbabwe was ready to embrace the international economy.

Inasmuch as some businesses have, at face value, accepted Mnangagwa’s pledge that the country is now “open for business” and have already taken the plunge, some cautious voices have adopted a “wait and see” approach.

Rutendo Hwindingwi,an Associate Director at Deloitte South Africa said, “The political and economic conundrum that Zimbabwe faces is that in the wake of the unexpected exit of Robert Mugabe, the country is desperate but in urgent need to revive its economy.”

“The only way this [economic revival] can be established is by the endorsement of the leadership through free and fair elections and more importantly, the acceptance of the results by the main contenders, being Zanu-PF and the MDC. If this works out then the dream of ‘Zimbabwe open for business’ will become a reality.”

Hwindingwi, who is formerly an Executive at Sage Africa and who is also a professional speaker with Unique Speaker Bureau added, “However, the question is how much of an appetite do the main political stakeholders have to sacrifice their partisan objectives for the sake of making the Zimbabwe social and economic environment conducive enough to allow its people to come out of the doldrums?”

Meanwhile, when asked about whether foreign direct investment was now easier, following the amendments to Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation Law, Rutendo Hwindingwi, who happens to be an expert on emerging markets, said, “President Mnangagwa, in his first inaugural visit to South Africa in December, made a landmark statement that triggered investment confidence. He said that his government had limited the 50% local ownership policy to certain minerals in the mining industry, whereas everything else was derestricted. That statement in itself from the Head of State was crucial in laying the platform for future investments in Zimbabwe.”

Hwindingwi added, “Attracting the foreign investors has been met with keen interest from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and not forgetting South Africa. The momentum for investor appetite seems to grow every day. However, the challenge that exists is the sustainability of these investments, once in the country. Most of the key institutions that are the pillars to ensure that the FDI is constructively absorbed into the economy are weak at the moment. Over and above this, the lack of cash in the economy and the dependency on the USD only exacerbates the problem at hand. The current problems of Zimbabwe provide the opportunities for investors in providing a solution.”

Zimbabwe’s elections are set to be held between July 22 and August 21. The president is expected to make a proclamation of the election date once the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has produced a final voters’ roll. Amendments to the Electoral law, with a view to level the political playing field, are being debated in parliament and should pass in a few weeks.

Ahead of the elections, Zimbabwe is in desperate need of political healing if it is to avoid the violence of the past. At the moment, there are few cases of violence but many reports of political intimidation from Zanu-PF and suspected members of the army said to be embedded in rural communities. The stakes are high for Mnangagwa, his Zanu-PF allies and their military backers, who are desperate to retain power. The question is how far they will go to remain in office, given their promise to open the election to international scrutiny.

President Mnangagwa is serving out his predecessor’s term and is a candidate at the polls. Popularly referred to as ”the crocodile” or “Lacoste,” Mnangagwa is reputed to be a cunning political operator. He participated in the struggle for independence in the 1960s and has held several key roles in the government since independence in 1980. Having served as Mugabe’s Vice-President from 2014 until November 6—just two weeks before Mugabe’s fall—he has also been associated with some of the worst atrocities committed under the ruling Zanu-PF party since independence.

A member of Zimbabwe’s civil society agreed to an email interview on condition of anonymity. She said, “My own take is that Lacoste will win. This is just because Zanu-PF has the machinery and organising capacity to do so. Already with the primaries, we’re seeing a lot of intimidation in rural areas, and forced reruns resulting in Zanu-PF wins. [Nelson] Chamisa [Leader of the opposition MDC-T Party] is very popular, but I don’t think he was ready for the election. When I met with him a couple of months ago, he seemed overwhelmed but at the same time, overenthusiastic and overconfident in a way that a savvy, seasoned politician wouldn’t be.”

Meanwhile, the MDC is seeing a revival of sorts with its new youthful leader Chamisa, who is arousing the party base and appeals to the youths, who make up the majority of the registered 5 million-plus voters. Whether this enthusiasm will translate to a huge turnout at the ballot box is the main question begging an answer. Speaking about his economic plan on South African TV, Chamisa said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of infrastructure, all things will then fall in place, we need our transport, we need our energy, we need our power, we need our water, we need housing, those are the issues we are focusing on. Of course, in detail, we have indicated what we are going to do.”

While Chamisa has closed ranks with former comrades who helped found the MDC, a faction led by party Deputy President Thokozani Khupe, has split and is now running its own campaign, which could cost the opposition votes in the Matabeleland region.

Khupe launched her party’s manifesto recently and the focus on the economy is spelt out in the theme, which is “Building an Economy to Support Transformation.” According to media reports, while generally addressing the same issues as Zanu-PF, Khupe who has a trade union background, vowed champion worker’s rights and ensure their place in the economy.

The National Patriotic Front Party—backed by former President Robert Mugabe—is campaigning in the Mashonaland provinces and claims it will take away votes from Mnangagwa.

That remains to be seen, but there are signs of disgruntlement from the older Mugabe supporters who accuse the new Zanu-PF leadership of leaving them out in the cold. This constituency could very well spoil the party for Mnangagwa.

Asked whether the change of guard in Zimbabwe has set the country on the path to recovery, Rutendo Hwindingwi cautioned, “The reality, which is now quickly settling in after the ‘euphoria’ caused by the ousting of Robert Mugabe is that the journey to total economic and political restoration has only just begun and it will be long.” In a few short weeks, we should have a clearer picture of the path Zimbabwe intends to take. 

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