Since taking over the Zimbabwean Presidency from Robert Mugabe, with the aid of the military in November 2017, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa (ED) has been aggressively reiterating his mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business”.
By Nelson Ruwa.
The questions that rise in the minds of Zimbabweans and other stakeholders include the following: When was the country closed for business? Who had closed the country for business? Is the country really open for business? What kind of business is the country open for?
When was the country closed for business?
Western powers have always been ahead of us in terms of strategic business deals and operations. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana warned against neo-colonialism and modified mental imperialism through mental slavery. How many times was the land between Zambezi and the Limpopo rivers opened and closed for business? There is no agreed clear period where Zimbabwe was closed or opened for business. I will examine some of the several milestones in the economic history of Zimbabwe.
Before the British colonized the country, the Muslim traders known as the Vashambadzi were involved in an unfair trade with the locals who would give them gold in exchange for clothing items. Can we call that being open for business? After colonization, the British started modernization of the then Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe), while at the same time looting a lot of riches and resources. Modern agricultural and mining systems were introduced while the natives were displaced and placed in unproductive regions. Yes, there was business but is that the form of business the citizens would admire?
In 1965, there was the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of Rhodesia by Ian Smith. This development resulted in the country being placed under economic sanctions by Britain, but the economic situation in the country did not reach the level of the Zimbabwe of 2008. Smith could still use local resources to develop the country despite the drawbacks of the liberation war and the sanctions.
Can we say Rhodesia was closed for business then? In 1980 when the black government took over, there was international confidence in the potential of development of the country. In about two years there were military disturbances in Matebeleland region which dealt a blow to potential development in the region. By 1987 the Matebeleland standoff was resolved through the signing of the Unity Accord between the warring parties.
Just a decade after independence, Free Health and Education for All mantras were now an overburden to the fiscus. The World Bank and IMF proposed the Economic Adjustment Programme (ESAP) in 1992. Aid was to be given to Zimbabwe on conditions. A lot of aged government employees were retired and given their packages, in an attempt to reduce the government wage bill.
At the same time, a serious drought hit the Southern Africa region. Zimbabwe was never the same again. Prices of basic commodities kept rising gradually and the economic downturn got into motion. Around 1996 headline of national news were suggesting a cold war between the government of Robert Mugabe and that of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair together with other Western financial institutions. An example of such headline in the Herald was like, “President tells IMF and World Bank to shut up”. ESAP was ditched and was blamed for the economic collapse.
War Veterans led by Chenjerai Hunzvi demanded compensation from government and they awarded unbudgeted 50 thousand Zimbabwean dollars each, which was a very large sum of money then. Zimbabwe joined the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo which further offset the economy of the country leading to the food riots and stay-aways led by Morgan Tsvangirai the then secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU). The DRC was for self-aggrandizement of the military chiefs and the international community did not approve it.
All hell broke loose when the fast track land reform programme was rushed which led to introduction of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) by the USA government. ZIDERA are the sanctions that drove the final nail into the ailing Zimbabwean economy. The opposition MDC party gained ground.
The ZANU PF party responded by rigging elections, using violence and intimidation, and using repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Chinese firms continued to do business in Zimbabwe, especially in mining, but a lot of companies were closed which led to the sharp rise in unemployment and poverty. Could this be when Zimbabwe was closed for business?
The 2008 harmonized elections brewed violence that killed and maimed a lot of opposition supporters. The was operation Murambatsvina which destroyed a lot of informal structures in towns, leaving a lot of Zimbabweans homeless. The indigenization law was enacted which demanded that at least 51% of the shares of any company should be owned by locals. Investors were discouraged by such a law. This law was in place till the end of 2017 when ED got into power. Maybe the indigenization act was is the one that really closed Zimbabwe.
Who had closed the country for business?
Can the same people who closed the country for business be trusted with the task of opening the same? ED himself and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga were in one way or the other identified with some of the following agents of business closure: Repressive laws passed by the ZANU PF dominated parliament in which ED was part of.
Brutalizing of people by the military which Chiwenga was part of. War veterans displaced white farmers of which both leaders were part of. ESAP, war veteran compensation, DRC war and other factors are also to blame. People with clean hands would be the best to bring about an economic turnaround that will bring normalcy in the country, not tainted people.
Is the country really open for business?
Projects like Zimbabwe Airways, National Railway of Zimbabwe, Beitbridge-Chirundu highway are all questionable projects which the current leadership have failed to run. The demonstrations and strikes by civil servants and Hwange Colliery workers show a lot of discontent amoungst citizens. Cash crisis, poor roads and unemployment are negative indicators of any meaningful business growth. Processing of Zimbabwean diamonds in Botswana defeats the Open for Business objective.
On top of all, a lot talents asylum overseas and in neighboring countries which led to massive brain drain. Effort to bring back experts such as engineers, journeymen and doctors have not yielded any significant fruits. There cannot be meaningful business without the technocrats to drive it.
What kind of business is the country open for?
FDI, foreign aid, mining and privatization of parastatals are the top business activities being promoted so far. There are dangers of locals ending up being treated as second class citizens in this kind of business. The ruling elites can also use proxies to run the new investments there by resulting in perpetuation of corruption. Corruption is a serious hindrance to successful business.
Zimbabwe is Open for Business is just a broad mantra that does not give the important specifics. It leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Why is it that minerals are just exported from Africa to the developed world? When will minerals be also imported into Africa? We should never forget King Lobengula’s saying about the subtility of a chameleon when it is about to catch a fly.
The hand of Britain in the Zimbabwean military take-over from former President Robert Mugabe suggests a possible capture of the government officials by the western powers at the expense of the backward masses. Zimbabwe may not be really open for business as President Emmerson Mnangagwa suggests.
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