Monday, August 25, 2014

Making Hay From SADC Sunshine
Zimbabwe delegation arrives at SADC summit.
by Victor Kgomoeswana
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail
Sunday, Aug 24, 2014

Visitors help hosts straighten up very quickly. In anticipation of any guests, we find ourselves cleaning those crevices of our homes that we ordinarily would not attend to, so as to make a good impression when they arrive.That is why I thank Sadc for continuing to place the spotlight on Zimbabwe.

This is one country that has to step up to its rightful place in the elite class of African economies. By hosting its 34th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Sadc subtly reminds all Africans in general, and Zimbabweans in particular, that they belong on the centre stage of Africa’s socio-economic rebirth.

Zimbabwe has all it takes to be a major player in Sadc and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Malawi handed over the Sadc Chairmanship to Zimbabwe. However, on this occasion I cannot think of a worse tragedy for regional economic integration in Africa than overlooking how the most centrally located and critical economy in the region is selling us Africans short.

Zimbabwe owes Zimbabweans a better deal; and it can deliver by making itself the favourite investment destination, considering all its natural resources and human capital.

It can do this by being decisive on its policy directives and making sure that once a policy is announced, it will be implemented consistently and even-handedly.

So far, the application of Zimbabwe’s indigenisation policy has lacked the consistency in messaging and the decisiveness in execution.

The international investment community is watching. All those who believe in Africa have to encourage Zimbabwe to use this opportunity to reassure investors that it can be stable and predictable enough for them to commit their investment for the long haul.

To date, its policy framework and/or the implementation thereof has been indecisive.

For instance, indigenisation at one point is about majority ownership of companies by Zimbabweans; and the next moment, that is negotiable or we read of some Chinese investors being exempted; then the authorities deny ever making that concession.

Whatever the policy, investors prefer certainty. Why my obsession with Zimbabwe?

It could be that it is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls, or the scenic Lake Kariba; I was there on holiday in January. Perhaps, I value Zimbabwe because of the role it played in the struggle against apartheid; the first freedom songs I heard, growing up in the late 1970s, were Zimbabwean before Independence in 1980.

Or, it might be that the country boasts a vast gamut of minerals: from chrome to coal, gold to diamonds and lots in between.

As the country was battling hyperinflation, Marange diamonds offered a sterling opportunity to finance the infrastructure backlog, get back the security of power supply and reclaim Zimbabwe’s stature as the star economic performer in Sadc.

Sadly, for the Afro-optimist I am, I continued to read about hundreds of millions of dollars going missing and never reaching the fiscus.

Who am I to judge without any knowledge of what really happened? Still, for every such allegation, my job of selling Africa as the only logical place to do business has been made harder by such reports.

Back to the importance of consistency of policy and legislation, Zimbabwe is not alone in its vacillation over what policies it wants to implement and to what extent.

South Africa has had the same indifference towards implementing its Black Economic Empowerment policies or land reform programme since 1994. Zambia has done a similar toing-and-froing with its windfall tax regime for mining.

In all these instances, the lack of certainty for fear of upsetting some investors, ends up confusing everyone. This leaves the back door open for corruption, fronting and other forms of improprieties.

Zimbabwe has all the right policies for the welfare of Zimbabweans. Land reform; whether we like how it is implemented or not. Indigenisation seeks to increase the ownership of enterprises by Zimbabweans. There is nothing wrong in the authorities insisting on the majority ownership of enterprises operating in Zimbabwe being in the hands of Zimbabweans, if that can be done equitably and transparently.

However, enforcing it for mining, while exempting some companies is not going to produce the desired effect. The same goes for the Buy Zimbabwe campaign or demanding that there should be beneficiation of minerals in Zimbabwe, instead of exporting raw ores.

The United Kingdom became the knitwear hub of the world for a long time because the monarchy banned the export of raw wool. India mastered the art and science of textiles because Mahatma Gandhi persuaded Indians to take pride in building local capacity in that industry. South Korea got where it is, with iconic brands such as Samsung and Hyundai, by promoting – or enforcing – loyalty to locally-produced goods.

We can argue whether such protectionism has any place in modern Zimbabwe or not. Whatever our verdict, consistency and fairness in execution will win the day; and that is what we must all strive for.

My enduring and fervent dream is of a Zimbabwe that no longer punches below its economic weight. This is premised on my eternal hope that the country will soon regain economic momentum and command its due share of the Sadc economy, relying on economic activity within Zimbabwe.

Its Chairmanship of Sadc presents that opportunity for Government and Zimbabweans to work together to achieve this.

I live for the day all the hard-working professional Zimbabweans plying their trade in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and the rest of the world, would finally be able to apply their work ethic to the benefit of Zimbabwe.

To its credit, Zimbabwe has retained a fair share of global interest in its resources – especially mining.

ICT companies such as Econet Wireless continue to innovate not only in mobile telephony, but mobile payment solutions as seen in its recent breakthrough with Ecocash; which allows its subscribers to send money all over without bank accounts.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, at market cap of just over US$5 billion, has kept an impressive raft of listed entities on its board. Some of these listed entities are Zimbabwean and others global.

The listing of some of these multi-nationals goes back more than 100 years. Barclays Bank (listed since 1912), Pretoria Portland Cement, Old Mutual, Lafarge, British American Tobacco Zimbabwe, Truworths and Edgars are proof that Zimbabwe is still a very good place to do business in.

This does not mean that this window will remain open forever.

Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia and Malawi are some of the Sadc economies that are stealing the march on Zimbabwe. Unless Zimbabwe uses occasions such as this one to reconfigure the economic discourse in Sadc to promote regional integration in which it plays its rightful role, we are all in for a long miserable time over what could have been.

Victor Kgomoeswana is a freelance conference speaker, programme director, workshop facilitator and consultant on African business development. He is the author of “Africa is Open for Business” as well as an Africa business commentator on Talk Radio 702 and SAFM in South Africa.

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