By Upenyu Makoni-Matenga
Robert Telchin’s opening remarks gave the impression that the US Government was cautiously optimistic about US-Zimbabwe business relations. He noted that there were potential opportunities for strengthening trade ties in Zimbabwe, and now more than ever, there is greater interest from US companies in doing business in Africa. Presumably, this may be as Costa noted, because Africa presents the last frontier in terms of development and opportunities. Globally the view of Africa is evolving from a dark continent struck down by war disease famine to one that is making it an attractive business proposition. Some of the world’s fastest growing economies are presently on the African continent, and Africa’s one billion residents present a potentially lucrative market. Historically, Africa has an extractive relationship with the West, and the East. it will be interesting to observe if the evolving picture of Africa translates to business deals that do more that than take minerals and resources for processing off the continent.
The challenge is for Zimbabwe not to lose out
As always Zimbabwe’s politics colours these issues. There are the obvious external issues: sanctions, soured but cordial relations and populist rhetoric that stand in the way. Internally we have political struggles and a weak economy to deal with. Added to this is a restrictive legislative and policy environment for doing business both as Zimbabweans and as foreigners in Zimbabwe. But, I think we’ve come to a point where we are fully aware of the problems. The trick is overcoming them. I was happy to see that there was less lamenting about the government’s failure to support SME’s and create conditions conducive for growth. I won’t share my exact feelings about our politicians, but I will say that realistically, I don’t think our political, legislative and policy environments are going to change any time soon. There just isn’t enough political will. Without pointing any fingers, the current situation helps too many people in power make too much money for them to want to change the status quo.
It’s not all doom and gloom
Robert stated that American capital will flow to where there are opportunities for doing business; these are not always in the countries that are seen in the most favourable light. And that’s the thing. We have to start doing business for ourselves, not in the hope of getting a free lunch from America (or China/Russia/anyone else). I don’t think that as a nation we understand what investment means. Yes it will eventually translate into jobs and a better economy, but primarily, investment means making money for the investor. The real questions are what are we bringing to the table and what do we as Zimbabweans want that investment to do for us? To say jobs is no longer a good enough answer. Yes we make great workers, but the world has changed. It’s no longer enough to aspire to work for someone else; those opportunities are fast disappearing, not just in our economy but all over the world. So what are we doing as business and citizens to make ourselves solvent and our country prosperous?