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Why Zimbabwe Is Not There Yet

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Despite the ample investment opportunities in Zimbabwe, post-election setbacks challenge its economic recovery

Zimbabwe’s long-delayed economic turnaround may have been further pushed out after the army violently crushed protests following the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe’s name on the ballot box.

Investors sitting on the fence before the polls will most likely walk away while others may postpone any commitments until the resolution of the legal challenges launched by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, or take cue from international lenders, analysts say.

“It’s going to take years and not the months that we anticipated for the economic recovery,’’ says John Robertson, a Harare-based independent economist who has analyzed Zimbabwe’s economy since independence in 1980 when Mugabe first took power.

“It’s going to be very difficult to win any credibility after last week’s activities.’’

Zimbabwe’s first elections without Mugabe had raised hopes the country was on the verge of rebirth after the least violent campaigning in almost two decades. But those hopes were dashed days after the polls as Nelson Chamisa, leader of the MDC alleged “overwhelming’’ evidence of vote-rigging, and the military killed six people amid beatings in the MDC’s urban strongholds.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa won 50.8% of the vote and more than three quarters of parliamentary seats while Chamisa received 44% support, a number the MDC has dismissed, and challenged at the Constitutional Court. The case, which delayed Mnangagwa’s inauguration, was still pending at the time of going to press.

Mnangagwa, who had vowed a free and credible poll, had hoped to use its outcome to campaign for international support to rescue an economy that has more than halved in the last two decades, leaving more than 90% of workers unemployed.

READ MORE: Who Will Zimbabwe Vote For?

“In the short-term, sentiment will be determined by the outcome of the MDC’s challenge of the election results,’’ says Neville Mandimika, an economist at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg.

“If their application is backed by solid evidence of blatant rigging, then it is likely that regional partners and sources of capital will hold back capital while the stalemate gets resolved.’’

International acceptance is key to the country’s hopes of winning debt forgiveness or restructuring an external debt of $11.3 billion at the end of last year, more than 80% of the country’s GDP. Combined with the domestic debt, the country is in debt distress and the situation is unsustainable, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Support from the IMF and other donors is critical for any government to solve one of the country’s most immediate and intractable challenges; a liquidity shortage that has constrained economic activity and forces Zimbabweans to queue for hours for the few available US dollars. The country adopted the US currency in 2009 after its own dollar collapsed as hyperinflation reached a record 79.6 billion percent in November 2008.

“The proper reintroduction of the Zimbabwean dollar is on the agenda of the current government, but it recognizes that there are certain conditions that must be in place for this to happen,’’ Mandimika says.

“Chief among these is ensuring that there are sufficient FX reserves which would allow for the central bank to manage the volatility of the currency, which is to be expected upon the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar.’’

Cognizant of this, Mnangagwa, a long-time ally of Mugabe has tried to distance himself from his former boss’s disastrous economic and political policies, promising economic reforms and reversing some of Mugabe’s key policies such as on black economic empowerment, foreign direct investment and property rights. After the elections and violence, he took to Twitter to call for calm, calling the violence “regrettable & tragic’’.

He will need to do more than that, and in particular, put together a credible cabinet and also clearly define the role of the military, according to Dianna Games, an independent analyst.

“Investors will more closely be watching the economic policies put and interventions put forward by the new government than who is actually in State House,’’ says Games.

“The choice of the cabinet will be watched closely by investors, particularly given the volatility in the past of Zanu-PF actions in sweeping aside investor agreements in the name of political expedience, particularly with regard to agriculture. A strong military presence in the executive may be a red flag.’’

The country has so much goodwill and potential to tap that a recovery is almost a matter of time, analysts say.

“Overall, I think there is little doubt that, despite an election tainted once again by allegations of rigging and violence, Zimbabwe is poised for some sort of economic recovery,’’ says Games. “There are many investment opportunities, the economy is resilient, there are many skills that could be brought back into the formal sector, there is experienced management in the private sector and Zimbabweans have proved to be innovative even in the hardest of times. These all bode well for a recovery although it may not be as swift as people hope for given the current challenges in the economy.’

– By Godfrey Mutizwa

Current Affairs

As Wealthy Depart For Second Homes, Class Tensions Come To Surface In Coronavirus Crisis

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Topline: As New York City’s coronavirus cases exploded in recent weeks, residents fleeing to second homes have come under intense scrutiny and push-back, prompting officials in multiple states to create highway checkpoints screening for New Yorkers and a national travel advisory for the entire Tri-state area, highlighting the dramatic roles class and wealth will play in the pandemic. 

  • With over 56,000 coronavirus cases in New York, privileged New Yorkers with secondary homes are fleeing the City with massive effect on vacation home communities: the population of Southampton has gone from 60,000 a few weeks ago to 100,000 and rental prices in Hudson Valley rocketed from $4,000 to $18,000 per month—posing a threat to small-town hospitals that are ill-equipped to handle caring for high numbers of coronavirus patients.
  • In wealthy New England island communities like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island that are heavy with secondary homes and short on hospital infrastructure, officials are going so far as to cancel all hotel, Airbnb and VRBO reservations while stationing state troopers and the National Guard to maintain flow on islands and, in the case of Rhode Island, instating 14 day mandatory quarantine on all people traveling to stay in the state from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
  • As outrage has grown at the privileged fleeing the city while middle and working classes remain confined in New York City apartments, there’s been social media clapback at ostentatious displays of wealth in isolation: Geffen Records and Dreamworks Billionaire David Geffen ultimately deleted his Instagram of his $570 million megayacht captioned: “Sunset last night..isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe” after it sparked outrage on social media.
  • New York City’s poorer boroughs are hit hardest by coronavirus: Brooklyn and Queens, where median income is  $56,015 and $64,987, respectively, remain the epicenter of COVID-19, compared to Manhattan with average income of $82,459, which has been less permeated by the virus and is home to many of Manhattan’s wealthiest enclaves—and those most likely to have residents with second homes elsewhere.
  • On Saturday, President Trump said he was considering quarantining parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, then, backed down and issued a domestic travel advisory for the tristate area that discourages residents of these states from non-essential domestic travel after “very intensive discussions” at the White House on Saturday night, said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN today: “The better way to do this would be an advisory as opposed to a very strict quarantine, and the President agreed.”
  • “Due to our very limited health care infrastructure, please do not visit us now,” reads a travel advisory from Lake Superior’s Cook County in Michigan, exemplifying vacation towns’ plea to travelers and second home owners across the country to stay away. 

Background: Coronavirus cases in the United States have skyrocketed to 124,000, with deaths doubling from 1,000 to 2,046 in two days. Since those with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic for days, their presence in remote communities may be deadly, as they can spread the virus and wreak havoc on rural hospitals. The clash between wealthy and poor, also creates state-versus-state hostility, as federal support is limited and essential to states overcoming coronavirus.

Alexandra Sternlicht, Forbes Staff, Under 30

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Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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