Many educated Zimbabweans are scattered around the world in search of greener pastures. Walk by factories in Bulawayo, a city once known as ‘KoNtuthu ziyathunqa’ (the place that exudes smoke), you will see deserted sites. According to Godfrey Kanyenze, an economist, 4,610 companies closed down in Zimbabwe between 2011 and 2014, and 55,000 jobs were lost.
But, according to the Zimbabwean government, look closer and you will see investment opportunities.
At the Zimbabwe Trade and Investment Forum at the Hyatt Regency in Johannesburg, in July, ministers campaigned for foreign direct investment (FDI), which they believe is on its way.
“Zimbabwe urgently needs a significant amount of FDI to create employment, enhance technology, improve productivity, add value and beneficiate raw materials,” says Zimbabwe’s Minister of Industry and Commerce, Michael Bimha.
According to Bimha, Zimbabwe will review its legal framework to attract foreign investment. Government has a Bilateral Investment Promotion Protection Agreement (BIPA) which protects future investors from expropriation. He cites power generation, water and sewerage, transport, dam construction and ICT as areas of need.
One good sign is that huge African investor, PPC Cement, is ploughing in money.
“PPC Zimbabwe is a key player in all the big projects underway, and we are working hard to be involved in those still at the planning stage,” says Njombo Lekula, Managing Director of PPC Zimbabwe.
He says the country’s future growth will be centered on Harare and Northern Zimbabwe through housing driven by urbanization.
“It’s an expression of our confidence that the economy is on the up, and also in the growing amount of intra-regional trade, with South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia particularly. Our total investment is $200 million in the country over the coming years,” he says.
On the flip side, the Zimbabwean government will soon be exporting skilled labor as the ruling party, Zanu-PF, lags on its 2013 election promise to create 2.2 million jobs in five years, with its economic blueprint; the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim Asset).
Zimbabwe has signed job agreements with South Sudan, Namibia, Angola and Botswana. The government will be paid for recruiting. Zimbabwe’s Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister, Godfrey Gandawa, says a database of graduates is being set up.
“We are coming up with a policy as a ministry to help our skilled manpower to get jobs because there are countries with vacancies in various fields, but our people do not have access to those vacancies out there,” Gandawa told the state-controlled Herald.
Obert Gutu, the opposition MDC-T spokesperson, says the policy was an open admission that Zim Asset has failed.
“When a country begins to actively encourage its qualified personnel to get jobs in other countries, you can then appreciate that the wheels are surely coming off. Instead of creating jobs under the much talked about Zim Asset policy framework, the Zanu-PF regime has actually become an employment agent; eagerly recruiting young and highly qualified Zimbabweans to go and work in other countries. Under normal circumstances, this government would simply resign. They have totally failed the people of Zimbabwe,” says Gutu.
Maxwell Saungweme, an independent development economist, says it is unfortunate that Zimbabweans educated with state coffers will be working for the coffers of another state.
“Policies on education and human capital development should be demand driven and not just to supply labor and investing in education and skills you don’t need,” he says.
Political analyst, Rashweat Mukundu, claims this is a policy of desperation.
“If Zimbabweans have to move, it must be voluntary, but right now labor or economic migration is a desperate move by many who see no hope in Zimbabwe.”
The last word at the investment forum comes from a South African rail entrepreneur, Thabo Molamu.
“Investors should strongly consider investing in Zimbabwe, regardless of a wrongfully portrayed political situation in Zimbabwe, especially by some sections of the media,” he says.
“The policies put in place by the government of Zimbabwe, like the indigenization policy, will be understood by the targeted beneficiaries very late. The truth is, people want answers now; they want poverty eradicated now, and they don’t understand why redressing the past is central to the plan of African leaders. They misinterpret this to be meaning being self-centred when in reality it means putting Africa and the people of Africa first.”
So, where there is a will, there is always an investor and entrepreneur.