HARARE – Two years after President Robert Mugabe’s government announced and signed a number of much-hyped “mega-deals” with Zimbabwe’s supposed all-weather friends China and Russia, very little is happening on the ground to suggest that the deals will take off anytime soon.
Investigations by the Daily News this week also suggested that even the equally much-vaunted investment in Zimbabwe by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, remains pie-in-the-sky talk that only occasionally pops up in lapdog State media when propaganda merchants are desperate for a deceptive, feel-good story.
A senior government official said bluntly yesterday that, “We are practically still where we were on all fronts when the deals were announced”, declining to shed further light on what the problems were.
Mugabe signed nine so-called “landmark agreements” with China in August 2014, which were touted by government spin doctors at the time as imminent and massively significant for investment-parched Zimbabwe.
However, there were tell-tale signs last year that all was not well when Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa had to make a follow up visit to Beijing to discuss the multi-billion deals further — as tongues wagged and crisis-weary Zimbabweans questioned whether they were not in fact another ploy by Zanu PF regime to hold on to power by promising “heaven on earth”.
At the same time, economic experts who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the deals were being hampered by corruption and policy inconsistencies which had seen Chinese firm Anjin Investments being suspiciously booted out of the Marange diamond fields.
In addition, they also cited Harare’s culture of failing to repay loans, as demonstrated by its huge international debt, as well as Mugabe’s bitterly contested succession — where the Asian economic giant reportedly favours Mnangagwa — as further contributing factors to the delay in moving on the deals.
“I’m very sure nothing is going to happen in terms of these developments because as a country we cannot keep our end of any bargain we make. For example, we have even enraged the Chinese due to our failure to honour debts,” renowned economist John Robertson said.
He added that given what had happened over the years, Zimbabwe desperately needed a leadership change to boost investor confidence.
“There is a strong suggestion that the Russians and Chinese do not want to work with the current government. I am also sure that they will reconsider and inject money into the projects if a more reliable administration gets into power,” he said.
Other economists cite the country’s indigenisation laws and the anxiety spawned by the recently announced measures to introduce bond notes as having further undermined confidence in the country’s ability to attract money.
Economist Issis Mwale said the government was “selling dreams” to the country, to pacify its support base.
“The Chinese are not foolish, neither are they stupid. They are very shrewd businesspeople. So, I am very sure nothing will materialise of the deals unless we pay our international arrears,” she said.
While data gathered from the American Enterprise Institute shows that signed Chinese investments in Zimbabwe grew sharply from $100 million in 2010 to nearly $6 billion by the end of 2015, experts say many of these are unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon given political legitimacy questions dogging the country.
Among the mega-deals that are waiting to be rolled out are China Africa Sunlight Energy Limited’s plans to invest $2,1 billion to develop coal mines and build two 100-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
But another senior government official who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the Chinese were still very keen on doing business with Zimbabwe — in line with their Africa investment focus.
However, he added, China was “wary” of the deadly factional and succession wars ravaging Zanu PF.
“If you look closely you will see that several feasibility studies have been started between China and Zimbabwe, including studies into coal exploration and a 600MW thermal station in Sibugwe, as well as the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare, Harare-Nyamapanda, Harare-Chirundu and Mutare-Harare highways.
“But the Chinese’s borne of contention at the moment is whether their investments would be secure after the old man (Mugabe) is gone, considering the fights (in Zanu PF) and that there is no clear succession plan in place.
“Until we sort this critical issue out, it would be difficult for these projects to take off,” the official said.
And while all this is taking place, China is wrestling with its own problems, including a slowdown in its growth rate, as well as growing scepticism by its businesspeople over whether Zimbabwe is a worthy and reliable recipient of their custom.
Just as is the case with Chinese deals, Zimbabwe’s agreements with the Russians, which were projected to culminate in a $3 billion platinum project in Darwendale — 70 kilometres north-west of Harare — are also now shrouded in mystery.
And cement magnate Dangote, who expressed interest in investing in the country last year, has since started to cautiously skirt the conversation on Zimbabwe.