Would you invest in Zimbabwe?

This is a real question. I know there are a lot of people who want to invest for the biggest and fastest profit, regardless of whether their profit is at the expense of more vulnerable people, whether those are employees of the company you invest in, its customers or the citizens at large in the country where the company operates.

I know people like that prefer to register their own companies in offshore tax havens, such as Jersey or the Bahamas, small countries without many natural resources, but which allow anyone, citizen or not, to register businesses in their country, charge them little or no tax and are lax about enforcing the rules and agreements which are designed to ensure that businesses operate honestly, transparently and with respect for the rights of their workers, their customers and the general public. You are not one of those, I hope.

If you are reading this, you might even be a Zimbabwean in the diaspora and if you may have a good job, you might be saving money and thinking of returning home to start a business of your own. If so, you probably already ask yourself this question.

The first consideration is; “would I open a business in a country where corruption is rife?” If the police live on bribes, and some of them become very rich, while public officials all expect bribes for doing their jobs, who would risk his or her money by investing? Yes we've heard the first vice-president say he would stop corruption and some of those foreign people his boss abuses so freely seem to want to believe him, but can he deliver?

Yes, we've seen a few people accused of corruption even people with the right party card. But it's not the party card that matters now; it's who you know. Senior people have been targeted, not because they are the most corrupt, but because they, or their patrons, have fallen from power. You might think you are safe because you know Comrade Nhingi, but even if you're his tezvara that won't help you if he loses his post the next time the political wind changes.

Minister’s home boy

Would any foreign investor risk his money in an enterprise where 51% of the shares (and in Zanu (PF) terms, that gives total control) must be held by local people, and not just any local people, but people approved by those currently in power? Would you give even a small share to members of a government that has run all its parastatals and public services into the ground? Would you let them decide who your business partners should be?

Would you start a business in a country where it could be taken over at any time by anyone whose connections with those in power are better than yours? Remember we're not talking about owning the right party card any more. We're not talking about membership of a particular faction and it's a long time since you only needed to be the Minister's homeboy. How do you know that, in all the jostling for a share of our vanishing national wealth, you or your protector in high places won't be accused tomorrow of not being sufficiently loyal to the current Big Man? Or, if he's the Big Man himself, will he still be so big next week?

Would anyone put money into a country where government printed money recklessly until it was cheaper to use billion-dollar notes as toilet paper than to buy the real stuff – if you could find it? A government that printed two copies of every note so that they could give half of it secretly to their friends? A government so near to bankruptcy that it could raid your bank account just because you have money and they can't pay their bills? We know that has happened. It could happen again.

Refusing to do business in this kind of environment is not “imposing sanctions”. It's common sense.

Post published in: Analysis

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