January 20th, 2011
01:39 PM GMT
I recently spent some time chatting to the Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti. We have talked, on camera, in the past and he is always candid and sometimes surprisingly honest in his interviews.
He has admitted to having some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome after enduring years of brutality and imprisonment by the Mugabe regime. In the past two years, he and his party, the MDC, have been in a ‘unity government’ with Mugabe’s ZANU PF. It is, he says, a bit like "supping with the devil" or engaging in some sort of "unholy alliance." But he and his peers have persevered, he says.
Biti’s job has been to try to stabilize the Zimbabwean economy; he says his first task was to bring down hyperinflation, which he did by stopping the printing presses, which were churning out Zimbabwean dollars. By implementing what he calls ‘commonsense policies’ there has been a slow normalization of the economy.
However, foreign investors, multilateral institutions and states are still very wary of investing in Zimbabwe. The fact that President Robert Mugabe is still a player makes many people concerned about the levels of political risk in Zimbabwe. The degree of uncertainty is just too volatile for many.
This makes Biti unhappy - he feels investors and the West have isolated Zimbabwe, even though he and his colleagues are working from within the system to make life better for ordinary Zimbabweans.
He advocates more "engagement" from outside, saying that more investment and assistance will help the country to transition to a more democratic, equal system.
It is a dilemma for some - do you wait for the Zimbabwean political scenario to be more clear cut before you channel more aid or establish businesses there? Or by waiting, do you punish ordinary Zimbabweans who could do with a helping hand?
It is an issue that is widely discussed here in South Africa - when is a good time to re-invest in Zimbabwe? What do you think?
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