Tendai Biti, the Zimbabwean Finance Minister, is a history buff. He loves to read about the Second World War and he is passionate about understanding his country in the greater context of history.
While he doesn’t want to underestimate the political challenges facing Zimbabwe, he believes the international community has failed Zimbabwe and that he and his countrymen have been “hung out to dry.”
When Biti and his party, the MDC, joined Robert Mugabe’s party in a coalition government two years ago, there was hope that the stabilization brought about by the political agreement would see a flurry of foreign investment. It wasn’t to be.
Biti is now on a mission to urge the West to engage more with Zimbabwe and quotes the impact of the 1947 Marshall Plan as proof of what can be done if there is political will.
Biti believes the international community has mismanaged recovery in the past two years. He says the West has failed to understand the dynamics of the country and been “unstrategic” in their dealings with Zimbabwe.
He identifies three attitudes hindering foreign investment in Zimbabwe. The first school of thought is “wait and see what happens.” The second approach urges Zimbabweans to “show progress, give proof they are moving” and the third way is to say, “as long as Mugabe is there we will never engage.” He says all positions are wrong. He suggests finding ways to do business with ordinary Zimbabweans.
Many who listen to his studied argument are not convinced. There is a sense that Zimbabwe – despite the unity government – is still firmly in the grip of Robert Mugabe and that the political future of the country is unpredictable.
Will foreign-owned companies be expropriated? How secure are property rights? How much longer can the fragile coalition hold? Will an early election bring more violence and intimidation?
All questions that no doubt infuriate Tendai Biti as he tries to rebuild an economy on the rickety foundations of a coalition government that even he calls an “unholy alliance.”
But here’s another: Will Zimbabwe confound the sceptics and increase investor confidence if the international community continues to be blamed for being too cautious?
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