You no longer need political connections to do business in Zimbabwe – DIDG


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The Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group, a leading investor in Zimbabwe that won the tender to recapitalise the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) to the tune of $400 million, says the days of political patronage for business are a thing of the past under President Emerson Mnangagwa.

DIDG executive chairperson Donovan Chimhandamba told an investment summit in Johannesburg that under the previous administration led by former President Robert Mugabe, political clout was the ingredient for success in business and to get lucrative tenders.

“It was in 2016 when we won the tender, and it was still under the then President Robert Mugabe. At that time you can understand the mindset around state security, assets and trying to move that to the private sector. Although reforms were saying you need to privatise to remove the pressure on the fiscus and turn around some of these parastatals,” Chimhandamba told the gathering attended by potential investors and South African businesses operating in Zimbabwe.

“So we started off with our journey with President Mugabe, went through events in November [and] we continue to progress in the new dispensation under what is called the Second Republic.”

He said one of the major differences between the previous administration led by Mugabe, and the current regime led by Mnangagwa was the need to have political connections to secure contracts.

“One of the key lessons we learnt through this process is to appreciate  that Zimbabwe is transitioning from an economy that was centred around political capital and gradually moving to a more balanced political economy. A few years ago if you didn’t have strong political connections and you were a technocrat, like some of us coming from the private sector, your chances of moving through the bureaucracies would be very low,” said Chimhandamba.

“In the Second Republic as it is now called, everything seems to be focused on the value proposition of the transaction than who you know. The days of brokers are gone those who walked around with the pictures of the President or the ambassador just to walk people into the room [with the top government official] … those days we are gradually seeing a diminishing requirement of that.”

He said previously, one would “struggle just to have a commercial presentation without the usual gatekeepers”.

Chimhandamba had a word of advice for South African entities seeking to explore opportunities in Zimbabwe: “When you want to go into Zimbabwe, focus on your value proposition not the connectedness”.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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