Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, who expressed interest in tapping local investment opportunities, appears to be missing all his indicated investment targets, raising concerns that his Zimbabwean handler Joselyn Mahachi-Agbeniyi could be exploiting her links to the man to fertilise her political aspirations.
A team of geologists dispatched last week by the Nigerian billionaire to scout for coal mining in Zimbabwe, is alleged to have hit a brick wall following revelations that they could not find tangible resources in Matabeleland North, which would have served the whole Dangote group given its close proximity to Zambia.
While Matabeleland North has good reserves of near surface coal that is easy to mine, the major fields have already been claimed and are being exploited, leaving little or nothing for a newcomer.
A well-placed source told The Business Weekly that after failing to find coal reserves, the team then appealed to Mines and Mining Development Minister, Winston Chitando, to be given alternative areas to explore the resource. This comes after Dangote has reportedly renewed interest to consummate $1, 5 billion worth of investment projects in Zimbabwe.
An advance team from the Dangote Group arrived in the country recently comprising of two geologists who stated the billionaire’s interest in a coal venture which they intend to utilise for the anticipated investment in a thermal power plant.
Said a source close to the negotiations: “The team has been scouting for a coal resource in the Matabeleland Province and they also made some visits to Hwange Colliery among other surrounding areas.
“Out of the venture, they were unable to find the coal resource and they had to appeal to the Minister (of Mines) if an alternative coal resource could be availed.
Deal facilitator Mahachi-Agbeniyi, who turned to Facebook to post pictures of the team and Minister Chitando allegedly discussing possibilities of the areas where coal reserves can be obtained, was enraged when contacted for comment by Business Weekly.
“I don’t know where you got your information. Get a comment from there,” she said.
Later, she posted a hurried press statement following the enquiries claiming that the Dangote team had held fruitful discussions with several stakeholders including Government and private sector players.
“This is the second visit by this technical group showing interest in investing in Zimbabwe. The new dispensation and its Zimbabwe is open for business policy has given hope for accelerating investments.
“The visits were most insightful and the team was pleased by what they saw and was most appreciative of the support and discussion they had with Honourable Minister of Mines Winston Chitando.”
However her press statement still fails to give a clear update on what she considers insightful as sources within the Ministry of Mines insists the team are still looking for a coal resource.
Dangote visited the country in 2015 and expressed interest in power generation, coal mining and cement production.
Following Dangote’s first visit in 2015, Mahachi-Agbeniyi was rewarded with an appointment onto the board of the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA), presumably on the “strength” of her ability to bring investors.
Currently, there are murmurs that she is eyeing political office, amid reports she is planning to contest a Parliamentary seat in the upcoming elections in Harare.
In a recent interview at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Dangote Group senior geologist Dr Naresh Kumar said they were interested in mining coal.
“It depends on the mineral potential that we are looking for. This time we are looking for coal,” said Dr Kumar.
The recent shift by the Nigerian businessman; from cement making to venture into coal mining, has set tongues wagging as some people have begun to question the seriousness of the investor.
This is so because Dangote spelt out his intention to invest in a cement plant on his first visit but the second visit brought a completely different thrust on his proposed investments. He is even now talking about investments in agriculture.
Sources close to the deal say the Nigerian billionaire is not interested in any investments in Zimbabwe beyond trying to prop up Mahachi-Agbeniyi’s political aspirations.
The Dangote Group has interests in commodities in Nigeria and other African countries.
As of March 2018, Dangote had an estimated net worth of $14, 1 billion.
Dangote Cement has operations in Cameroon (1.5Mta clinker grinding), Congo (1.5Mta), Ghana (1.5Mta import), Ethiopia (2.5Mta), Senegal (1.5Mta), Sierra Leone (0.5Mta import), South Africa (2.8Mta), Tanzania (3.0Mta), Zambia (1.5Mta) and is planning another (1.5Mta) in the Kafue area in Zambia.
Zimbabwe is working around the clock to grow its foreign direct investment portfolio so as to generate more jobs, create wealth and contribute significantly to Gross Domestic Product.
On the other hand, failure to pin down adequate resources for either cement manufacturing or coal mining for Dangote exposes Zimbabwe’s lack of preparedness to offer would be investors the much needed resources for their business ventures.
It also exposes the country’s failure to conduct mineral explorations that would help identify areas where mineral ore bodies exist. Zimbabwe is under-explored.
Most of the exploration data was generated in the 1950s and 1960s and since then the country has not been subjected to exploration using modern techniques.
It was originally thought the coming of the Dangote team for the second time around was just to conclude deals and explore opportunities identified from previous visits.
Government, which has declared the country “open for business” is be ready to offer would be investors areas that they would have already identified to be suitable to the investors’ profile and capacity but a perfect match is difficult.