Zimbabwe Ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations and other International organisations in Geneva, Switzerland Chitsaka Chipaziwa (CC) spoke to Business Weekly editor Happiness Zengeni (HZ) in Davos Switzerland about the new foreign policy thrust that the country is pursuing following the change in political leadership last year.
HZ — In the recent past there has been an intense skepticism of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy. With regard to this, what is the foreign policy that Zimbabwe is pursuing following the change in political leadership?
CC —Under the new dispensation, our new leadership is following a foreign policy which is anchored in economic diplomacy. We are done with denunciatory diplomacy, we want to relate normally with countries in the world. Here in Europe they turned their backs on us following the land reform programme, but since the peaceful change at home, Europe is as eager as we are to re-embrace each other again.
I think the sharpest message His Excellency has been transmitting at DAVOS, is that yes, we have our traditional friends who have stood by us through thick and thin, but in reality we never turned our backs on our European friends or our American friends so it should be easier to find each other again.
“If there have been injuries economically, politically — let us heal those, and let bygones be bygones. We are a small country, we factually do not threaten the geopolitical interests of any of the Europeans or Americans for that matter. In the past Zimbabwe has related well with these people, we want their companies to come back to Zimbabwe . . . to create wealth which we share with those who invest our country as well as their taking out of profits and dividends. So the economic reforms are going hand in hand with the political reforms.
A message which His Excellency is now putting out there is we now have civil politics in Zimbabwe, the politics of insulting each other is of the past, and we are all Zimbabweans.
“Contestation for political power should be done peacefully, all those that participate should feel free. It is extremely important to get our young generation to participate in the creation of sustainable wealth in our country in a manner that preserves our land, our natural heritage, and a more organized way of extracting our resources.
“If you have 40 percent content in your fuel for your cars and industry that almost directly translate into 40 percent savings in foreign exchange for importing petroleum products.
“So there is a great deal that can be done in Zimbabwe, His Excellency was just outlining to his Swiss counterpart, the president of Switzerland that while we may be producing a high quality cotton, the machinery and the beneficiation, the value chain of cotton in Zimbabwe can only consume 30% of that production, the 400 00 net worth tonnes. So we want investment in modern equipment to produce product down the value chain for export.
“Zimbabwe should want to be a participant AGOA scheme which the American Government has offered to African countries over the decades which is the African Growth and Opportunities Act which is permissive of those African countries exporting certain products into the US duty free or favourable duty rates. So we would like to reach out to them as well.
“Zimbabwe also wants to open up its airports, perhaps an open skies agreement with a number of countries including the US. We get 50 000 plus American tourists per annum, perhaps that could be double if there were direct flights between Victoria Falls and American cities such as New York, Washington DC and Atlanta. So there is great scope of expansion there and again Europe is a lot nearer; tens of thousands of Europeans escape the white stuff you see outside, snow.
As we get into middle age many of us would like to have warmer weather. We like warmth but not indoors warmth; lifestyles are changing, people will want to raft, people will want to sail their boats, people will want to bungee jump. In Africa they want to come and watch the animals in our national parks and to climb our mountains. All those activities are possible in Zimbabwe but over the last 15 -16 years European tourism has been skirting around our country, they have been bypassing Zimbabwe.
“Long should be gone the notion or the ability of someone to advertise and say ‘come to South Africa and see the Victoria Falls’. No no, the Victoria Falls and South Africa have no linkage. If you want to see the Victoria Falls come to Zimbabwe. There is nothing wrong with having a total tourism package which will take on both the other neighbouring countries as well, but it shouldn’t be that. People should come to our country directly.”
HZ — But then in terms of your current interactions, which country has been first on the queue. Obviously there is a queue . . . if its Britain, were they the first ones to engage?”
CC — Are they disposed to the change that is taking place in Zimbabwe? Yes they are. It was good that tactically the British provided the first foreign envoy to call on his Excellency the President Mnangagwa literally a few minutes after he has been sworn in. They want us back in the Common Wealth and our leadership is considering that.
The European Union countries through their Ambassadors have been transmitting, again, a message of friendship, a message of welcoming the change in the country, a message that says please ensure that your stability is not transitory, it is a firm stability which is permissive of economic growth and expansion, attracting foreign direct investment and encouraging all those other exchanges which translate into economic gains for everybody.”
HZ — But Europe or even the West are moving away from commodities and they are now going into this forced industrial revolution where technology is at the core and Zimbabwe doesn’t presently offer that. Do you think they are still interested in commodities like cotton, agriculture or mining?”
CC — I think in the narrative change in general commodities have got a bad rep, but what commodities are we talking about? We are talking about the Zimbabwean horticultural industry, for example. People love flowers throughout the year so there is room for expansion there. The Zimbabwean platinum and diamonds produced still have a growing market. The commodities such as copper, gold, and chromium are minerals that are still needed in the industrial processes of the West.”
HZ — Yes, but they have got synthetic diamonds, they have got that industrial platinum that they make on their own.”
CC — A “Exactly, it is synthetic, nothing beats the original thing.”
HZ — But no one can tell. You can never tell.
CC — Well if you are a collector of valuable things which can be passed on for generations and generations you go for the natural thing. The natural diamonds show, they have got no competition from the synthetics. But for apparel, clothing — natural fibers are less polluting. When you throw away a suit made from cotton and other natural fibers it is less of a danger to the environment,”
HZ — Speaking of cotton there are countries like Tanzania who have got that at the core of their economies, but then Zimbabwe wants to get in there and it’s not very competitive. Do you think you can offer a better package to the Americans?
CC —“Cotton is an interesting product in this following sense that it is also similar to tobacco although tobacco is not such a, should I say, a sexy commodity anymore. Everybody is drumming down on tobacco and there is now artificial tobacco.
But cotton fibers have got their own specific genetic makeup; cotton from Tanzania has its niche market in the international community, cotton from Zimbabwe has also always had its own niche. For example, there are certain American hotel chains which have always stocked linen made from Zimbabwe. Tanzania cannot take our place with those niche markets if we are reliable suppliers.
The Chinese may have been importing Tanzanian cotton for goodness knows how long, but if our cotton were to enter the international market competitively, and its particular characteristics are appreciated, you will find that Zimbabwean cotton is tradable profitable for our country. Sure, the first people to catch a certain a market are difficult to dislodge but you can insinuate yourself so that there is space for everybody. It depends how competitively you are producing it, but again I must emphasize the specifics of each product speaks for itself. How long fiber cotton is very much in high demand with Van Heusen Company, for example, for their men’s shirts and other cotton based products.
So the world market is not shrinking it is expanding. Even Mr Trump when he says America first, America needs to export. He cannot create an island of such a big country, we will be exchanging with him but each country making sure that when it interacts economically in the world market it benefits. Everybody wants to benefit. Economies of scale, on certain products, will dictate that certain countries are the best sources of certain products. Our coffee, its aroma, is a particular Zimbabwean coffee. Our tea, I think, still holds a world record price per kilogram.
HZ — And lastly, what are your thoughts on this DAVOS conference? Has it achieved the results that Zimbabwe set out to achieve?”
CC — Many people around the world have appreciated how genuine he (President Mnangagwa) is about what he wants to do regarding the future with his country, and what kind of leadership he is offering. He is interacting with billionaire investors who are assessing him. Just because someone is a billionaire doesn’t mean he invests in everything; people specialize in where they want to put their money.
His message on the great scope in Zimbabwe in the tourism sector, and the opportunities for people to build hotels around the Victoria Falls, for example, has caught the attention of some investors. The peaceful intent of his message is that Zimbabwe is creating a climate where the ease of doing business is greatly emphasized and pursued by the Government. So for instance, where it took you three months to open a business in Zimbabwe, it is now less than a month, and down the road we want to come down to a day or two.
You arrive, you interact with the Zimbabwean Investment Centre, for example, and quickly enough you have your papers and you open your business. His Excellency has explained that the indigenisation which has been seized on by our detractors saying ‘Zimbabwe is too nationalistic economically, there is nothing for you there’, is shifting to a position where Zimbabwe is open for business.
Even the 51 -49 percent ownership will only apply to businesses in two classes of minerals in our country, diamond and platinum. Some might say, I want a 100 percent German-owned entity to operate in the Zimbabwean economy, fine; but they are going to be paying taxes, they are going to be paying wages, they may be producing consumer goods which Zimbabweans can purchase.
That message has been clearly disseminated here. The floor has been open for investors to interact with our leadership, which is what has been happening, and I think it has been resulting in success and His Excellency has already pronounced that he is very grateful to the World Economic Forum for inviting our country as they have done.”