EDITORIAL COMMENT: Making it easy for Diaspora to invest

Zimbabwe’s investment drive under the Second Republic is ensuring that Zimbabweans living outside the country, the diaspora community, receive special attention for several good reasons.

First of all, they obviously know and care about the country, even if they have made long-term plans to settle elsewhere, and most have fairly close relatives living in Zimbabwe.

Under the present Constitution they remain citizens of Zimbabwe, even if they have become naturalised somewhere else and carry a foreign passport, so long as they or one of their parents was born in Zimbabwe.

So they know they have citizen and resident rights in Zimbabwe and this can make it easier, especially when linked with local knowledge and the ability to empower a relative to act for them if necessary.

One particular problem, and President Mnangagwa touched on this indirectly when he spoke to a diasporan audience on his visit to Dubai for Zimbabwe’s special investment meetings, is that a lot of Zimbabweans living abroad are not ultra-wealthy people able to make big time investments. But a fair number of comfortably off.

So the President was suggesting that some, perhaps with ties to a particular district or area, could combine together and do something worthwhile and useful.

That makes sense, and the suggestion opens a number of other possible routes for the ordinary person living abroad to make a contribution, and fulfil whatever family commitments they have in Zimbabwe at the same time.

Special investment funds could be set up that those in the diaspora could invest in. These would have to be exceptionally well-managed, and we suspect that those looking at investing their money would want well-known private companies or banks who have a totally clean record. But these exist.

It could even be possible, if there was enough demand, to have provincial investment funds, so people could have more direct impact on where they came from or where their parents came from, because we are now starting to see more and more children born in foreign lands as foreign citizens, but who have parents born in Zimbabwe and still have cousins and grandparents living here.

These investment funds might well have advantages over modest direct investments in a particular business. First they would spread the risk. Not every business will succeed, but if you invest in a reasonable number you can predict in advance how many will make it.

Some of the funds, or some of the money in a fund, might actually go on loans rather than buying a share in a business. A lot of businesses have mentioned that it is difficult to borrow foreign currency in Zimbabwe, because those who have it tend to hoard it rather than use it.

Yet there are plenty of businesses with good accounts and which are highly viable that would be safe bets for a foreign currency loan.

The funds would need to be able to sort their investors according to need. There will be some investors, for example, who simply want a monthly or quarterly return that they could direct towards an aging parent or use to pay school fees for a successive string of young relatives.

Then there might be those who while living and working abroad hope to return one day to Zimbabwe, even if only to retire, and when they come back would like a capital sum or be able to buy a pension or simply be able to have a regular income.

A well-managed fund should be able to cope with all these needs and demands to the advantage of those outside the country and those inside.

The other area where we need to sort something out on a more regular basis is the special requirements of some investors.

At the Dubai meeting one Zimbabwean doctor long resident in Australia said he was keen on building a private hospital near the Victoria Falls or Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airports and President Mnangagwa said if he was serious, then land would be made available.

But the fact that the question was asked and the President had to personally intervene shows that something more normal and formal is required.

We now have the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency that is there to deal with investment queries, and it does not seem unreasonable that this agency should have a section that deals with queries from the diaspora, that is Zimbabweans living abroad.

This section could go a bit further with Zimbabweans than perhaps it might do with others, being able to tell them where land is available to buy, or how to apply for State land where the State owns most of the land such as around major airports.

Of course the modern, united and reformed Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency does already offer a lot of the services any investor needs, and part of the problem might well be bad memories. Someone who left the country 20 years ago might still be haunted by visions of bureaucrats who do little and politicians who want an envelope stuffed with cash.

So among other requirements is getting the Second Republic message across that all investors are welcome and obviously a Zimbabwean living outside is especially welcome.

And that the new policy of making it easy to do business is not a slogan but a detailed policy directive backed by legislation and administrative action, and if anyone wants a “sweetener” then the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission really want to hear about this.

The special teams of ministers assembled to accompany the President on his most crucial investment drives can reassure audiences that we mean what we say and outline where investment would be especially welcome, but the nitty gritty of the detailed requirements is probably best handled by the officials who do this for a living and who have been simplifying their bureaucracy to make it a lot easier to meet the essential requirements.

But it remains an excellent idea to involve the Zimbabwean community around the world. Many countries find these informal links extremely useful and a common heritage often provides the elements of trust and communication that really oil the wheels of business, trade and investment.

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