WASHINGTON DC —
A young Zimbabwean entrepreneur, Takunda Chingonzo, was on the spotlight Tuesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum where he asked President Barack Obama to clarify his country’s sanctions targeting President Robert Mugabe and members of his inner circle.
Chingonzo, a student at the National University of Science and Technology and co-founder of Saisai Wireless in Zimbabwe, his third start-up company, said the sanctions were hampering efforts by ordinary Zimbabwean business people to trade with America.
Giving his personal experience, the 21-year old told Mr. Obama his efforts to engage U.S. corporations had been hampered by the so-called targeted measures.
“I was shocked, you know,” said Chingonzo. “This doesn’t make sense. These are supposed to be targeted sanctions. This is the exact same experience that other Zimbabwean entrepreneurs have gone through with potential (American) investors.”
Mr. Obama responded that the situation in Zimbabwe was unique, adding the challenge for the U.S. has been “our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what frankly has been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe”.
“We think it is very important to send clear signals about how we expect elections to be conducted because if we don’t, then all too often, with impunity, the people of those countries can suffer.”
Mr. Obama said Chingonzo was right that there was need for the U.S. to balance the measures, imposed on Mr. Mugabe, his colleagues and a number of entities following the disputed 2002 elections, to ensure they don’t hurt ordinary people.
Pressed further by Chingonzo, who said the targeted measures should not hurt business, Mr. Obama said: “Let’s see if we can refine them (sanctions) further based on what you are talking about.”
Mr. Obama also suggested a meeting with young Zimbabwean business people to discuss the issue further.
They also discussed issues facing young African entrepreneurs to start new companies due to lack of capital.
They focused on innovation, business and what American companies can do to spur growth on the African continent without stifling upcoming businesses.
Chingonzo is also a 2014 Mandela Young Leaders Fellow.
He is a firm believer that start-ups can be the catalyst needed for Zimbabwe’s economic turnaround.
“Their ability to churn out disruptive innovation that revolutionises industry will bring about the solution that we need,” he says.
During his time as a YALI Washington Fellow, Chingonzo attended classes at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, as a participant in the business and entrepreneurship track of the fellowship.
He’s spending an additional eight weeks interning at Africa Venture Partners, a private investment and strategic management company based in Berkeley, California that focuses exclusively on Africa.
“I hope to learn how to establish sustainable social ventures that do not rely on donor funding,” he said.
Chingonzo earlier told VOA’s Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye in an exclusive interview that he’s impressed with some of the deliberations that have been going on, on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa leaders’ summit in Washington DC.
He said he’s happy with the commitment being pledged by some of America’s blue chip companies to increase the level of business between the U.S. and Africa.
“In these conversations and dialogues we need the involvement of young entrepreneurs, and young African leaders to understand how exactly they are working currently and to come up with smarter policies to enable great acceleration within our current economy” he said.
“We are talking about how we need our leaders to leverage on technology to converse with us on these issues how basically we need a more holistic conversation that involves everybody,” said Chingonzo.