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U.S Business Delegation Sees Potential in Zimbabwe Workforce, Infrastructure

Zimbabwe has been enjoying renewed attention from international delegations interested in doing business in the country.

Long-shunned by many Western nations because of its alleged violations of human rights, rule of law and ill-treatment of white farmers in the form forceful evictions, this year alone has seen the country welcome delegations from France, German, Britain, and most recently the United States.

A seven-member delegation representing a wide variety of U.S. industries, including agriculture, finance and energy, travelled to Zimbabwe and Zambia recently, as part of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), a non-profit, membership-based organization that promotes business and investment between the U.S. and African nations.

The head of that delegation, Phillip de Leon, GSI Director, International Affairs & Business Development, said the visit is indicative of a change in the thinking of American private investors whom he said had been intentionally avoiding doing business in Africa.

“The private sector is more conservative. Americans have always been more conservative in exporting and investing, and Africa and countries in Africa, are not necessarily always their first choice, but more due to lack of knowledge,” explained de Leon, and added that the trip aimed to help change that attitude.

“I think the purpose of this trade mission was to educate our members that came along, but also to send a message that Africa is open for business, and so are Zimbabwe and Zambia that were on our list of countries to be visited.”

De Leon said the CCA delegation chose to visit Zimbabwe because of its potential, in terms of labor, resources and infrastructure.

“Zimbabwe has a very educated workforce. It has infrastructure,” said de Leon.

A particular area of potential development de Leon cited, was agriculture. Zimbabwe, which is currently in the throes of a food crisis, with close to two million people expected to need food assistance, as predicted by the UN World Food Program, was at one time referred to as the breadbasket of Africa.

“It has potential, some of which needs to be awakened again, like agriculture which used to be very prominent, and is not doing as well as it used to. So I think the momentum is there.”

Many investors interested in doing business in Zimbabwe have often cited the controversial Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act of 2008, as a deterrent to pursuing opportunities there, saying it lacked clarity. The law stipulates that indigenous Zimbabweans have to be majority owners of any company valued at more than $500,000.

De Leon said any concerns he had about the impact of the law on investors, was clarified paving the way for further engagement with Zimbabwe.

“Keep in mind that a 51% rule does not prevent business from happening, there are many countries that have such a rule, and business still happens,” de Leon said. “Our message was we need to understand exactly how that would impact us. So we got some clarification and I think that was helpful.”

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As for what kind of business relationship the CCA delegation and Zimbabwean companies would have, de Leon explained the relationship would be a collaboration, without any financial obligation on their part.

“We are not finance providers,” de Leon clarified. “It’s not like we are coming to Zimbabwe with a pool of money to use. It’s all about collaboration.”

De Leon said the prospects are encouraging following meetings with executives of local private banks as well as the country’s central bank chief, John Mangudya.

The Corporate Council on Africa will host a follow up discussion at its Washington location, Thursday, on the outcome of the trip to Zimbabwe and Zambia.

A Zimbabwean delegation of leading businesses, headed by representatives of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), is scheduled to participate in a special session on doing business in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean countries in the delegation include Schweppes of Zimbabwe, Chamber of Mines, Bankers Association of Zimbabwe, and the mobile company, TelOne, among others.