ABIDJAN, COTE D’IVOIRE
In a room full of Africa’s leading business executives and leaders, Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa made the case for why, after years of economic stagnation under Robert Mugabe, investors should pay attention to his country.
His pitch was simple: He’s not Robert Mugabe.
Mnangagwa’s speech about Zimbabwe’s economic recovery plan yesterday (March 26) at the Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan lasted just 15 minutes. But it was packed with references to Zimbabwe now being “open for business,” in contrast to the regime of his controversial predecessor.
Mnangagwa framed his attendance at the forum as part of Zimbabwe’s “current quest to engage and re-engage with the family of nations following years of isolation due to the illegal economic sanctions.” His administration’s top priority, he claimed, is the “resuscitation and revival of the economy and re-engagement of the international community.”
One way he plans to achieve that goal is to “eliminate all investment restrictions,” a departure from Mugabe’s usually antagonistic stance towards investors. The president also insisted that presidential elections in July, previously a foregone conclusion under Mugabe, will now be free and fair.
Mugabe was ousted from power by military action last November, allowing Mnangagwa to take power. During Mugabe’s 37-year rule, Zimbabwe’s economy was defined by years of stagnation that hit investors and citizens hard. The country’s enduring currency crisis also prompted Zimbabweans turn to cryptocurrencies, particularly bitcoin, as a store of value. During cash shortages, Zimbabweans have taken to queuing—and sleeping—outside banks to withdraw their savings.
Since taking office, Mnangagwa has focused on drumming up investor confidence to help fix the country’s economy. Going by the ovation he received at the forum in Abidjan, his message is resonating with his audience. Talking the talk, however, is only the first step toward a healthier economy.