Darlington Musarurwa in MAPUTO, Mozambique
Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the West went a gear up yesterday when President Mnangagwa had a historic meeting with United States assistant secretary (Bureau of African Affairs) at the US State Department, Mr Tibor Nagy, in a meeting largely described by Harare as a “milestone” in restoring normal relations with Washington.
The President also met his Mozambican counterpart President Filipe Nyusi and apprised him about the country’s food security situation, including electricity shortages, with a view of accessing power from Cahora Bassa Hydroelectric plant (HCB), which is generating excess power.
The meetings took place on the sidelines of the 12th edition of the US-Africa Business Summit, to which Zimbabwe was inivited following years of being snubbed under the previous regime.
President Mnangagwa was meeting Mr Nagy for the second time, after talks held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September last year.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube, who took part in the meeting, said Zimbabwe – in addition to updating the US official on the progress made through the ongoing reforms – also raised the issue of CBZ Bank’s punitive US$350 million fine imposed for ostensibly violating sanctions laws.
“Yes, we met with Tibor Nagy, who is the head for Africa in the US State Department, and we had a wonderful conversation,” he said. “I think we are beginning to find common ground, step by step, so basically His Excellency (President Mnangagwa) was able to share with him, Mr Nagy, the progress that we are making on legislative reforms, the progress that we are making on economic reforms through the TSP (Transitional Stabilisation Programme).
“We were also able to thank him and the United States for supporting Zimbabwe directly, giving us financial support regarding the Cyclone, but also the World Bank and the African Development Bank encouragement to support Zimbabwe at that level.
“So, we really had a wonderful discussion, but also His Excellency was able to convey to American companies that; ‘Zimbabwe is open for them, we are open for business’.”
Prof Ncube said Government wanted to move to a position where it could engage freely with the US.
“We recognise the way General Electric is trying to play in the economy, trying to get involved in various infrastructure projects,” he said. “We also raised the issue of CBZ Bank; as you know CBZ was fined US$350 million, it is our largest bank and perhaps we need some assistance if they have to pay that amount of money; it is a lot of money.
“I think there was sympathy from the other side of the table that we were really able to make progress on all these issues. Of course the biggest elephant in the room is the issue of sanctions, the issue of Zidera.
“Again, we were able to explain that a lot of progress has been made in terms of restoring those issues that have been troubling our colleagues in the United States. And we want to move to a point that we are able to interact freely and engage freely with the United States. I think this meeting is a milestone in terms of re-engagement with the United States.”
Mr Nagy was coy to discuss details of the meeting.
“We discussed a full range of issues between our countries, but you can ask His Excellency the Ambassador over there,” he said.
The US has activated its business interests on the continent and is now pushing for renewed business relations through its new African policy — Prosper Africa — which was launched by President Donald Trump in December last year.
Speaking after a two-hour meeting with President Nyusi, President Mnangagwa said the two sister Republics were “Siamese twins” and, therefore, “there is nothing out of bounds” for the two countries to discuss issues.
“We discuss anything that we think is necessary to share; on my part, I was briefing His Excellency the President about the current food insecurity in Zimbabwe as a result of the drought that has visited us and also the fact (that) our energy sector — electricity — has gone down primarily as a result of that drought,” he said.
“But because it is now as low as 33 percent, we have reduced generation of power by almost 50 percent; that also affects Zambia. So, I was appealing to my brother that Cahora Bassa (Dam) is around 96 percent full, so the generation there has not been affected. We felt that perhaps we look at it and see whether Zimbabwe can access that energy from Cahora Bassa.”
The two Presidents also discussed ways of mitigating the consequences of Cyclone Idai, which claimed more than 1 000 lives in the region and damaged property worth billions of dollars.
Relatedly, Harare and Maputo also intend to deepen economic co-operation in infrastructure development to modernise the two economies.
President Mnangagwa said he found “common ground” to consolidate relations between the two countries.
“Beyond that, we talked about how we can upgrade our economic co-operation between Zimbabwe and Mozambique; in particular, in relation to infrastructure development; that is, both road, rail and the transportation of fuel — the pipeline,” he said .
“And in all those areas we found common ground to consolidate our relations with a view of modernising and growing the two respective economies.”
The new political administration intends to transform the country from being landlocked to land-linked, and Mozambique provides a convenient route to the sea.
Zimbabwe is also angling to get positive spin-offs from the US$20 billion gas project that will soon be implemented by Mozambique and US company Anadarko Petroleum.
“We are looking forward to the consummation of the current project in northern Mozambique; the gas project, which will usher in benefits to Mozambique as well as to Zimbabwe because there will be by-products coming out of that project,” said President Mnangagwa.