Zimbabwe appeals for more investment

Zimbabwe’s political and business leaders made an impassioned appeal for an end to sanctions and more international investment Friday, hours ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and President Barack Obama.

“Sanctions in this juncture in our history are meaningless,” said Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara. “Help us help ourselves by removing all those sanctions so Zimbabwe can have a fresh start,” Mutambara told the World Economic Forum on Africa, currently held in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mutambara followed former opposition leader Tsvangirai into a unity government in February, hoping to weaken the authority of longtime President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai is touring Western countries in a bid to persuade them to end sanctions and provide vitally needed aid to kick start Zimbabwe’s battered economy. But he faces an uphill struggle because of international mistrust of Mugabe, who still seems reluctant to loosen his grip on power and embrace market reforms.

Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped African neighbors have failed to respond to its pleas for a $2 billion economic rescue package. Investors from South Africa ? the continent’s richest country ? are waiting for the implementation of a new bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement before they move in.

“Zimbabwe doesn’t have the luxury of time on its side,” warned South African deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti ? who belongs to Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change ? said he was determined to overhaul the country’s central bank. Biti has clashed repeatedly with central bank governor Gideon Gono, who is a Mugabe ally, but has managed to push through key reforms, including ending Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation and rampant black market by effectively replacing the worthless Zimbabwe dollar with the U.S. dollar.

Biti said tax revenues did not begin to cover even basic salaries and that Zimbabwe’s slumbering state-owned companies were a further drain on the economy. But he said despite the huge problems, Zimbabwe also had massive potential with a highly educated population.

“We are fossilized and ossified in terms of the way we have been doing our thing. We need to raise Zimbabwe on another platform, we need to make it an African tiger,” he said.

He predicted the Zimbabwe economy would grow by 4 percent this year, above the African average of 1.9 percent.

Nigel Chinakira, a Zimbabwean business magnate, said the risks were high but the returns were even higher.

He said he had visited 18 African countries and currently had investments in four of them.

“The highest return to date is from Zimbabwe,” he said, commenting that the stock exchange had boomed since Biti forced it to reopen earlier this year.

“Zimbabwe is Africa’s best medium to long term recovery prospect,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.