PRESIDENT Mugabe this week took ministers and senior government officials to Namibia to attend the launch of the Boundless Southern Africa expedition, a regional initiative to promote tourism in transfrontier conservation areas, and to talk about football in view of the upcoming two major soccer tournaments – the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola, and the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa.
Zimbabwe is at the core of this expedition route which stretches from the Indian Ocean in the East to the Atlantic in the West.
Zimbabwe is also a vital component of the Trans-frontier conservation initiative as its national parks are integral to the fulfilment of forming the Kavango-Zambezi with Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, the Limpopo-Shashe with Botswana and South Africa, and the Greater Limpopo in concert with Mozambique and South Africa.
The expedition is expected to attract investment in the transfrontier parks and market the region as a tourist destination during the World Cup. President Mugabe has over the years led Zimbabwean politicians and businesspeople to religiously attend such regional shindigs meant to attract investment in this country.
In Namibia this week he said “by creating the TFCAs we have moved a step forward towards one of our cherished goals, namely the integration of our economies. This progressive seamless movement is also supported by the name of this expedition team, Boundless Southern Africa Expedition, which is appropriate for our vision”.
It is true that the region has indeed moved a step forward in integrating economies but in Zimbabwe people are not really benefiting from these initiatives because of the poor politics here.
The trip to the Namibian desert resort for Mugabe could be yet another fulfillment of a diplomatic engagement with no tangible benefits to the country.
For a long time, our leaders have cherished this romantic dream that investment flows into the country are predicated on attending conferences and signing documents. After each so-called regional investment meeting our leader has often been quoted talking about empowering people through economic expansion.
In Namibia on Wednesday Mugabe said the creation of transfrontier conservation areas “is expected to improve the standards of living of our people, particularly those communities living within and around them through education, awareness and employment opportunities”.
We would want to know at this stage what happened to the much-advertised Campfire projects initiated 20 years ago. The projects were meant to empower communities through conserving flora and fauna.
These have fallen away largely due to poor management and politics which allowed people to settle in game parks.
Until today when our rulers are talking about the transfrontier parks, villagers have been urged to occupy game areas while private conservancies have been plundered through poaching and destruction of vegetation. What kind of empowerment is that?
Investment in the tourism industry also to a large extent depends on government’s ability to safeguard property rights and ensure there is the rule of law. The GNU has failed in this respect. There is now the shameful dichotomy of government pushing for foreign investment when it cannot guarantee the protection of foreign capital through bilateral agreements.
At a business investment conference in South Africa this week, it emerged that South African companies are still not keen on Zimbabwe just yet, given the country’s recent past.
The delay in finalising the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement between the two countries has not helped matters either. The agreement will safeguard South African businesses in Zimbabwe from government interference – especially nationalisation. South African farmers who lost their properties during the land reform programme have not been adequately compensated, nor have Dutch, German and French farmers.
This is one sticking point that has a huge bearing on our ability to attract investment and raise finances to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
Last week Zanu PF was in full voice condemning the MDC formations for failing to meet their side of the bargain in the GNU; that is calling for the removal of sanctions.
These are now being blamed for the stagnation around us. The sanctions issue has nothing to do with the procrastination in the finalisation of Bippas with South Africa.
We do not know whether Mugabe needs to set foot in London first before there is a land audit and order is restored on the land to guarantee productivity.Â The same is true with reforms to media and security laws. These are critical to restoring investor confidence and boosting tourism arrivals and with it living standards of ordinary Zimbabweans.
To improve living standards of Zimbabweans we need to see real reform here and not presidential delegations attending every little indaba in the region when nothing is happening to prepare for the World Cup Finals which are just nine months away.
What goals did we score by going to Oranjemund in Namibia? Not many, but the state media tells us there was applause for Mugabe when he stood up to speak. Was that it?