The Sunday Mail
Hebert Zharare recently in Sharm El Sheikh, EGYPT
THE African Development Bank (AfDB) will do everything it takes to help free Zimbabwe from the debt burden that has stifled economic growth for two decades and bring the country back to its central role of facilitating trade between Northern and Southern Africa, according to the financial institution’s president, Dr Akinwumi Adesina.
He revealed this during a roundtable discussion on Zimbabwe’s arrears clearance and debt resolution on Wednesday in Sharm El Sheikh, where he addressed a number of development partners and creditors. The stakeholders embraced Zimbabwe’s arrears clearance and debt resolution process.
Some of them expressed interest to work with Harare on various development programmes and offer technical support for the country to regain its footing after being burdened by choking debt and illegal sanctions for two decades.
The gathering was a side event during the AfDB annual general meetings that started on Monday and ended on Friday.
They also coincided with the African Development Fund Board of Directors assembly.
Dr Adesina, the champion of Zimbabwe’s arrears clearance and debt resolution process, facilitated the organisation of the meeting with creditors and development partners, which was also attended by President Mnangagwa and former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, the high-level facilitator of the dialogue.
The two have since engaged most of the creditors and development partners, culminating in Wednesday night’s high constructive engagement, which was the fifth meeting since they came in.
Delivering his address at the Sharm El Sheikh International Conference Centre, Dr Adesina said he accepted President Mnangagwa’s assignment, confident that the mission would be successful, as they had facilitated arrears clearance for other countries before.
He said when President Mnangagwa phoned him, asking whether he would support his decision to re-engage, a decision to see how arrears could be cleared and debt rescheduled, he immediately accepted the task for many reasons.
“So, when President Mnangagwa called me, why did I say yes? I said yes because I lived in Zimbabwe; I know Zimbabwe. I said yes because it is the only country of all members of the African Development Bank that is on sanctions.
“I said yes because when one part of the body hurts, the entire system hurts. I said yes because it’s very important to lift SADC (Southern African Development Community) and we cannot lift SADC up without Zimbabwe. I said yes because the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) — African’s biggest opportunity today — and we cannot do that without the resurgent and new Zimbabwe. And, of course, I said yes because I love Zimbabwe; I love the people of Zimbabwe and I want, as President of the bank, to be able to create a new prosperous future for those young people who were not even there when this happened,” Dr Adesina.
He further said, due to sanctions and the debt overhang for years, Zimbabwe remained a missing link that was weighing down on regional trade, hence the need to speed up the process of restoring the country to its regional hub status.
“We have a situation that has affected the rest of the SADC region because Zimbabwe is centrally located, linking transport — railways infrastructure, energy, everything that is needed for SADC to be moving. Just because Zimbabwe is not what it used to be, it’s not just Zimbabweans who are suffering — the rest of SADC is suffering because of that.
“If you look at the young people of Zimbabwe, some of them were not yet born when this happened. So, we have a situation where the sanctions are compromising their future and it’s time to put the past behind us. It’s time to discuss real issues, heal the wounds of the past and make a new pathway into the future,” he said.
Dr Adesina said the people who attended the meeting were concerned about Zimbabwe and efforts underway to solve its challenges, but credit must be given to President Mnangagwa’s visionary leadership seeking to rescue Zimbabwe from the debt and sanctions trap.
He said he also accepted President Mnangagwa’s assignment because he was convinced Zimbabwe deserved a new and better prosperous future since, as someone who had worked in the country before, he knew the country had huge potential.
“I have lived in Zimbabwe. When I lived in Zimbabwe and worked there for the Rockefeller Foundation (New York-based organisation), I was in charge of the Southern African region. Zimbabwe was bursting with economic activities, critical for the southern African region — jobs, first-class hospitals, everything was world-class. Zimbabwe was like a little Switzerland,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what happened. Once a very prosperous nation, we are now championing arrears clearance and debt resolution. And, of course, sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe. I have gone around, as champion of Zimbabwe, to the United States to different people. I do not sense any animosity. I sense that people recognise that what happened in the past happened. To make history, you have to address history.”
He said Zimbabwe’s debt of US$17.5 billion to bilateral and multilateral creditors had devastating effects.
“Poverty levels are very high, unemployment is very high among the young people. The National Railways of Zimbabwe rolling stock used to be about 3.5 million tonnes.
“Today, it is just over 2 million tonnes. Zimbabwe has lost about 105 correspondent banks, they cannot trade, they cannot do anything,” said Dr Adesina to the receptive audience.
He thanked former President Chissano for leaving retirement and start running across capitals in the world just for Zimbabwe.
Dr Adesina said their role of listening and understanding all parties was central to the success of the country’s arrears clearance and debt resolution. He said they used to be friends of Zimbabwe at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund annual meetings and people would talk about Zimbabwe.
“We were not talking with Zimbabwe but we were talking about Zimbabwe. What makes this structured dialogue very different is that we are walking with Zimbabwe; we are speaking together with Zimbabweans.
“The President (Cde Mnangagwa) is involved. All the ministers are involved. The concerned parties are involved, the commercial farmers are involved, the civil society is involved and the private sector is involved. This is a very inclusive process — everybody talking together and there is no issue that cannot be put on the table.
“So, this is the best opportunity that Zimbabwe has, the global community has to talk together and find solutions to the impasse that has happened to Zimbabwe’s economic growth. The bank has supported arrears clearance for other countries before — Somalia, Sudan. The contexts are different but what is important is we have done it before and we can do it again as long as certain conditions are met,” he said.