As has become the norm whenever the President embarks on a business trip, Cabinet is happy with the recent Eurasian trip. According to a briefing after the Cabinet meeting on 29th January 2019, the President’s trip was very fruitful, and went a long way in unlocking new avenues in mining, tourism, agriculture, energy, transport logistics, education, health and technological innovation. President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, what we have now are only Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs). As usual, Zimbabweans are keenly awaiting those to be transformed into viable projects which will alleviate our current challenges.
In Russia, an MoU was signed between Africa Export – Import Bank and Great Dyke Investments on the Darwendale Platinum Group Metals Project. Another MoU was signed between Great Dyke Investments and the African Finance Corporation on the same platinum mining project. The government of Zimbabwe and Great Dyke Investments also signed agreements on the provision of US$300 million to kick start the platinum project in June 2019. Full scale mining is set to start in 2021. The two parties further signed an agreement for provision of US$30 million for equipment for gold mining centres and small scale miners. The disbursement of these funds will start in February 2019. Other MoUs were signed with Uralchem JSC in fertiliser production and with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation as well as the Moscow Chamber of Commerce. Further details on these MoUs were not divulged. At this point, ordinary Zimbabweans will eagerly await February 2019 which is closest milestone when the US$30 million is set to commence being drawn down. From then onwards, citizens will be able to trust government again.
With Belarus reportedly offering to help Zimbabwe in the area of transport, an initial 500 buses are set to be offered to Zimbabwe. If this deal comes to fruition, this will be a welcome development for the millions of commuters who have to rely on ZUPCO and the few combis that are operating after fuel price increases threatened to cripple the industry. Other MoUs were signed between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on political consultations. In addition, MoUs were signed in mutual legal assistance in civil and commercial matters, agriculture, cooperation in higher and tertiary education, technology and innovation and science among others. Again, time will tell if anything concrete will come out of these agreements. For the people of Zimbabwe, it looks like we have walked this road before. Many agreements have been signed since President Mnangagwa took office in November 2017, but, most of these went cold.
According to the Cabinet briefing, Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan discussed and agreed on cooperation in areas of tourism (construction of hotels), tobacco and cotton processing and energy. In the area of energy, it is interesting to note that Azerbaijan has a petroleum company which is exporting to South Africa and has storage facilities in Mozambique. Zimbabwe could tap into this. Notably, this is just a start. We are still a long way from starting to see serious business being done with Azerbaijan. There is no short term benefit to be reaped from engagement in Azerbaijan. All the same, if this is to be followed up, it is a good starting point.
While many sceptics feel that this might be the last time that we will hear of these agreements, government thinks otherwise. For government, the trip unlocked a lot of doors and deals. On the other hand, the sceptics feel that the deals will die even before their birth. The problem is that the challenges facing the people of Zimbabwe need urgent answers. The Eurasian trip does not seem to have brought meaningful short term solutions. We continue to hope for the best.