A local company Global Rennaisance Investments has organised an Infrastructure Summit and Expo, which is set to run from the 4th to the 7th of March in the resort town of Victoria Falls. The event will be attended by high ranking Zimbabwean, Zambian and South African officials from both the private and public sectors. Scores of local and international speakers will be featured including several Zimbabwean government ministers and officials. The target audience will be business leaders operating in the three countries including corporates (regional and international) with an interest in infrastructure development.

The aim of the summit is not only to allow the participants to exchange notes on how the infrastructure challenge can be tackled but also to give them the chance to scout for infrastructural investment opportunities in the three countries; specifically in tourism, water and sanitation, energy, road and rail, housing as well as ICT. Besides those from the 3 participating countries, the event will also be graced by diplomats from as far as Indonesia, China, Russia and the United Kingdom.

The Zim government ministries which are most responsible for overseeing infrastructural development in the country will be represented and it is expected that they will be joined by their Zambian and South African counterparts. This means most of the participating ministries will be those responsible for sectors such as tourism and hospitality, roads and rail, energy and power as well as ICT. From Zimbabwe the ministries of Transport and Infrastructure Development; Energy and Power Development and Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry are expected to attend in full force.

Some of the topics expected to be discussed include the legal and regulatory frameworks that affect the conduct of business in these three countries as well as the infrastructure finance schemes that currently exist. There will also be discussions about issues around improvement of trade synergies, favourable policies and attracting investment.

The business leaders which are expected to attend include executives from Sanlam, Eskom, MTN, Cell C, DBZ, DBA, Eximbank of India, Eximbank of Russia, Liquid Telecoms and the NRZ.

Who is GRI?

Global Renaissance Investments (or GRI) is a local company which describes itself as a leading multi-asset alternative investment enabler which connects investors with emerging financial markets and economies around the globe. They link investors with appropriate projects in these countries that meet their long term investment goals.

The ability to organise a conference with such an impressive lineup of speakers and attendants is testament to the company’s clout and reputation. It would have been impressive for even the government of Zimbabwe to organize such an event.

Is Zim in good company?

While there are many reasons for choosing the three countries to be co-participants, Zimbabwe is the poor man in the group, having an economy which is deteriorating when its neighbours’ are making significant gains. Zimbabwe is not only severely lagging behind its two neighbours in infrastructure development but on the World Bank ease of doing business index, it sits at number 140 while SA and Zambia are at 84 and 85 respectively. I am wondering if the event would have had a better chance of benefiting Zimbabwe if the other participating countries had economic challenges which are closer to our own. Right now the prospective international investors are more likely to be won over by projects in the healthier and less risky economic climate of our neighbours.

How likely is Zim to benefit?

Because of the large disparity in perceptions of Zimbabwe and that of its two neighbours, the country is at risk of playing host and matchmaker to an event that may not benefit it. Zimbabwe is beleaguered by investor mistrust, policy inconsistency, inflation and not to mention a very big image problem. It is hard enough for local projects to get international investment without Zambians and South Africans dangling what are arguably better (and safer) offers just across the room.

On the other hand, while Zimbabwean projects might not strike the right chords with risk-averse international investors, regional investors have in the past shown a willingness to invest in our smaller projects. Maybe the event may facilitate just that and the participating regional firms and individuals may take a bite of what Zimbabwe has to offer.

The event is also specifically targeting infrastructure investment something that the government has historically been failing to handle well particularly where it comes to rehabilitating older infrastructure with accusations of rampant corruption being levelled at government officials by international investors.

The curious absence of the financial bigwigs

Someone once said that when every schoolchild knows the name of the finance minister or RBZ governor, things will rarely be going well in the country. This is true because an ailing economy actually needs these two to be at the forefront, continuously assuring the citizens and anyone else whose fortunes may be tied to those of the country.

At events like these the finance minister and the RBZ governor should be there for the sole purpose of assuring sceptical investors of the steps that are being taken to stabilize the economy and protect people’s investments. Even though business people always talk fondly about risk, they generally avoid it (and bankruptcy) like the plague.