Brexit is short for British exit. It is the word that is commonly used to refer to the United Kingdom’s (UK) decision to leave the European Union (EU). The actual exit is set to happen on 29th March 2019 but a lot has been going on in preparation for this. For Zimbabwe, Brexit presents a unique opportunity to repair damaged trade and political ties with its former coloniser as well as other European countries. We look at the opportunities that Brexit offers in more detail.
The signs are there
Early signs are there that the UK is ready to ensure that their relationship with Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular is reinvigorated. In May this year, the British government in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank provided $100 million to be loaned to the private sector in Zimbabwe. This was the first time in over 20 years that the British government had extended any direct commercial loan deal to its former colony. Relations had plummeted to new lows at the height of the land reform programme which saw white farmers, many of whom were of British origin, losing land. The UK and EU sanctions followed and Former President Robert Mugabe appeared unperturbed. “Blair, keep your England and I will keep my Zimbabwe”, he would always declare. That era seems to be gone now. Both Blair and Mugabe are no longer at the helm.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May recently visited South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya for the first time since her election in 2016. In itself, this can be seen as an eagerness to work with Africa. As if to signal a new path, The British Department of International Trade (DIT) invited the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) President Dr Divine Ndhlukula to speak on investment opportunities in Zimbabwe during May’s visit. Earlier in the year, DIT had divulged that they are overwhelmed by British business people keen on investing in Zimbabwe. The UK is surely interested in building new economic partnerships outside the EU. Already, the UK pledged $10 billion for investment in Africa over the next four years. Prime Minister May pointed out that she wants the UK to overtake the United States (US) to become the G7’s biggest investor in Africa by 2022. Zimbabwe should not miss out on this opportunity.
For now, ZimTrade has identified opportunities in the export of horticultural produce to the UK. ZimTrade Chief Executive Officer, Allan Majuru says, “At the moment, we export to the Netherlands and they then export to the UK. So, our target is to export directly to the UK as early as next year.” If we look at it from a slightly different angle, Brexit could help make it easier for Zimbabweans to export to the rest of the EU. It is a fact that the UK was the main proponent of the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the EU. At the time that those sanctions were imposed, it is possible that a country like France or Sweden which had no issues with Zimbabwe only went along with the sanctions because they belonged to the EU. They had to side with the group. Without the UKs influence, many countries may want to trade with Zimbabwe and new deals may be negotiated.
The political relations between Zimbabwe and the UK seem to be changing for the better. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been on a reengagement crusade trying to mend relations with the international community, UK included. Speaking to eNCA, a South African news channel, Mrs May said, “I think it is really an opportunity for Zimbabwe now. Now I look forward to Zimbabwe being able to grasp this opportunity for the future.” The British Prime Minister also praised President Mnangagwa for setting up a commission of enquiry into the August 1 shootings. As if that is not enough, Professor Mthuli Ncube, in his maiden budget announcement set aside US $53 million to be used towards compensation of white farm owners who were affected by the land reform programme. There is no need to read between the lines. It is obvious that Zimbabwe and the UK are addressing past political tensions and creating a conducive environment to work together going forward. A cordial political relationship will pave the way to cooperation on the economic front as well.
Brexit will definitely come with a lot of changes in the way the UK manages its relations in Europe and elsewhere. Zimbabwe has to be ready to exploit new opportunities that these changes will usher in. Government and the business community should continue to work together on various strategies even before the actual break away happens.