There is no better time to reset relations with a foreign country than at the change of a new administration as Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
While the new President will no doubt have a busy agenda, a key priority should be how to re-engage with sub-Saharan Africa.
The good news is that it’s already something about which Biden has given a great deal of thought.
“Helping Africa capitalise on the opportunities and manage the challenges of a burgeoning population is in our shared interest . . . (and) provides opportunities for American businesses to access new markets and consumers, including in Africa’s growing cities,” said president Biden, speaking in 2019 at the Council of Foreign Relations, a US-based think tank.
Africa’s role in global affairs is only going to grow in the coming decades, given that by 2050, Africa will account for 25 percent of the world’s population. Earlier this year, McKinsey predicted US$5,6 trillion in African business opportunities by 2025.
While risks remain, statistics such as these highlight the major opportunities awaiting potential investors in Africa.
Zimbabwe-US relations have been strained ever since the Bush administration imposed sanctions on former President Robert Mugabe and members of his inner circle nearly 20 years ago. Sanctions were extended in March 2020.
Missing the opportunity to re-engage with Zimbabwe would be a mistake at both the diplomatic and economic level.
The country’s leaders are frustrated that there are no clear targets for it to meet to gain acceptance by the West.
As chairman of CBZ Holdings being in the private sector, I appreciate that the economy is a work-in-progress.
It is one well worth pursuing and may be among the greatest opportunities in emerging markets that I’ve witnessed in more than 30 years of working in markets as diverse as Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Rwanda and Ghana.
Zimbabwe is said to be among the most richly mineralised countries on the planet.
It would be a mistake to overlook Zimbabwe as a partner in the region, not least because of the strategic and economic opportunities available to US companies.
Zimbabwe has all the ingredients to prosper — untapped human capital with one of Africa’s highest literacy rates, a rich mineral base and some of the best conditions for farming on the continent.
Zimbabwe has a huge and highly diversified mineral resource base with some of the world’s largest platinum and chrome reserves.
Zimbabwe is ranked among the top ten global producers of lithium. The true scale of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth is one of the last great unknowns in the extractive sector with large deposits of gold, chrome, coal, tin, copper and natural gas yet to be fully explored.
Encouraging progress has been made in several areas by the Zimbabwean Government.
First, it has reformed the indigenisation policy by opening all sectors of the economy to foreign investors.
Second, the Government has made significant progress on agreeing compensation to disenfranchised farmers, moving much closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Mugabe-era.
Third, in the banking sector, new initiatives, including those to improve access to financial services for women and other marginalised groups, have removed some of the barriers to financial inclusion.
Women’s access to bank credit increased by 39 percent in the past few years and a first microfinance bank for women has opened.
Nearly all banks in Zimbabwe now have dedicated women’s desks to provide tailored products and services to cater to their specific needs.
Most of these gains have been unrewarded and unrecognised internationally.
The good news is that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have a great and experienced foreign policy team.
It would be an extremely positive step if the new president’s team make clear what is expected from the Government and help them to realise the tremendous potential of the people of Zimbabwe.
This could also clear up some of the misunderstandings or confusion. For example, the sanctions that exist today are on individuals, not on Zimbabwe as a country, though they act as a general deterrent to all foreign investors who fear falling foul of any regulations.
A productive US-Zimbabwe relationship makes sense on all levels. Zimbabwe is currently the US’s 174th largest trading partner with US$87 million in total goods traded during 2019.
This is a fraction of the vast economic opportunities to be realised and enjoyed by the United States and Zimbabwe.
Marc Holtzman is chairman of CBZ Holdings. He is a former vice chairman of Barclays and former president of the University of Denver.