By Richard Uku

The Zimbabwean government took a major step in its dialogue with creditors this week, organizing a second structured dialogue platform meeting on its arrears clearance and debt resolution process. This followed discussions with development partners last December.

Supported by the African Development Bank Group, senior members of the Zimbabwean government came together last Thursday with the country’s development partners—diplomatic representatives of mostly creditor countries—and multilateral finance institutions, including the African Development Bank Group.

African Development Bank Group President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina—appointed champion of the arrears clearance and debt resolution process by President Mnangagwa last year—played a central role in discussions, which he co-chaired with the former president of Mozambique, Mr. Joaquim Chissano. President Mnangagwa appointed Mr. Chissano as facilitator of the re-engagement and high-level dialogue process, with Mrs. Luisa Diogo, former prime minister of Mozambique as technical advisor.

President Mnangagwa told delegates that Zimbabwe’s debt burden of roughly $17.5 billion continued to weigh heavily on the country’s development efforts. He emphasized the impact on human development. He assured delegates that Zimbabwe was committed to clearing all its outstanding debt arrears to its creditors, including those owed to the African Development Bank, other multilateral finance institutions, and international creditors.

The Zimbabwean leader said Zimbabwe’s challenges had affected the sub-region broadly. He said: “The Southern African region has not been spared. In Zimbabwe, we have adapted to our reality. We have had no choice. We opted to look inward and use our resources to provide for Zimbabweans. At one point our economy all but totally collapsed. But it has recovered, and it has done so under the stewardship of our finance and economic development minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube.”

Evoking the human impact of sanctions, African Development Bank Group President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, said: “Some 44% of Zimbabwe’s population live in poverty today. A large part of this is on account of the economic constraints Zimbabwe has had to deal with over the last two decades. Zimbabwe’s people cannot continue to suffer.”

President Mnangagwa said the on-going dialogue had already produced invaluable outcomes that informed the agenda for the second dialogue forum. Speaking to one of several key issues, President Mnangagwa said: “My government has agreed on a compensation package for commercial farmers, and we are committed to this.”

President Chissano said the outcome of his consultations as process facilitator had exceeded his expectations. He said everyone had hailed the dialogue as a remarkable achievement but added that some development partners wanted to see the leadership of the process translated into more visible action by the country’s president.

“History should not hold the process hostage,” President Chissano said, adding, “It is important to allow for reengagement through the pursuit of dialogue. Regular dialogue builds trust.” He stressed the importance of managing perceptions and misconceptions, which he said had often stood in the way of reality and could undermine the possibility of a meaningful and substantive engagement. He urged development partners to be reasonable in their expectations, assuring them that the Zimbabwean government was committed to achieving its objectives.

The former Mozambican head of state identified two low hanging fruits for the government, which he said would help build trust with its partners, notably: the issue of compensation of farmers under the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements (BIPPAs); and the conduct of free and fair elections later this year.

“This opportunity should not be squandered,” Chissano stressed, adding, “an economically revitalized Zimbabwe and Southern African Development Community could power the region.”

Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube briefed the meeting on progress to date with different aspects of reforms. Complementing him were his Cabinet counterparts, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ziyambi Ziyambi; Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Frederick Shava; and Lands, Agriculture and Rural Settlements Minister Anxious Jongwe Masuka.

Various development partner representatives offered their views on the state of play of the process. The uniform sense expressed was one of strong enthusiasm and optimism for success. European Union (EU) Ambassador Jobst von Kirchmann said to the government: “You played the ball in our camp, and now … it is for us to consult with our capitals in a spirit of trust and confidence to achieve what we all want: working together to achieve arrears clearance and debt resolution for Zimbabwe.”

Adesina summed up the day’s discussions as transparent and forthright. He said it had been an excellent dialogue with no one holding back on the hard issues. He said what clearly came to the fore was that there was strong political ownership and leadership to map out a solution pathway.

The Bank Group president recalled President Mnangagwa’s affirmation in his opening speech and said: “The President could not have been clearer. He was here. He knows the issues, and he gives his commitment to the reforms needed under the central pin strategy – namely on economic reforms, governance reforms, and on the issue of land compensation to commercial farmers and the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements.”

Quoting Ambassador Verwijk, Adesina recapped the diplomat’s adage that “trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback.” He supported the creation of working group on land and compensation, so that everyone involved could discuss the issues, including the government, the banks, other financial institutions, the bilateral partner countries involved in the BIPPAS, and the farmers themselves.

Concluding, the African Development Bank Group chief drew on the words of EU Ambassador Jobst von Kirchmann, who said: “We now have to help Zimbabwe. They have done a lot. They put all this forward. You [Zimbabwe] have played the ball into our side and it is now time for us to go back and review.”

It was agreed that two more meetings like Thursday’s gathering would be needed—one each at the end of March and April, leading up to a high-level forum in the second week of May. “Success is the only option, and together, we will support Zimbabwe,” Adesina said.

Please click below access Dr Adesina’s full speech:

Dr Akinwumi Adesina’s speech