Zimbabwe woos Russian investors

Zimbabwe said on Friday it hoped to secure investment deals from a visiting Russian business delegation, a potential boost to its ailing economy and Moscow’s own bid to raise its economic profile in Southern Africa.

Analysts said Russia’s interest in the sub-region, following a determined push by China, signalled growing competition for Africa’s natural resources as the two economies boom.

The Zimbabwe visit follows a similar Russian foray into South Africa last month when President Vladimir Putin led business chiefs and pledged billions of dollars in investment to forge ties between the global mineral and diamond superpowers.

”There are a number of opportunities, which we expect to agree on, that will benefit the economy but those details you can only get when the deals are concluded,” Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Hebert Murerwa told Reuters on Friday.

The 48-member team is seeking opportunities in mining, transport, power, tourism and telecommunications. Seventeen journalists are accompanying the group on the week-long trip.

Local private media have reported that Zimbabwe’s central bank governor Gideon Gono had brokered a $500-million deal that would see the country receive five Tupolev and Illyushin planes from Russia. Officials have refused to comment on the reports.

Zimbabwe is grappling with its worst economic crisis, which critics blame on President Robert Mugabe’s government and is dramatised by the world’s highest inflation rate of over 1 200% and shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency.

Western donors have shunned Mugabe over policy differences, including the seizure of white-owned land to resettle blacks, which has forced the veteran leader to turn elsewhere for help.

Competition for Africa’s resources

Zimbabwe says it is pursuing a ”Look East” policy to woo investors — notably from China and lately Russia. The two countries supported Mugabe’s now ruling Zanu-PF party during the 1970s nationalist war against white rule.

Mugabe’s government last month said it had landed a $200-million facility from China, the first major external loan extended to the Southern African nation since its isolation from former foreign lenders in began in 1999.

Analysts said Russia appeared to be following China’s footsteps in Southern Africa as appetite for Africa’s oil, minerals and other natural resources grows.

”These countries [Russia and China] are now leveraging their long political relations with African states to pursue economic interests as their economies grow,” James Jowa, an economist with a Harare finance house said.

”There seems to be growing competition, subtle though, to grab a large piece of Africa’s resources, but for us here, the big question is what do we benefit from them,” he added. — Reuters

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