I just got back from a week in Zimbabwe.
Going on a safari is a shitty way to get to know a country.
But so is visiting its capital.
I’ve never met a country with such a suicidal set of national policies.
Zimbabwe has an acute liquidity shortage. There is not enough money to go around. The unemployment rate is 80 percent. Its per capita GDP is among the lowest in the world.
Yet instead of bending over backwards to attract investment, its politicians are stepping forward to repel it.
The country has a policy called ‘indigenization’—All foreign companies must be 51% owned by Zimbabweans.
In other words, to invest here, you have to give away the majority of your company. You don’t get to pick who you give it to or what they do with it. You are asked to simply simply fork it over, and trust what the government does with it.
Not to sound all Tea Party about it, but that’s fucking insane.
The only companies willing to invest here are Chinese and Russian ones. And only under conditions of total secrecy. None of the investment contracts have been made public.
There was a scandal last month when it was revealed that some of the government officials who were cut in on these contracts were earning $500,000 a month.
I remember talking to a private equity guy last year just after my first trip here. I asked him if he would ever consider investing in Zimbabwe.
He told me he hasn’t looked at the country in years. ‘You can’t even read the fucking Wikipedia entry without losing money’ he said.
You can hardly blame him. The most important thing for investors is certainty. And that’s in even shorter supply than currency here.
And yet somehow, people tell me that Zimbabwe is doing better now than it was last year.
I ask my Zimbabwean colleagues about this and they tell me it’s because of the election.
‘For the last four years we had a coalition government’, they tell me. ‘Mugabe’s party and the opposition sharing power.’
‘It was chaos. Each minister would tell you a different set of government priorities, depending on which party he was from. Right, left, legal, illegal, you never got a clear answer.’
‘Since Mugabe won the last election, at least we know what to expect.’
‘What, for everything to keep getting worse?’ I ask. ‘At least’, they tell me, ‘we can plan for that.’