Britain has described threats by President Robert Mugabe to nationalise British companies as “utterly irresponsible and counterproductive” and has promised to give affected companies whatever support it can.
This was said by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Lord Howell of Guildford last week. He repeated the same sentiments on Wednesday this week saying nationalisation of British companies in retaliation to the renewal of European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe would not only damage Zimbabwean livelihoods but would also deter much needed foreign investment when the Zimbabwean economy has started to recover after years of negative growth.
Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to grow by 9 percent this year marking its third consecutive year of positive growth since the formation of the inclusive government in February 2009.
There are about 400 British companies in Zimbabwe most of which decided to stick it out during an economic crisis that lasted almost a decade.
Another British peer, Lord St John of Bletso said Zimbabwe had so much potential that all it needed was to get its politics right and reverse the brain drain.
Lord Howell echoed the same sentiments, adding: “There is sadly a long way to go on the political side, but I believe- as we all do- that it is a brilliant country, a potentially prosperous and admirable country that could rise again from its dark period and escape the grip of a once trusted man who has sadly been transmogrified into a twisted tyrant.”
Despite the political bickering, however, it seems British and other European companies are scrambling to invest in Zimbabwe.
Lord Howell confirmed this when he told the House of Lords this week: “Whether or not to invest in Zimbabwe is a commercial decision for individual companies to make. However, we are aware of increasing interest from British companies in investing in Zimbabwe.”
“We have clarified that there is no UK embargo on doing business there and have facilitated networking events with the Minister for Africa so that British companies can discuss at first hand both the opportunities and the challenges of investing in the country.”
Zimbabwe is insisting that any foreign investors should have 51 percent local participation, a move that has upset a lot of investors, but despite reports to the contrary, it is not backing down.
It was this policy that led Lord Howell to comment: “In this context, Mugabe’s recent threats to nationalise British companies are utterly irresponsible and counterproductive. We are in contact with British companies and have offered those who might be affected whatever support we can.”