On 28 November 2017, days after his inauguration as President of the Republic, Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a three months long amnesty window for the return of funds illegally kept abroad by individuals and companies.
“Those affected are thus encouraged to take advantage of the three-month moratorium to return the illegally externalized funds and assets in order to avoid the pain and ignominy of being visited by the long arm of the law,” his proclamation said. At that point, it is clear that Mnangagwa intended to show that he had a different, no-longer-business-as-usual approach.
Months later, a long list of one thousand eight hundred companies and individuals alleged to have externalized over $800 million was published. This move elicited both derision and praise which mirrors the politics of the day, showing how polarised Zimbabweans are.
The first point is to highlight a dichotomy. Generally, value can leave Zimbabwe in two ways, legally and illegally.
The legal way is when one uses the official channels to send value outside Zimbabwe’s borders. For example, an exporter will follow procedure to exports goods and services, or an individual can instruct his bank to wire funds to a recipient in another jurisdiction.
The illegal route is the one that’s not prescribed by the state and its authorized agencies. For example, one can stash dollar bills in a duffel bag and smuggle it to another jurisdiction.
Based on that dichotomy, it should follow that the state cannot know when value has been moved illegally and may struggle to have a record of it. Illegal movement of value is largely black-market activity and untraceable. The reason why people who partake in it use it is so that they cannot be traced.
Because Robert Mugabe’s government was in power for so long, and harbored a lot of corrupt activity for so long, the governed lost significant trust in the government. As such, the governed believe that the country lost billions of dollars through smuggling and black market activities and they believe it was by the elite.
They believe that millions if not billions leaked out of the country without trace – including diamond value leakages. It is possibly for this reason that people that disparaged the externalisation list did so.
The most important thing here is that I doubt that the government would have records of such leakages for the simple reason that the black market ‘externalisers’ would not want to be traced.
For example, there are allegations, made by Aljazeera and other sources, that Grace Mugabe was involved in ivory smuggling. The first question would be how did the ivory leave the country?
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