LATE last month, Zimbabwe took delivery of the first of two 777-200ER airplanes, formerly flown by Malaysian Airlines. Sold to us by Government of Malaysia, they will help revitalise our national carrier – Air Zimbabwe – as part of our plan to open my country to the world.
Our two countries already have strong and long-standing diplomatic ties, and today trade relations are expanding. Our agricultural sector is a growing exporter of shelled peas to Malaysia, amongst the world’s leading importers of fresh vegetables; Zimbabwean livestock producers are preparing to enter Malaysia’s frozen halal meat market with a US$400 million (RM1.69 billion) international investment in processing facilities in our capital, Harare; and the Malaysia-Zimbabwe Business Network, founded in 2017, already has some 40 business members expanding market opportunities across industry sectors in both countries.
These growing trade ties are the product of deepening bilateral relations. We see these being further expanded when Zimbabwe rejoins the Commonwealth, the 54-country group of nations which my country left in 2003, and in which Malaysia has long played a leading role.
Only this year, Malaysia supported the re-admission to the Commonwealth of its fellow Asian nation, the Maldives, which – like Zimbabwe – had also departed the club in a decision made by a former President. So, it is both because of our burgeoning, but long-standing bi-lateral friendship, but also because of its leading position within the Commonwealth that we reach out for Malaysia’s support in Zimbabwe’s re-admission.
We know the Commonwealth membership does not bring with it trade deals, or increased investment flows – at least not directly. But the organisation stands as a symbol of global engagement, a set of standards, and a demonstration of a country’s commitment to continue its path of fundamental reform.
For Zimbabwe, this road to root-and-branch reform began with the election of President Mnangagwa and the government in which I serve, in July 2018. “Important gains were made” in that contest: the highest election turn-out in Zimbabwean history, with a “markedly improved pre-election environment, where all parties were able to campaign freely” – according to the Commonwealth Election Observer Group which included the green energy entrepreneur and Barrister and Advocate & Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya, Mary-Ann Ooi Suan Kim.
Building on this democratic mandate, Zimbabwe is pursuing a programme of deep and critical policy and structural reforms to re-build our country after decades of isolation. These comprehensive changes will enable the country to boost bilateral Zimbabwe-Malaysia, and Zimbabwe-Commonwealth cooperation and trade.
Land reforms – including compensation for those dispossessed during the previous Administration – enable overseas agribusinesses and food producers to enter and expand in some of Africa’s finest farmland.
Foreign ownership and export restrictions have been lifted in every business sector – enabling considerable foreign direct investment opportunities for Malaysian industries. Zimbabwe’s rich minerals and extractive sector – closely guarded and majority state-owned for decades – is similarly being opened to foreign competition.
And major reforms in personal and economic freedoms are underway, leading to a rise in global rankings for freedom of expression and a place for Zimbabwe witihin the top-twenty reformers in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 index.
The speed and depth of reforms are, evidently, dependant on capacity. Whilst Zimbabwe is widely acknowledged to have the best English literacy and education system in Africa, we can still benefit from international assistance in governance, judicial and economic reform: key sectors – for example – for which Malaysia contributes in financial support through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation.
Ultimately, we cannot go it alone. That’s why Zimbabwe looks to Malaysia for support to expedite our re-admission to the Commonwealth. Put simply, our speed and capacity to complete reforms after years of isolation can be accelerated by our return to the Commonwealth. Similarly, our bilateral partnership and the opportunities for Malaysian businesses will benefit more from the inclusion of both nations within the Commonwealth family.
We shall continue to reach out across our borders for advice, guidance and friendship. And it is clear that since Zimbabwe has been under new leadership, we have further cemented an already long-standing relationhip.
Zimbabwe and Malaysia have common cause in the benefits – and new potential – of the Commonwealth. We believe the time has come for us to rejoin. And we ask Malaysia’s help to fast-track this journey.
The writer is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for the Republic of Zimbabwe