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U-turn in UK's Zimbabwe policy welcome
Posted: Monday, April 27, 2009

The Herald
Opinion & Analysis
Saturday, April 25, 2009

THE inclusive Government is not just gaining the support and confidence of Zimbabweans; it has now started attracting support in the international community and even from those countries that led the sanctions charge.

Britain this week very quietly announced, during a meeting between British Ambassador Mr Andrew Pocock and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, that the United Kingdom would no longer vote against funding for Zimbabwe at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.

Presumably, the lack of any fanfare in the British U-turn was because the British never wanted to admit in the first place that they had pushed so hard for the damaging financial sanctions. But any U-turn in this critical area is welcome.

On one hand, the quiet announcement, and it may just mean the British will abstain in votes, is far from a ringing endorsement, but on the other it is a big step forward, especially if the United States follows the British lead, as it did when the economic sanctions were originally introduced.

Without active opposition from the US and Britain, Zimbabwe now has a real chance of some support from these three international organisations.

But the amounts they lend are, in reality, quite modest, and with the international financial crisis in full swing, Zimbabwe is standing in a long queue with others looking for help; none of us are going to get that much simply because the IMF and World Bank do not have that much to distribute.

So the IMF and the World Bank are not going to solve our problems overnight. But being in their good books does give our country its credit rating back; generally no one will lend money, or even give reasonable credit, to a country that is not in reasonable standing with the major international financial organisations.

But again we need to recognise that while international and regional financial support will be useful, and even crucial, it will not solve any problems unless we take responsibility for our own future.

We cannot rely on outsiders, first because they simply do not have the funds in the present international crisis and, secondly, because most are only going to help those who help themselves.

We will find the IMF and our trading partners far more impressed and far more ready to help if we are doing something ourselves, rather than just waiting for a knight in shining armour to rescue us.

We are surprised that Finance Minister Tendai Biti has yet to float rand-denominated Government bonds to tap some of the money now starting to flow into private pension funds and the State's NSSA.

In the past a percentage of pension fund assets had to be in Government stock. This is now impossible because, for all practical purposes, there is no Government stock.

Those percentages were disliked, but every pension fund would like some of its assets in Government gilts so long as these were denominated in a stable currency. So even a voluntary gilts market would attract support and would impress the outside world, whose support we desire, that we are taking things seriously and putting some of our new savings where our mouths are.

We hope that the gradual attrition against the sanctions, both the major unannounced ones like the ban on IMF lending, and the more minor ones trumpeted across the world, the travel bans on a few score people, will be speeded up.

One set has seriously damaged Zimbabwe and the other, while only a nuisance, still gives the wrong impression about the new Government.

They both need to go.

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