Nadia Murte Correspondent
As a French citizen working for Universal Communications, I am visiting Zimbabwe for the first time. The objective of my visit is to prepare an economic report on Zimbabwe that will be published in the prestigious French weekly magazine “Le Point”.
The report will present Zimbabwe’s investment opportunities in the tourism, agriculture and mining sectors, as well as President Mnangagwa’s new and amenable approach towards foreign investors.
After staying in the country for about two months, I felt that I should write this piece to share my personal impressions about Zimbabwe with its nationals, my fellow countrymen and the whole world.
The first thing that struck me when I arrived in Zimbabwe is the warmth and friendly nature of the people, as they opened up to me very well, although in some cases I saw that they are also a bit shy.
With each passing day, I am experiencing that Zimbabweans are naturally very peaceful and helpful and always pleasantly waiting to be of assistance where the need arises. The country is safer than most places I have been to on the continent.
I found it surprising to see how an accident can be dealt with very peacefully, for in my own country France, accidents are often an occasion for dramatic scenes, where both drivers scream at one another.
I have also sensed that foreigners are welcome and it was a nice surprise considering what I had read in some English newspapers where news on Zimbabwe was very negative. The political turmoil of the past five years had created a perception that I did not see and the reality on the ground for me is very different.
I have visited a number of tourist resorts that include the majestic Victoria Falls. I had seen some pictures of the Victoria Falls, but seeing it in reality, I was not surprised that it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Victoria Falls is an amazing and breath-taking place; no wonder the place is visited by so many tourists. It is extraordinary to watch.
The Victoria Falls area is also very calm, with a large range of hotels. I stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel and I really enjoyed the amazing view and the five star service they give. The view of the falls from both the Victoria Falls and Kingdom hotels is jaw dropping.
I tried to do some bungee jumping, but was unable to since they were only taking United States dollars. This was regrettable. I felt that tourists should be able to pay in any currency since Zimbabwe uses multi-currencies.
In Victoria Falls, I noted that the people are very creative. By the roadside I could see pieces of artefacts made in wood or metal and some of them done with recycled materials, but assembled together to give a great result and nice pieces of art.
Many people sell their artistic objects or paintings by the roadside, and I took many pictures of that for posterity. I was surprised to see such high levels of creativity and it reminded me — the creativity — that I had only found something like this in Haiti, the Caribbean island known for its strong cultural heritage.
I also visited Pamuzinda. The wildlife at Pamuzinda is amazing and the place very relaxing. It is incredible to be able to explore nature and see so many wild animals.
Economically, I sensed that the cash shortage was a reality, causing problems among the people. Notwithstanding, I had a clear impression over the two months I have been in Zimbabwe that things were getting better, as I saw people quickly adapting to the use of electronic payment.
Zimbabwe has probably become more advanced in electronic payment, because of the cash shortages. It is surprising to see many people of various age groups very easily using their mobile phones to do transactions in supermarkets.
It has also been very easy for me to move around, as I can find taxis without difficulty and some of the roads are very well maintained, a huge difference from other parts of Africa, where often the roads are badly maintained and it is difficult to do a long distance trip by car.
Trade relations between France and Zimbabwe remain limited, but it is interesting to note that with each passing year, they are progressing significantly.
More than 30 French companies like Total operate in Zimbabwe and, more are looking at Zimbabwe and will settle down as soon as the sanctions are lifted.
The two Alliance Française cultural centres in Harare and Bulawayo have been more active in the last few years, and the international bilingual school Jean De la Fontaine, keeps growing and its students are French and Zimbabwean. I have also come across Zimbabweans with a basic knowledge of French, learnt at school. This is rare in an English-speaking country in Africa, and interesting to observe.
As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union after the Brexit vote, it seems important in my view that Zimbabwe looks at two major countries within the EU — France and Germany.
France with its numerous former colonies in Africa like Togo, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire or Mali for example, has always shown a clear interest in Africa and has always invested in the continent.
Moreover, as the African continent has a sustained economic growth, France looks at increasing its trade and diplomatic relations with Africa, seeing that the continent is very promising, economically.
Zimbabwe has great potential even though it needs more investment and for the sanctions to be lifted to increase the levels of investment.
During the Africa CEOs Forum held recently in Cote d’Ivoire capital, Abidjan and attended by President Mnangagwa, I was glad to see that Jean-Batiste Lemoyne, Minister of State in French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s office, clearly stating that France will advocate for the lifting of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. Thus Zimbabwe should capitalise on this recent stance taken by the French government.
The lifting of sanctions will allow international institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank to come back to the country, and send a strong and positive message to the rest of the world. Investors will be very sensitive to that move and no doubt, they will look at Zimbabwe as a land of opportunities.
Nadia Murte has previously worked with Franck Louvrier when he was in charge of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s communication. She was also closely involved in the presidential campaign of current President Emmanuel Macron, by assisting Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs.