Mabasa Sasa Herald Correspondent
President Mnangagwa early this morning left for Russia on the first leg of a whirlwind five-country tour that will take him across Eurasia and then to Switzerland, as part of his international engagement and re-engagement drive.
The Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces will in the coming days hold high-level talks in Moscow, Astana (Kazakhstan), Minsk (Belarus), Baku (Azerbaijan) and Davos (Switzerland).
The first four stops are within the context of bilateral engagements, while in Switzerland the President will head Zimbabwe’s delegation to the World Economic Forum. This will mark the second time the country participates at the WEF following last year’s debut attendance after President Mnangagwa declared Zimbabwe was open for business.
The visits to Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Belarus — on the other hand — embody the engagement and re-engagement thrust that has characterised President Mnangagwa’s foreign policy since November 2017.
Zimbabwe has long-standing political ties with Russia, and the drive now is to unlock the economic value that a partnership with a global power offers a country that seeks to establish an upper middle-income economy by 2030.
Relations with Belarus have been growing in recent years, most notably from the time then Vice President Mnangagwa engaged investors in Minsk in 2015, and this year’s visit to that country will add momentum to the blossoming co-operation.
Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are “virgin” territory when it comes to economic ties with Zimbabwe.
Harare established diplomatic ties with Astana and Baku in 2008 and all the parties feel establishment of solid economic ties is overdue.
With a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement and a Zimbabwe-Russia Joint Commission already established, Moscow provides a “known quantity” as far as inter-nation ties are concerned.
One of the major issues on the table when President Mnangagwa meets Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will be the US$3 billion Darwendale platinum project, a joint mining and beneficiation venture.
Launched in 2014 under the previous regime, President Mnangagwa’s new administration wants to give impetus to a project that had stalled, but is now ready to become productive.
According to information at hand, the feasibility study for phase one was presented mid-last year, and that segment of the project is expected to be completed in early 2019. Phase one will cover building of the plant, and surface and supporting infrastructure at a cost of US$500 million.
Phase two has been scheduled for March 2019 to October 2030, and will include construction and commissioning of a smelter as the mine churns out 16 tonnes of ore. Under the third phase (2030-2039), production should increase to 25 tonnes.
Besides platinum, the Darwendale claim holds gold, nickel, copper, palladium and rhodium.
The leaders of Zimbabwe and Russia, and their delegations, will also grapple with issues pertaining to the stalled DTZ-OZGEO partnership, which has interests in mining and agriculture, use of the Yamal 402 satellite, tourism promotion, mining equipment, technical co-operation and energy.
Other major highlights are the interest of Alrosa — which accounts for 28 percent of global diamond extraction — in coming into Zimbabwe and capacitation of the recently-launched Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency.
Zimbabwe and Belarus have enjoyed diplomatic ties since 1992, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, but it has only been in recent times and with President Mnangagwa taking a proactive role that the nations have seen these relations expanding into the economic sphere.
Information at hand shows that Belarussian leader President Alexander Lukashenko invited former president Mr Robert Mugabe to Minsk several times, but the latter never set foot there.
As VP and now as President, Zimbabwe’s new leader has set about correcting that, exposing Zimbabwe to the potential benefits of accessing Belarus’ sound technical knowledge of mining and agricultural equipment.
Now, Zimbabwe and Belarus have MoUs that cover mining science, technology and innovation; trade and economic co-operation; procurement of agri-equipment and fertiliser supply.
President Mnangagwa has already secured a US$120 million export credit line for the supply of machinery and equipment for agriculture, dam construction and mining and will be hoping that talks with President Lukashenko in coming days will enhance this co-operation.
Equipment from Belarus has seen Hwange Colliery’s monthly output rise from 50 000 tonnes to 250 000 and that of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Company to 40 000 carats of diamonds.
With President Mnangagwa returning to Minsk, anticipation is high that headway will be made in securing agreements that cover higher, tertiary and vocational education; establishment of Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Co-operation; extradition; and — of course — greater collaboration in agriculture.
In the 11-odd years that diplomatic ties have existed between the two countries, there have been no bilateral political or economic exchanges.
That is starting to change.
In December 2018, Azerbaijan’s government opened up four scholarships for Zimbabwean students at undergraduate/graduate/doctoral level and for medicine/residency.
Four may be very little, but from small beginnings come great things.
Now Azerbaijan would like to sign MoUs with President Mnangagwa’s Government in tax administration activities and promotion and reciprocal protection of investments.
Baku is looking at co-operation in the fields of mining, energy, tourism. Harare, on its part, is looking at interesting Baku in investing in polished granite goods and finished tobacco products.
And Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas.
Kazakhstan is the size of Western Europe. Over the past decade its economy has grown at a rate of at least eight percent per annum. The country has the world’s 11th largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas.
Any country would want to cultivate economic ties with such an emerging giant, and President Mnangagwa is standing on the front line as Astana looks to deepen ties with African nations.
During his talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev, President Mnangagwa — according to insiders — could focus on mining, food processing, fertiliser, petrochemicals, and education and training.
There is great potential for Zimbabwe to export citrus fruits, coffee, tea and tobacco to the Eurasian power and in turn benefit from that country’s expertise in agriculture and mining.
Besides that, President Nazarbayev has done wonders in transforming Kazakhstan into a market economy, something that President Mnangagwa has set about doing for Zimbabwe since his ascension to the top job.