AfDB president expresses concerns on Zimbabwe debt, economic challenges

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of African Development Bank Group, has expressed concerns bordering on the economic challenges, especially debt, facing Zimbabwe.

This was made known in a speech he delivered at the second dialogue platform meeting on the arrears’ clearance and debt resolution process for Zimbabwe.

Dr. Adesina lamented the current state of Zimbabwe’s economy. He said, “The once-thriving private sector of Zimbabwe has imploded. International banking has almost dried up with 102 correspondence banking relations lost in the past one decade. Today, 90% of the economy is now informal. Zimbabwe’s once thriving contribution as the nerve center of the SADC region has been broken, lowering regional trade and investments. The once-thriving National Railways of Zimbabwe, with a rolling stock of 12.5 million tons in the 1990s now accounts for under 2.5 million tons. The number of people living in extreme poverty now stands at 44%.”

Speaking on Zimbabwe’s debt accumulation, Dr. Adesina said: “The sanctions have led to arrears and debt accumulation over the years. Total consolidated debt of Zimbabwe stands at $17.5 billion. Debt owed to international creditors stands at $14.04 billion, while domestic debt stands at $3.4 billion. Debt owed to bilateral creditors is estimated at $5.75 billion, while debt to multilateral creditors is estimated at $2.5 billion. The country is in arrears for servicing its debt, with arrears to multilateral development banks, including the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank. While token payments are being made to service the debt, it is now time for a comprehensive arrears’ clearance, debt resolution and debt restructuring for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe cannot run up a steep hill of economic recovery carrying a heavy backpack of debt on its back.

“Despite these challenges,” Adesina said, “Zimbabwe is recovering.”

He spoke further on the economic recovery starting from the 2020 Corona virus pandemic. “The economy recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, posted GDP growth rate of 6.3% in 2021, although growth declined to 3.5% in 2022 due to continued climatic shocks which adversely affected the performance of the agricultural sector and the impacts of the Russian war in Ukraine which have driven up energy and food prices.

“While significant and highly commendable economic reforms have been implemented, the macroeconomic environment continues to be challenging with very high levels of inflation and currency depreciation. Investments in mining are bouncing back, while the performance of the agricultural sector has been impressive. I was pleased to hear from President Mnangagwa that Zimbabwe has been able to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat production. I am pleased that the $25 million support of the African Development Bank for emergency food production is helping Zimbabwe to recover from the effects of the Russian war in Ukraine.

Adesina said “President Mnangagwa has been active in marketing Zimbabwe and its progress.”

“At the Africa Investment Forum held in Abidjan in November 2022, at a special investment session on Zimbabwe, he laid out his heart on the country’s hope and prospects “Zimbabwe is open for business”, he explained.

He said the Zimbabwean president also called for “massive investment opportunities in agriculture, mining, services, infrastructure, especially energy.”

Speaking on the latest developments from AfDB, Dr. Adesina said, “The African Development Bank is leading work to support the construction of the Batoka Gorge hydropower dam that will unlock renewable energy and provide 2,400 MW of electricity. We are also working with partners to construct the power transmission line that will link Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia. Vast opportunities exist for the private sector, in the hospitality and tourism industry, as well as in the construction and rehabilitation of the railways network that will open regional trade and investments into its neighboring countries and further spur economic growth and development of the SADC region.”

AfDB has also been on the forefront of funding and financing Zimbabwe’s challenges. “During its challenges, Zimbabwe has not been alone. At the African Development Bank, the Zimbabwe Multi-donor Trust Fund helped to provide succor to the population over the years. With a total financing of close to $150 million, it rehabilitated essential infrastructure such as water, sanitation, and energy distribution, benefitting 5 million people. I would like to thank the donors to the Fund, namely Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, the UK, Norway, Denmark, and Australia for their generous support that made this possible,” Dr. Adesina said.

He said the African Development Bank has approved $4.1 million for an “Arrears Clearance and Governance Enhancement Project”. and commended President Mnangagwa and the Government of Zimbabwe for putting forward a three-part central-pin strategy which includes economic reforms, governance reforms and the compensation of commercial farmers.

Dr. Adesina commended the people of Zimbabwe. He said, “The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough. The young people of Zimbabwe deserve to have their once-prosperous country back. They cannot continue to suffer for a past they did not create. They deserve a new and prosperous future. It is time now to rebuild what has been broken; it is now time to refrain from casting stones; it is now time to heal; it is now time for peace.

“I wish to commend the people of Zimbabwe for their resilience. You have been down, but you never gave up. You believe that hope will one day arise.

“Together, we gather today to map out a pathway for hope.”

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