Russian delegation in Zimbabwe
Photo: Dina KARPITSKAYA
Freed from the yoke of the colonialists only in the last century, African countries are now developing very rapidly. There are many requests and business tasks. So many. And just as once the famous Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingston opened Africa to the world, now businessmen are looking for “white dots” on the map of the second largest continent on the planet in order to extend their economic influence here. Naturally, the Russians too.
A whole week in the capital of the South African Republic in Harare spent a delegation from Russia – businessmen, builders, bankers, lawyers and financiers – headed by the Honorary Consul of Zimbabwe in Russia Nikolai Sobolev. The Russians were received by Zimbabwean officials, from employees of the office of the country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to representatives of regional ministries and departments. Employees of the Russian Embassy in Zimbabwe were also present at the talks. The theme of the conference is the creation of a special economic zone (SEZ) for Russian companies.
Talk about the appearance of it began in 2018. Then, during a working trip to South Africa, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signed an appropriate memorandum with the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. And now, in 2023, the preparation is already at the final stage. And Nikolai Sobolev, a businessman from St. Petersburg, a member of the Russia-Zimbabwe working group of the Federation Council, played a significant role in this.
“The main goal of the special economic zone is to make it easier for businessmen from Russia to enter the African market,” Sobolev explained to Komsomolskaya Pravda. — I worked a lot in African countries. In 2018, President Mnangawa invited me to a meeting and offered me to become the Republic’s honorary consul in Saint Petersburg. And help establish trade ties between our countries. I, of course, agreed. A lot of work has been done and now you know how everything will look. Plans include the creation of a Russian village in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. The African company Hermès, founded by our Russians who have lived here for a long time, is our counterpart in all these matters.
Nikolai Sobolev and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Photo: Dina KARPITSKAYA
Why Zimbabwe in particular?
– The USSR and later the Russian Federation have always helped this African republic. So the connection between our countries has deep historical roots. This year a monument to the soldiers-liberators will be erected in Harare. Now the project itself is being coordinated in the Federation Council. Furthermore, President Mnangawa did not support sanctions against Russia and spoke out in favor of all kinds of partnerships between our countries. Therefore, Zimbabwe is our priority. And here it is important to understand that for Russian companies Zimbabwe can become the key to all of Africa. Since 2019, a free trade zone has been created on the mainland, uniting more than 50 countries, including Zimbabwe. It is a huge market with great potential, reaching more than 1.2 billion people. Naturally, Russian companies see great potential in it.
One of the members of the Russian delegation Dmitry Tsukanov. He is the deputy financial detective of the ABZ-1 group of companies engaged in the construction of roads, bridges, tram lines and other road infrastructure. And Dmitry immediately saw the prospects of his company in Zimbabwe, even before getting off the plane.
Business round Russia – Africa
Photo: Dina KARPITSKAYA
– The roads here are in a deplorable state, all patched up, patched up. They need to build new ones, build bridges, build streets in cities. All this is a big market.
– In Russia, you are actively developing the market, and now you have come here too?
– Absolutely. We have adopted a regional strategy, which implies not only the development of the regions of our country, which we are doing successfully. But also access to the international market. We looked at Africa, and when we heard that work was underway to create a special economic zone here in Zimbabwe, we immediately contacted Honorary Consul Sobolev. This is how our commercial interests and the interests of the country coincided. And Zimbabwe, with the possibility of accessing the entire African continent from here, is a great option.
How were you received here? Do you feel interest from potential African partners?
– Yes, and what else! Our company is famous for the fact that we have the most serious R&D division in Russia, we develop new asphalt mixes. Colored concretes have been patented, that is, you can immediately put the necessary markings on the canvas, for example, or highlight the intersections. We also have flavored asphalt. A lot of work.
— And what directions for business are interesting here? I asked Olga Dzubinskaya.
– Interested in local construction, energy technology, agriculture, food production and much, much more. This field is unploughed, pardon my jargon. Only lazy people don’t want to do business here.
And it seems that it really is. The Chinese have already actively settled in Zimbabwe. There is a whole Chinatown, Chinese shops. The inhabitants of the Celestial Empire have built a new modern airport in Harare, master the extraction of gold and other minerals. Our Belarusian neighbors are already trading tractors and other equipment in Zimbabwe with might and main. There are also Russian businessmen in the republic, but not as many as we would like. And they, too, look forward to the strengthening of the Russian business sector in Zimbabwe.
Russian businessmen were in high demand among Zimbabwean journalists.
Photo: Dina KARPITSKAYA
Of course, the issue of finance and opening bank accounts for Russian companies was also discussed in light of the increasing pressure of sanctions.
— There are a number of large banks that have expressed their desire to be here. We have negotiated with banks in Zimbabwe to open direct correspondent accounts. – Says the assistant to the honorary consul, an employee of one of the largest banks in Russia, Denis Tukmakov. — Yes, there is a moment in the state of the Zimbabwean economy. The local dollar is under strong inflationary pressure. But the official currency in Zimbabwe is the dollar, the South African rents and the boatswain. So you can pay in other currencies.
– In a word, do you see prospects here?
– Yeah! Very good. There is interest in establishing interbank relations between our countries. We spoke with representatives of government departments, they noted that Russia is under sanctions, Zimbabwe is under sanctions, so we have a lot in common in this regard.
Harare is a bustling and vibrant African city. Very original. And Russians are expected here, everyone talks about it both on the streets and in high office. A memorandum was signed at the end of the weekly conference. Now the document will fall on the table of the Russian Foreign Ministry and will go to the Zimbabwean president for signature. Everyone really hopes that in the very near future the doors of the African market will open for Russian business.