BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE - When Zimbabwean President EmmersonMnangagwa took office in 2017, he signed deals promising billions of dollars in foreign investment to help revive the moribund economy but the funds never materialized.
Now, officials acknowledge the country has major steps to take before investors are willing to sink cash into new projects.
At its peak, the state-owned Cold Storage Company was the biggest African beef exporter to European Union countries. The company no longer stores or produces anything, and its freezers sit empty.
A British investor has expressed interest in taking over the company, but details are sketchy.
ZeliphaMoyo, a 45-year-old mother of two, is hoping the company reopens. If so, she says, she'll apply for cleaning work there.
However, the Bulawayo-based National Youth Development Trust says it has stopped telling young people to expect foreign investors to start businesses in this part of the country.
Instead, says Trust Director Liberty Bhebhe, they are telling youths to start their own businesses.
"For us, it is a matter of trying to get young people to be creative, cause you see, investors also want to see what locals are doing to invest in their own economy," Bhebhe said.
But, Bhebhe admits, a lack of capital stands in the way of many entrepreneurs.
"It is so difficult and expensive to start a business in Zimbabwe. To register a company, you need over $200. To get a tax clearance and get somebody to do your books, you need $300," he said.
Stevenson OkuhleDhlamini, an economist and a senior lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology of Zimbabwe, says investors are also skeptical of Zimbabwe because of its unstable economy, corruption and unfriendly investor laws.
In addition, he says, government must change the "indigenization" law requiring any business in the country to be majority-owned by Zimbabwean blacks.
BusisaMoyo, an industrialist and a member of Mnangagwa's advisory committee, says it will take time to build up investor confidence after former president Robert Mugabe's autocratic regime.
But he insists investors are warming up.
"We are seeing tourist traffic, we have investors who are calling us now," Moyo said. "Yes, they are not making commitments but they are starting to inquire now, whereas before nobody was calling, nobody was asking, nobody was looking at opportunities and we are talking about very large institutions."
He says Zimbabweans now want to see action, in the form of job growth and price stability.
For most Zimbabweans who have suffered through 20 years of a chronically bad economy, that kind of change can't come soon enough.
Source: Voice of America