Investor optimism following the 2017 fall of President Robert Mugabe has dissipated as the Mnangagwa government has been slow to follow through on its promise of reforms to improve the business environment. The economy suffered hyperinflation and contracted sharply in 2019, worsened by climate shocks that crippled agriculture and electricity generation. Unsustainable monetary policy has led to a protracted currency crisis, which continues to strain the economy. The Zimbabwe dollar, introduced in February 2019, has already lost approximately 98 percent of its value on the black market. Failure to implement monetary reforms to complement finance ministry efforts to rein in the budget deficit undermined public confidence in the financial sector. The government adopted a stabilization and reform agenda supported by an IMF Staff-Monitored Program (SMP), but by February 2020 the IMF reported the SMP had gone off-track due to government failures to fully implement reforms. Zimbabwe remains in arrears to the World Bank and other multilateral and bilateral creditors, restricting many forms of multilateral assistance. Although the government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to improve transparency, streamline business regulations, and address corruption, the last two years have brought limited progress.
Zimbabwe has attracted less than USD 600 million a year on average in foreign direct investment over the past decade. Zimbabwe’s incentives to attract FDI include tax breaks for new investment by foreign and domestic companies and making capital expenditures on new factories, machinery, and improvements fully tax deductible. The government waives import taxes and surtaxes on capital equipment. The government has made slow progress at improving the business environment by reducing regulatory costs but policy inconsistency, weak institutions, and lack of fiscal discipline have continued to frustrate businesses. Corruption remains rife and there is little protection of property rights, particularly with respect to agricultural land. Historically, the government has committed to protect property rights but has, at times, resorted to expropriating land without compensation.
In 2016, Zimbabwe introduced a surrogate currency (commonly called the “bond note” or Zimbabwe dollar), officially pegged to the U.S. dollar, used only for domestic transactions. Money printing caused the local currency to lose value, and in February 2019, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) de-linked the local currency from the U.S. dollar and has not yet implemented a market-clearing exchange rate regime. As a result, it remains difficult to access dollars at the official exchange rate. This has given rise to an unstable black market for U.S. dollars with the price of dollars sometimes double the official exchange rate. The government banned the use of foreign currencies for domestic transactions in June 2019, further complicating the business environment, but introduced some exceptions for investors and further relaxed rules in March 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Year-on-year inflation jumped from 10.6 percent in 2018 to 676 percent by March 2020, reflecting monetary expansion, currency depreciation, and the removal of subsidies on fuel and electricity.
Zimbabwe’s arrears in payments to international financial institutions and its high external debt (public and private) of over USD 10.7 billion limit the country’s ability to access official development assistance at concessional rates. Additionally, domestic banks do not offer financing for periods longer than two years, with most financing limited to 180 days or less. The sectors that attract the most investor interest include agriculture (tobacco, in particular), mining, energy, and tourism. Zimbabwe has a well-earned reputation for the high education levels of its workers.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
In order to attract greater FDI and improve the country’s competitiveness, the government has encouraged public-private partnerships and emphasized the need to improve the investment climate by lowering the cost of doing business and restoring the rule of law and sanctity of contracts. Implementation, however, has been limited.
Zimbabwe’s Indigenization and Economic Empowerment law limits the amount of shares owned by foreigners in the diamonds and platinum sectors to 49 percent with specific indigenous organizations owning the remaining 51 percent. The government has signaled it intends to remove these restrictions. There are also smaller sectors “reserved” for Zimbabweans.
The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) promotes and facilitates both foreign direct investment and local investment. ZIA facilitates and processes investment applications for approval. ZIA’s website is http://www.investzim.com/. The country encourages companies to register with ZIA and the process currently takes approximately 90 days. The government has formed a more powerful, but not yet fully functional streamlined entity (a “one-stop shop”) – the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority (ZIDA).
While the government has committed to prioritizing investment retention, there are still no mechanisms or formal structures to maintain ongoing dialogue with investors.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
While there is a right for foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity, foreign ownership of businesses in the diamond and platinum sectors is limited to 49 percent (or less in certain reserved sectors), as outlined above.
In 2007, the government passed the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act, which required that “indigenous Zimbabweans” (i.e. black Zimbabweans) own at least 51 percent of all enterprises valued over USD 500,000. A March 2018 amendment to the law limits these restrictions to the diamond and platinum sectors. The government has promised to repeal the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act by removing diamonds and platinum from the reserved list. According to the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, shareholding on platinum and diamonds will be based on open negotiations between the government and interested investors.
Foreign investors are free to invest in the vast majority of non-resource sectors without any restrictions as the government aims to bring in new technologies, generate employment, and value-added manufacturing. The government reserves certain sectors for Zimbabweans such as passenger buses, taxis and car hire services, employment agencies, grain milling, bakeries, advertising, dairy processing, and estate agencies.
The country screens FDI through the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) in liaison with relevant line ministries to confirm compliance with the country’s investment regulations. Once an investor meets the criteria, ZIA issues the company or entity with an investment certificate.
According to the country’s laws, U.S. investors are not especially disadvantaged or singled out by any of the ownership or control mechanisms relative to other foreign investors. In its investment guidelines, the government states its commitment to non-discrimination between foreign and domestic investors and among foreign investors.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In the past three years, the government has not conducted an investment policy review through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Policy inconsistency, administrative delays and costs, and corruption hinder business facilitation. Zimbabwe does not have a fully online business registration process, though one can begin the process and conduct a name search online via the ZimConnect web portal. In February 2020, the government passed legislation creating the Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency (ZIDA) to act as a one-stop investment center (and to replace the still-operational Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA)). The ZIDA, which is still not fully functional, will house several agencies that play a role in the licensing, establishment, and implementation of investment projects including the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), Environmental Management Agency (EMA), Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), National Social Security Authority (NSSA), Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA), Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the State Enterprises Restructuring Agency, and specialized investment units within relevant line ministries.
The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) facilitates both foreign direct investment and local investment. ZIA’s website is http://www.investzim.com/. According to the World Bank, business registration requires nine distinct processes and takes an average of 27 days.
Zimbabwe does not promote or incentivize outward investment due to the country’s tight foreign exchange reserves. Although the government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, any outward investment requires approval by exchange control authorities. Firms interested in outward investment would face difficulty accessing the limited foreign currency at the more favorable official exchange rate.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Zimbabwe has negotiated investment treaties with 33 countries, but it has ratified only ten including those with the Netherlands, Denmark, China, Germany, Russia, South Africa, and Switzerland. Two other investment agreements with India and Iran are awaiting ratification before they go into effect. In spite of these agreements, the government has failed to protect investments undertaken by nationals from these countries, particularly with regard to land. In 2009, for example, an army officer seized a farm belonging to a German national, but the government did not intervene, despite its assurance that Zimbabwe would honor all obligations and commitments to international investors. Some claimants protected by investment treaties have pursued arbitration through the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. For example, in 2015, a different Swiss-German family won a landmark USD 196 million judgment at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in compensation for expropriated land but has received only partial payment.
The United States does not have a bilateral taxation and/or investment treaty with Zimbabwe. The United States has a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), of which Zimbabwe is a member. This TIFA provides a mechanism to discuss disputes, although the protection offered by the TIFA is much more limited than protection typically provided by a bilateral investment treaty.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government officially encourages competition within the private sector and seeks to improve the ease of doing business, but the bureaucracy within regulatory agencies still lacks transparency, and corruption is prevalent. Investors have complained of policy inconsistency and unpredictability.
The government has introduced import taxes to protect certain inefficient producers who lobby for protection against more competitive imports. In late 2012, the finance ministry announced a 25 percent surtax on selected imported products including soaps, meat products, beverages, dairy products, and cooking oil as well as other import taxes on beer, cigarettes, and chickens brought in from outside the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (COMESA) regions. In 2016, the government banned the importation of a number of products manufactured locally, but in October 2018, the government removed many import license requirements to prevent shortages of basic commodities.
The government at times uses statutory instruments and temporary presidential powers to alter legislation impacting economic policy. These powers have limited duration – the government must pass legislation within six months for the presidential powers to become permanent. These sudden measures often surprise businesses and lack implementation details, leading firms to delay major business decisions until gaining clarity. For example, a statutory instrument established the sudden prohibition on the use of foreign currency in June 2019, eliminating with no legislative discussion and no warning the decade-old policy of dollarization. The standard legislative process, on the other hand, does provide ample opportunity for public review and comment before final passage. The development of regulations follows a standard process and includes a period for public review and comment.
According to the Department of State’s 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report, public budget documents do not provide a full picture of government expenditures, and there is a notable lack of transparency regarding state-owned enterprises and the extraction of natural resources. The information on public finances is generally unreliable, as actual revenue and expenditure have deviated significantly from the enacted budgets. Information on some debt obligations is publicly available, but not information on contingent debt.
International Regulatory Considerations
Zimbabwe is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and it is signatory to the SADC and COMESA trade protocols establishing free trade areas (FTA) with the aim of growing into a customs union. Zimbabwe is also a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which aims to create a single continental market, paving the way for the establishment of a customs union. Although the country is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it normally notifies only SADC and COMESA of measures it intends to implement.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
According to Zimbabwe’s law and constitution, Zimbabwe has an independent judicial system whose decisions are binding on the other branches of government. The country has written commercial law and, in 2019, established four commercial courts at the magistrate level. The government also trained 55 magistrates in the same year. Administration of justice in commercial cases that do not touch on political interests is still generally impartial, but for politicized cases government interference in the court system has hindered the delivery of impartial justice. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
As noted above, in 2007, the government introduced the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act requiring that “indigenous Zimbabweans” (black Zimbabweans) own at least 51 percent of all enterprises valued over USD 500,000, but now amended to apply only to the diamond and platinum sectors. In certain sectors, such as primary agriculture, transport services, and retail and wholesale trade including distribution, foreign investors may not own more than 35 percent equity.
The Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) promotes and facilitates both foreign direct investment and local investment. ZIA facilitates and processes investment applications for approval. ZIA’s website is http://www.investzim.com/. The government passed legislation to create a more powerful, streamlined entity (a “one-stop shop”) – the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority (ZIDA) in February 2020, but the agency is not yet operational.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The government officially encourages competition within the private sector according to the Zimbabwe Competition Act. The Act provided for the formation of the Tariff and Competition Commission charged with investigating restrictive practices, mergers, and monopolies in the country. The Competition and Tariff Commission (CTC) is an autonomous statutory body established in 2001 with the dual mandate of implementing and enforcing Zimbabwe’s competition policy and law and executing the country’s trade tariffs policy.
Expropriation and Compensation
In 2000, the government began to seize privately-owned agricultural land and transfer ownership to government officials and other regime supporters. In April of that year, the government amended the constitution to grant the state’s right to assert eminent domain, with compensation limited to the improvements made on the land. In September 2005, the government amended the constitution again to transfer ownership of all expropriated land to the government. Since the passage of this amendment, top government officials, supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, and members of the security forces have continued to disrupt production on commercial farms, including those owned by foreign investors and those covered by bilateral investment agreements. Similarly, government officials have sought to impose politically connected individuals as indigenous partners on privately and foreign-owned wildlife conservancies.
In 2006, the government began to issue 99-year leases for land seized from commercial farmers, retaining the right to withdraw the lease at any time for any reason. These leases, however, are not readily transferable, and banks do not accept them as collateral for borrowing and investment purposes. The government continues to seize commercial farms without compensating titleholders, who have no recourse to the courts. The seizures continue to raise serious questions about respect for property rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
In 2017, the government announced its intention to compensate farmers who lost their land and made partial payments to the most vulnerable claimants. Negotiations between the government and farmers’ groups are ongoing.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Zimbabwe acceded to the 1965 Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States and to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1994. However, the government does not always accept binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The government is signatory to a number of bilateral investment agreements with a number of countries (see above) in which international arbitration of investment disputes is recognized. As noted above, Zimbabwe does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with an investment chapter with the United States.
Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but there is a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors. For example, senior politicians declined to support enforcement of a 2008 SADC Tribunal decision ordering Zimbabwe to return expropriated commercial farms to the original owners. Once an investor has exhausted the administrative and judicial remedies available locally, the government of Zimbabwe agrees, in theory, to submit matters for settlement by arbitration according to the rules and procedures promulgated by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). However, this has not occurred in practice.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Domestic legislation on arbitration is modeled after the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) model law, with minor modifications. This law covers both domestic and international arbitration. As noted above, local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government, but there is a history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.
In the event of insolvency or bankruptcy, Zimbabwe applies the Insolvency Act. All creditors have equal rights against an insolvent estate. In terms of resolving insolvency, Zimbabwe ranks 142 out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report. Zimbabwe does not criminalize bankruptcy unless it is the result of fraud, but the government blacklists a person declared bankrupt from undertaking any new business.
4. Industrial Policies
Government incentives to foreign investors depend on the form of investment, the sectors, and whether or not the GOZ awards it national project status. For investment in industrial parks and tourism development zones, investors are exempt from paying tax for the first five years, after which they will pay tax at the rate of 25 percent (the normal tax rate is 35 percent). For build, own, operate, and transfer (BOOT) and build, operate, and transfer (BOT) joint ventures, investors are exempt from paying taxes for the first five years after which they will pay tax at the rate of 15 percent. Investors in the mining sector who export 50 percent of output benefit from a reduced corporation tax of 20 percent and are exempt from import duties on capital goods while losses are carried forward indefinitely for mining operations. Moreover, the government generally allows for duty exemptions in the importation of raw materials used in the manufacture of goods for export. In addition to these incentives, investments with national project status such as those in the renewable energy sector are allowed to borrow on local capital markets where lenders enjoy incentives including tax exemption on interest.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Zimbabwe now has approximately 183 companies operating in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Benefits include a five-year tax holiday, duty-free importation of raw materials and capital equipment for use in the EPZ, and no tax liability from capital gains arising from the sale of property forming part of the investment in EPZs. The government generally requires that foreign capital comprise a majority of the investment in an EPZ-designated company and requires the company to export at least 80 percent of output. The latter requirement has constrained foreign investment in the zones. The Zimbabwe Investment Authority currently regulates EPZs but will eventually be replaced by the Zimbabwe Investment Development Authority, Zimbabwe has recently passed amendments to the Zimbabwe Investment Authority Act to include Special Economic Zones. However, to date, activity in special economic zones has been limited in spite of the incentives.
Although there are no discriminatory import or export policies affecting foreign firms, the government’s approval criteria heavily favor export-oriented projects. Import duties and related taxes range as high as 110 percent.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The government mandates local employment except for specialized skills that are in short supply locally. The government encourages foreign investors to make maximum use of Zimbabwean management and technical personnel, and any investment proposal that involves the employment of foreigners must present a strong case in order to obtain work and residence permits. Normally, the maximum contract period for a foreigner is three years but with possible extension to five years for individuals with highly specialized skills.
There are no general performance requirements for businesses located outside Export Processing and Special Economic Zones. Government policy, however, encourages investment in enterprises that contribute to rural development, job creation, exports, the addition of domestic value to primary products, use of local materials, and the transfer of appropriate technologies.
Government participation is required for new investments in strategic industries such as energy, public water provision, and railways. The terms of government participation are determined on a case-by-case basis during license approval. The few foreign investors (for example, from China, Russia, and Iran) in reserved strategic industries have either purchased existing companies or have supplied equipment and spares on credit.
While foreign investors are not currently forced to use domestic content in production, the government is in the process of developing a local content policy designed to encourage the use of local inputs in production.
The government does not require foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance. Only banks are required to maintain all their data in the country through the escrow agreement.
The new government investment guidelines do not permit mandatory and/or arbitrary performance requirements that distort or limit the expansion of trade and investment.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The government enforces property rights in residential and commercial properties in cities although this is not the case with agricultural land, as discussed above. Mortgages and liens do exist for urban properties although liquidity constraints have led to a fall in the number of mortgage loans. According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, Zimbabwe is ranked 109 out of 190 countries in terms of registering property. The recording of mortgages is generally reliable. With regard to agricultural land, the government provides and protects the usage rights of indigenous people, i.e., black Zimbabweans. The government retains ownership of all agricultural land with 99-year leases guaranteeing use. These leases remain too weak to serve as collateral.
Intellectual Property Rights
Zimbabwe follows international patent and trademark conventions, and it is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Generally, the government seeks to honor intellectual property ownership and rights, although a lack of expertise and manpower as well as corruption limit its ability to enforce these obligations. Pirating of videos, music, and computer software is common.
It does not appear that the government enacted new IP related laws or regulations over the past year. The country does not publish information on the seizures of counterfeit goods.
Zimbabwe is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.
For additional information about national laws, treaty obligations, and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at: https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Zimbabwe’s stock market currently has 56 publicly listed companies, but just 12 of them account for about 71 percent of total market capitalization, which stood at USD 2.5 billion on April 24, 2020. Stock and money markets are open to foreign portfolio investment. Foreign investors can take up to a maximum of 49 percent of any locally listed company with any single investor limited to a maximum of 15 percent of the outstanding shares. With regard to the money market, foreign investors may buy up to 100 percent of the primary issues of bonds and stocks and there is no limit on the level of individual participation. However, foreign investors have low appetite for such instruments given the prevailing harsh economic environment.
There is a 1.48 percent withholding tax on the sale of marketable securities, while the tax on purchasing stands at 1.73 percent. Totaling 3.21 percent, the rates are comparable with the average of 3.5 percent for the region. As a way of raising funds for the state, the government mandated that insurance companies and pension funds invest between 25 and 35 percent of their portfolios in prescribed government bonds. Zimbabwe’s high inflation has greatly eroded the value of domestic debt instruments and resulted in negative real interest rates on government bonds. Nevertheless, the government has been borrowing from the local market by issuing treasury bills to financial institutions to finance government expenditure.
Money and Banking System
Three major international commercial banks and several regional and domestic banks operate in Zimbabwe, but they have reduced their branch network substantially in line with declining business opportunities. The central bank (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)) believes that the banking sector is generally stable despite a harsh operating environment characterized by high credit risk, high inflation, and foreign exchange and liquidity constraints. Most Zimbabwean correspondent banking relationships are in jeopardy or have already been severed due to international bank efforts to reduce risk (de-risking) connected to the high penalties for non-compliance with prudential anti-money laundering/counter-terrorism finance guidelines in developed countries. As of December 31, 2019, the sector had 19 operating institutions, comprising 13 commercial banks, five building societies, and one savings bank. According to the RBZ, as of December 2019, all operating banking institutions complied with the prescribed minimum core capital requirements. The level of non-performing loans fell from 6.92 percent in December 2018 to 1.75 percent by December 2019 largely reflecting the banks’ low appetite to lend to high risk clients. The RBZ reports that the total loans to deposits ratio fell from 40.7 percent in December 2018 to 36.6 percent as of December 31, 2019.
According to the central bank, the total deposits (including interbank deposits), rose from ZWL 14 billion in December 2018 to ZWL 34.5 billion by December 2019, but fell 84 percent in US dollar terms.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The RBZ retains a portion (which varies by sector) of foreign currency earned by exporters. The levels have changed periodically, but as of May 2020, most exporters retained 80 percent of their foreign currency earnings, with 55 percent for gold producers, 50 percent for all other minerals, and 30 percent for tobacco and cotton farmers.
Weak investment inflows, Zimbabwe’s fiscal and current account deficits, and the RBZ’s inability to defend the official exchange rate have resulted in a shortage of foreign exchange available at the official rate. Consequently, investors cannot freely convert any funds associated with any form of investment into any world currency. Businesses rely on a black market for foreign exchange to make external payments.
In February 2019, after months of tacitly accepting that domestic bank balances officially denominated in U.S. dollars no longer reflected U.S. dollar values, Zimbabwe reintroduced its own domestic currency, the Zimbabwe dollar. In June 2019, the government banned the use of foreign currencies in domestic transactions in favor of the Zimbabwe dollar. The consistent gap between the black market and official exchange rate implies the RBZ has not allowed market forces to determine the official exchange rate, and it is unable to make sufficient interventions to defend the rate. Instead, the RBZ has periodically devalued the Zimbabwe dollar but has never let it fall to a market-clearing rate. In April 2020, the RBZ instituted an official fixed exchange rate of 25:1, while U.S. dollars remained over twice as expensive on the black market.
Foreigners can remit capital appreciation, dividend income, and after-tax profits provided the foreign exchange is available. Firms may find difficulty in accessing foreign exchange at the more favorable official rate.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Zimbabwe does not have a sovereign wealth fund (SWF). The government set aside USD 1 million toward administrative costs related to the setting up of a SWF in its 2016 Budget. Although the government proposed to capitalize the SWF through a charge of up to 25 percent on royalty collections on mineral sales, as well as through a special dividend on the sale of diamond, gas, granite and other minerals, it has not done so.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Zimbabwe has 107 state-owned enterprises (SOEs), defined as companies wholly owned by the state. A list of the SOEs appears here. Many SOEs support vital infrastructure including energy, mining, and agribusiness. Competition within the sectors where SOEs operate tends to be limited. However, the government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) invites private investors to participate in infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships (PPPs). Most SOEs have public function mandates, although in more recent years, they perform hybrid activities of satisfying their public functions while seeking profits. SOEs should have independent boards, but in some instances such as the recent case of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), the government allows the entities to function without boards.
Zimbabwe does not appear to subscribe to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines on corporate governance of SOEs. SOEs are subject to the same taxes and same value added tax rebate policies as private sector companies. SOEs face several challenges that include persistent power outages, mismanagement, lack of maintenance, inadequate investment, a lack of liquidity and access to credit, and debt overhangs. As a result, SOEs have performed poorly. Few SOEs produce publicly available financial data and even fewer provide audited financial data. This has imposed significant costs on the rest of the economy.
Although the government committed itself to privatize most SOEs in the 1990s, it only successfully privatized two parastatals. In 2018, the government announced it would privatize 48 SOEs. So far, it has only targeted five in the telecommunications sector, postal services, and financial sector for immediate reform. The government encourages foreign investors to take advantage of the privatization program to invest in the country, but inter-SOE debts of nearly USD 1 billion pose challenges for privatization plans. According to the government’s investment guidelines, it is still working out the process under which it will dispose its shareholding to the private sector.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Since 2009, awareness of standards for responsible business conduct (RBC) has increased, driven by the private sector through the Standards Association of Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwean government has not taken any measures to encourage RBC and it does not take RBC policies or practices into its procurement decisions.
The private sector developed the National Corporate Governance Code of Zimbabwe (ZimCode), which is a framework designed to guide Zimbabwean companies on RBC. An industrial advocacy group, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, has a standing committee on business ethics and standards that drives ethical conduct within the Zimbabwean private sector. The organization has developed its own charter according to OECD guidelines, highlighting good corporate governance and ethical behavior. Firms that demonstrate corporate social responsibility do not automatically garner favorable treatment from consumers, employees, or the government.
Although the Zimbabwean government has expressed its intention to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) principles to strengthen accountability, good governance, and transparency in the mining sector, it has yet to launch an EITI program. A domestic initiative called the Zimbabwe Mining Revenue Transparency Initiative (ZMRTI) has produced limited results.
Endemic corruption presents a serious challenge to businesses operating in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s scores on governance, transparency and corruption perception indices are well below the regional average. U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to FDI, with many corruption allegations stemming from opaque procurement processes.
While anti-corruption laws exist, enforcement is weak as law enforcement agencies lack political will and resources. As a result, Transparency International ranked Zimbabwe 158 out of 180 countries and territories surveyed in 2019 in regards to perceptions of corruption. In 2005, the government enacted an Anti-Corruption Act that established a government-appointed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC), the structure of which has evolved over time. Following the end of Robert Mugabe’s rule in November 2017, the government pledged to address governance and corruption challenges by appointing a new ZACC chaired by a former High Court Judge and granting it new powers. President Mnangagwa also established a special unit within his office to deal with corruption cases. Despite these developments, the government has a track record of prosecuting individuals selectively, focusing on those who have fallen out of favor with the ruling party and ignoring transgressions by members of the favored elite. Accusations of corruption seldom result in formal charges and convictions. Zimbabwe does not provide any special protections to NGOs investigating corruption in the public sector.
While Zimbabwe does not have laws that guard against conflict of interest with respect to the conduct of private companies, existing rules on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange compel listed companies to disclose, through annual reports, minimum disclosure requirements. Regarding SOEs, the government has specified laws that require managers and directors to declare their financial interests. In 2016, the World Bank report on the extent of conflict of interest regulation index (0-10), put Zimbabwe at 5.
While Zimbabwe signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2004 and ratified the treaty in 2007, it is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
Political parties, labor organizations, and civil society groups sometimes encounter state-sponsored intimidation and repression from government security forces and Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF)-linked activists. Disagreements between and within political parties occasionally resulted in violence targeting political party members. Political tensions and civil unrest persist since the end of Robert Mugabe’s rule in November 2017. On August 1, 2018, the army fired upon people demonstrating against the delay in announcing official presidential election results, killing six. In response to January 2019 demonstrations against rising fuel prices, security forces killed 17, raped 16, injured 100s and arrested 800 people over the course of several weeks. The crackdown targeted members of the opposition political party, civil society groups, and labor leaders. Political uncertainty remains high. Violent crime, such as assault, smash and grabs, and home invasion, is common. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. Incidents of violence have typically not targeted investment projects.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Decades of political and economic crises have led to the emigration of many of Zimbabwe’s skilled and well-educated citizens. Formal sector employment has fallen significantly. Anecdotal evidence shows widespread youth unemployment as the country continues to produce graduates without a matching growth in employment opportunities. As a result, most end up joining the informal sector estimated at over 90 percent of the workforce. The government strongly encourages foreign investors to make maximum use of Zimbabwean management and technical personnel.
The country’s labor laws make it very difficult for employers to adjust employment in response to an economic downturn except in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where labor laws do not apply. Outside the SEZs, the employer must engage the employees and their representatives and agree to adopt measures to avoid retrenchment. If the measures fail, the employer can retrench and pay an all-inclusive package of one-month salary for each two years of service or the pro rata share thereof. Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and severance with the former falling under retrenchment where the retrenchment law must apply. The law does not accept unfair dismissal or layoffs of employees. The 2015 amendments to the act only permit terminations of contracts to be in terms of a registered code of conduct, expiry of a contract of fixed term duration, or mutual agreement. There is no unemployment insurance or other safety net programs for workers laid off for economic reasons.
Employers in all sectors rely heavily on temporary or contract workers to avoid having to pay severance costs and follow other onerous termination procedures. The Labor Amendment Act of 2015, however, now requires employment councils to put a limit on the number of times employers can renew short-term contracts. The government does not waive labor laws in order to attract or retain investment, except in the case of SEZs.
Labor unions affiliated with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) are independent of the government. Those affiliated with the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) and the Zimbabwe Industrial Revolution Workers Federation support the government. Collective bargaining takes place through a National Employment Council (NEC) in each industry, comprising representatives from labor, business, and government. The agreements apply to the entire sector regardless of whether all employees are members to the council or not, except for managerial employees.
The country has a labor dispute resolution process that starts at the company level through disciplinary or grievance committees. If the issue is not resolved at this level, the aggrieved party can appeal to either the employment council or the Labor Court depending on the industrial agreement. Other redress is through the Ministry of Public Service Labor and Social Welfare in which labor officers settle disputes for industries without employment councils. From the Labor Court, an aggrieved party can appeal to the Supreme Court. Labor inspections are minimal due to a lack of inspectors.
The government continues to harass labor unions and their leaders. Police and state intelligence services regularly attended and monitored trade union activities and sometimes prevented unions from holding meetings with their members and carrying out organizational activities. Although unions are not required by law to notify police of public gatherings, police require such notification in practice. Those unions engaging in strikes deemed illegal risk fines and imprisonment. The government met some union efforts to demonstrate with violence and excessive force during the period under review.
Labor leaders were among the targets of the government’s violent crackdown of January 2019 demonstrations. In August 2019, when the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) held a demonstration at the finance ministry to protest low teachers’ salaries, the Zimbabwe Republic Police broke up the protest and arrested the ARTUZ president and seven other members, as well as their attorney. When the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) went on strike in September 2019 after failing to reach an agreement on a salary increase with the government, the government responded with a proposed bill to designate medical service providers essential which would prohibit their right to strike. Unidentified assailants believed to be state agents abducted and tortured the head of the ZHDA, who was found five days later with severe injuries.
The government is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified conventions protecting worker rights. The country has been subject to ILO supervisory mechanisms for practices that limit workers’ rights to freely associate, organize, and hold labor union meetings. At the 108th session of the ILO’s International Labor Conference in June 2019, the Committee on the Application of Standards noted concern regarding the government’s failure to implement specific recommendations of the 2010 Commission of Inquiry, which found the government responsible for serious violations of fundamental rights by its security forces, including a clear pattern of intimidation that included arrests, detentions, violence, and torture against union and opposition members. The Committee also noted persisting allegations of violations of the rights of the freedom of assembly of workers’ organizations. The Committee urged the government to accept a direct contacts mission of the ILO to assess progress before the next conference. The government ultimately agreed to accept a direct contacts mission, originally scheduled for May 2020 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The U.S. government and Zimbabwe concluded an OPIC (now DFC) agreement in April 1999, which permits OPIC to conduct transactions in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe acceded to the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in September 1989. Support from the Export-Import Bank of the United States is not available in Zimbabwe. Finance and export promotion programs, as well as investment insurance offered through international financial institutions, remain limited due largely to Zimbabwe’s mounting multilateral and bilateral debt arrears.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source*
USG or international statistical source
USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)