BILLIONAIRE Nigerian investor Aliko Dangote’s plans for US$1 billion worth of investment in Zimbabwe could go up in smoke after the country’s Immigration Department denied visas to aides he wanted to dispatch into the country to expedite progress, the Financial Gazette can exclusively report.
The decision could be a result of factional fights within President Robert Mugabe’s government, torn by internecine bickering between a faction linked to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and another fighting to thwart any prospects of him succeeding the incumbent in the event that he leaves office.
Mnangagwa is said to be vigorously pushing for Dangote’s investment plans.
In terms of the country’s visa regime, Nigeria is under Group C classification, meaning that citizens of that country must obtain visas first before they enter Zimbabwe.
While the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) has already issued the requisite permits for the Dangote Group to start work, it is critical that the group deploys its best brains on the ground to monitor the various stages of implementation.
Although the Financial Gazette could not immediately get a comment from the Dangote group, an official from ZIA, Farai Sadomba, confirmed the development.
“Yes, Dangote has met with difficulties in acquiring visas from the Immigration Department for his technical team to get into Zimbabwe,” Sadomba said in a terse response to the newspaper’s enquiry.
She declined to give any details.
ZIA is a statutory body created to promote and facilitate both local and foreign direct investment.
It emerged from the amalgamation of the Export Processing Zones Authority and the Zimbabwe Investment Centre as government sought to create a one stop investment shop for quicker and easier facilitation of foreign investment.
When Dangote visited the country last year to explore investment opportunities, he met President Mugabe and promised to pour in over US$1 billion for a power generation plant, a coal mine and a cement manufacturing plant that would cost US$400 million. It would be much bigger than all the plants held under the group’s Dangote Cement.
The three projects were meant to commence early this year but Dangote had clearly indicated that this would depend on the issuance of relevant permits, for which he said government had already promised to “accelerate” all approvals.
But it would appear organs of the same government are throwing spanners in the works.
Immigration principal director, Clemence Masango, demanded questions in writing when asked why they had denied visas to Dangote’s technical team.
But he has not yet responded to questions sent to him on Tuesday.
While this would be shocking, it is not surprising: Ravi Jaipuria, the Indian billionaire planning to set-up a US$30 million bottling plant in Zimbabwe that would create 400 thousand jobs and at least 1 500 others downstream, had to personally seek President Mugabe’s help after his project was held back by bureaucratic bungling.
Jaipuria last week visited the country to finally witness the release of a long-awaited certificate of compliance by the Harare City Council.
Last month, the Financial Gazette reported on disclosures by deputy secretary to the President and Cabinet, Ray Ndhlukula, that Korea-based manufacturing giant, Samsung’s plan to set up a television and refrigeration assembly plant in Zimbabwe nearly collapsed due to corruption and bureaucratic bungling in government.
Ndhlukula told captains of industry that he has sought the intervention of Mnangagwa to save the deal.
Apparently, the country is battling against high unemployment, estimated at nearly 90 percent.
Dangote’s planned projects are expected to create hundreds of jobs and inject desperately-needed cash into the economy, which is struggling with a liquidity crunch that has almost completely ruined the economy.
Dangote’s is estimated to have a fortune amounting to US$17,2 billion by Forbes magazine.
The Nigerian billionaire has interests in manufacturing and power generation.
Dangote Cement has been on a major expansion programme in Africa, with huge investments in Zambia and Cameroon last year alone.
In Zambia, the group commissioned a US$420 million cement manufacturing plant and a 30MW coal-fired plant; it commissioned a US$250 million 1,5 million metric tonnes per annum cement plant in Douala, Cameroon.
The Zambia investment saw cement prices in that country almost halving, and further declines are anticipated.