ZIMBABWE is on an economic recovery trajectory and President Mnangagwa has been reiterating that Zimbabwe is open for business. A California, United States of America-based Information Communication Technology expert and blogger who also runs his own website, Peter Sterba (PS), recently visited Zimbabwe for the first time to have first-hand experience on the country. While many negative stories about the Southern African nation have been published by the global Press, Sterba was pleasantly surprised by what he experienced in Zimbabwe.
Our News Editor, Cletus Mushanawani (CM), recently caught up with the photojournalist via email. Below is the interview.
CM: You have travelled to so many places around the globe, how do you rate Zimbabwe as a safe tourist destination?
PS: I had a really good experience and never encountered any incident that threatened my safety during my stay in Zimbabwe. I walked down dark streets alone late at night.
As a tall man, I am easily spotted, but no one ever threatened my safety. Compared to other places I have been to, Zimbabwe was definitely safe for me. At times I felt a bit awkward walking around, being the only tall white guy around, one that everyone couldn’t help but look at, but l felt safe.
CM: The media, especially some Western publications, have been awash with stories of imagined turmoil in Zimbabwe. During your stay in the country, how did you see the prevailing situation as well as the locals’ view of foreigners?
PS: The situation in Zimbabwe is different from what I had anticipated. I expected demonstrations from angry masses, but there was nothing of that sort. Everyone seemed to be dealing with situations in a civilised manner. By situation I mean the relation of local income levels to costs of food, gas (fuel) and other daily life necessities.
However, if you convert the prices to dollars, things are not so bad. But food seems super expensive. But I noticed that there is a huge pricing divide between food that is locally produced and anything imported. At one time I bought two servings of salads for lunch, the fruit salad was four times the cost of the vegetable salad. I was later told that some of the fruits had been imports, hence the price difference. Otherwise everyone was so polite, inviting and friendly.
CM: As a developing country, how is Zimbabwe doing?
PS: As far as Africa goes, I have only been to Zimbabwe, Kenya and Rwanda. Rwanda was a huge positive shock for me. They are so determined and focused to improve and rise as a country. They have set themselves goals which they are determined to reach. I was told they sent delegations to Singapore and Switzerland to study how these countries have developed to their current levels. They used that information back home to change their economic fortunes. Of all my travels, I think I was impressed with Rwanda and its potential the most. Kenya seems to be on the right path as well, maybe not to the level of Rwanda, but they seem to be going in the right direction.
I think Zimbabwe is an up-and-coming nation. Whatever corruption that was there before is slowly being dealt with. In my humble opinion, l think things are looking up. I urge Zimbabweans to take a leaf from what Rwandese are doing and try to emulate it. The country needs to promote high-tech fields and create Government subsidies for the high-tech start-up hubs. The amazing thing about becoming a tech-based nation is that you will instantly be able to participate in world economies and draw income with very little help from overseas. It is absolutely important to have farming and other types of exporting businesses.
CM: What opportunities can Zimbabwe capitalise on to improve its image to the outside world?
PS: Since the country is developing, this is the time to set a new direction, aim high and stick with it.
CM: After touring some of the infrastructure in Zimbabwe, like Eastgate Mall in Harare, which is a self-cooling structure, can you say Zimbabwe is on the right growth path?
PS: I heard about the Eastgate structure before I came there. I visited the mall a couple of times and l was impressed. I will come back and study the structure in detail. From my understanding, it is the first self-cooling eco-mall in the world. It should be improved and replicated elsewhere. This could be a great way for Zimbabwe to shine. Government should encourage the construction of such structures across the country, especially in the Eastern Highlands.
This will create local expertise on the subject, which can then be exported to other countries. At the same time, this will release pressure on the local power grid through the elimination of air conditioning, which will be a win-win situation.
CM: Britain is working on pulling out of the European Union. What could be the benefits for Zimbabwe considering that the country is under European Union sanctions? What is your view on European Union as a block, is it still relevant considering the changing world order?
PS: First, let me say, I am not a fan of the EU. There is so much unnecessary regulation blindly applied to all the member states with disregard to each country’s differences and uniqueness. I see it as sterilisation of the continent in that regard. Additionally, individual EU countries with vastly different economies have lost the ability to correct or adjust their economies by fluctuating their currencies. For example, Greece cannot inflate its currency to create more jobs for themselves. Everyone shares the Euro. All the countries have different healthcare systems, different retirement ages, etc, yet they are all tied to the Euro. It is like having two people with different personalities wearing the same belt and having to do everything together. The greatest beneficiary, as far as I see it, is Germany. But I think the UK will most likely do more business with Zimbabwe — being independent of the EU, but time will tell. Keep in mind that I am not an economist, I just happen to read a lot on the subject.
CM: In terms of accessing money or using the Visa card, how easy was that for you?
PS: I had no problem using my Visa card. I did not even notify my bank of my travel to Zimbabwe, the card worked just fine. When in Zimbabwe, there is no need to exchange foreign currency or carry money everywhere. It is very convenient. But at one restaurant, I was annoyed because they had no prices posted anywhere. The employees did not know the prices and every single item I asked about had to be run through the cash register before they could tell me its cost. Their explanation was that prices change and that it would be too costly to keep updating the menu. But why not just print one sheet of paper with the prices and put it on the counter next to the menu?