AFRICAN Development Bank (AfDB) president Akinwumi Adesina says clearing Zimbabwe’s ballooning arrears to multilateral funders is critical to rescuing 40% of the population living in extreme poverty.
Adesina said the new roadmap to arrears clearance, for which he has been appointed champion, is meant to create new hope for suffering Zimbabweans.
He likened Zimbabwe’s US$13 billion debt crisis to a “backpack of sand”.
“You cannot run up the hill with a backpack of sand. So, Zimbabwe cannot run up the hill of economic recovery with a backpack of sand. That backpack is heavy,” Adesina said.
Adesina added that he believed it was time to reinvigorate and re-dynamise the economy because it is critical for the Southern African Development Community.
Asked on timelines, he said: “For everything under the sun, there is a time and a season, so we will get there.”
Zimbabwe is in the throes of economic decline, with millions facing hunger, as food inflation soars.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), Zimbabwe has been placed among the hunger hotspots, stoking fears that millions could go hungry this year.
This comes after a poor agricultural season which has seen the authorities importing grain from neighbouring countries.
Zimbabwe’s debt has hamstrung the country’s ability to borrow long-term funds for infrastructure and other national projects.
Adesina said Zimbabweans had “suffered” for a long time.
“I believe that Zimbabwe has suffered long enough. You have a beautiful country, and you have 40% of the population living in extreme poverty. We must create a new path so that tomorrow is better than today,” Adesina said.
Zimbabwe recorded annual inflation of around 192% in June, piling added strain on people struggling with shortages of basic items in the shops.
Soaring inflation has evoked memories of economic chaos under former leader Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
“We as a bank do not just want to see a healthy and prosperous Zimbabwe but we also want to see better lives. We have no choice but to make sure that this is a success,” Adesina said.
Adesina said he was optimistic about talks with Zimbabwe to solve its debt crisis as he begins engagement with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Paris Club
In March, the IMF noted that Zimbabwe had come up with a debt resolution strategy and started token payments to creditors to re-engage. But it said stakeholders also wanted to see political and economic reforms.
Zimbabwe’s overseas creditors include the World Bank, AfDB, European Investment Bank and other multilateral and bilateral lenders.
Zimbabwe is the only regional member country of AfDB currently under sanctions from the bank and other multilateral financial institutions because of debt arrears amounting to over US$2.6 billion.
During his Harare visit, Adesina met President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube and representatives of G7 countries.
Discussions focused on potential areas of technical assistance that the AfDB will provide to the Zimbabwean government in its quest to clear arrears.
Adesina accepted a request in February by the Zimbabwean government to serve as the country’s arrears clearance and debt resolution champion among international financial institutions and bilateral creditors.