By Never Kadungure | Nehanda Politics |
In November 2017 when he took over from his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared that Zimbabwe was “Open for Business.” Under pressure to deliver on his promise, the new president made a stunning appointment in March 2021 that blindsided both people in his ruling Zanu PF party and those in the opposition.
Millionaire preacher/businessman Prophet Uebert Angel quietly rolled into Harare from his base in the United Kingdom before spending two weeks undergoing an induction and training programme for diplomats. On the 17th of March, 2021, Zimbabweans woke up to the news that Mnangagwa had appointed Prophet Angel a Presidential Envoy and Ambassador at Large.
His remit would cover Europe, North America, South America and Central America. The appointment took many by surprise. In a politically polarised country like Zimbabwe, reactions differed. Although the constitution provides the president to make such an appointment, this was the first time anyone had ever been appointed “Presidential Envoy and Ambassador at Large.”
The new office has since been branded OPEAL – Office of the Presidential Envoy and Ambassador at Large. There is a fully kitted office at State House and another one reserved for receiving investors.
As reported previously, Angel declined a salary for this particular appointment.
Many analysts reckoned Mnangagwa is hoping to leverage Angel’s international profile to promote the country and attract investors. The preacher also gave generously in terms of his philanthropy last year after forking out an eye-watering USD$ 1 million towards coronavirus food aid to help vulnerable households whose incomes were severely depleted by the lockdown.
In January 2020 the Uebert Angel Foundation paid fees for the entire school for the whole year at Kadyamadare Primary School in the Chikwaka Communal Lands (797 students.) The foundation followed this up by doing the same for 1026 students at Bota Primary School in Masvingo. Angel received praise across the political divide for “walking the talk” during a time of crisis.
Given how notorious bureaucracy tends to be in Africa with investors facing pressure to pay kickbacks and bribes to have projects approved, there is a hope Mnangagwa can clamp down on endemic corruption and put in place checks and balances by allowing someone like Angel to leverage his international contacts while still involving the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (ZIDA), the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and the Ministry of Finance.
In his first interview with the state controlled media, Angel was quizzed on the appointment and explained that “he would hit the ground running” by bringing businesspersons to explore opportunities in the country and that he would “use his connections globally and his entrepreneurial abilities to promote investment in the country.”
“Prophetess (his wife Beverly Angel) runs a banking institution in Britain and our legacy has been to do philanthropy and when God gives you the ability to make a certain amount of money you should not change your standard of living but standard of giving,” he told journalists gathered.
“We are kind of bringing in all our connections in business. The President has shown that he is able to pull from all ecosystems; from all areas of life.
“The biggest problem that we find is that when a person is called Pastor, that is where it ends. People forget that I have two university degrees in finance, one post-graduate degree in education from University of Bolton and a Masters in Entrepreneurship from the University of Edinburgh so I have vast knowledge in business,” Angel said.
Three months after his appointment, Angel came back in the country accompanied by former Queens Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest striker Dexter Blackstock and current Aston Villa midfielder Marvelous Nakamba to State House to see President Mnangagwa. Blackstock immediately announced plans to “build a dedicated cancer hospital” in Zimbabwe.
Blackstock posted a picture of himself with the president on instagram saying; “Extremely honoured to meet His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Cde ED Mnangagwa to finalise our plans to build a dedicated cancer hospital and help improve the pharmaceutical industry.
“Medication will now be manufactured within the country in the iconic area of Victoria Falls. We will be training and employing local staff as part of our vision. #zimbabweisopenforbusiness.”
Blackstock who made 350 appearances for eight different clubs over the course of his 14-year career retired at the relatively young age of 30 to pursue a foray into the world of business.
Nakamba also posted on instagram saying: “I feel honored meeting the President of Zimbabwe, His Excellence Cde, E.D. Mnangagwa. During the meeting I informed his Excellence on how I will be investing in our beloved country through a number of projects that are already lined up.
“I will also continue with the charity work through the Marvelous Nakamba Foundation that has already assisted children with school tuition,” Nakamba added.
The charismatic preacher does not believe his new role affects his calling from God. Having spent the greater part of 2020 distributing food to vulnerable households, he believes now is the time to help his nation prosper by attracting investors to create jobs for millions. In his first 3 months of the appointment he says the response from foreign investors is that of excitement.
Three weeks ago Ambassador Angel came with a group of Ukrainian businessmen who pledged to invest over US$100m in the Agriculture sector.
Another American/Asian team he brought is seeking to help with technology for drug control and also infrastructure with an intended investment of US$200 million.
Without glossing over the challenges the new president faces politically in terms of the reforms being demanded by Western governments in order to lift sanctions, Mnangagwa is trying to make infrastructure development the centrepiece of his strategy.
In May this year Mnangagwa commissioned the completed phase of the Marongora-Hellsgate section of the Makuti-Chirundu road which is part of projects to improve the North-South corridor. The president is also pushing ongoing projects along the Beitbridge-Harare Highway and his Government has set its sights on upgrading the Kazungula-Victoria Falls Highway.
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) officially opening the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament in 2018, Mnangagwa said they had set aside US$2.5 billion “which constitutes 34,5 percent of total capital development, …. for various transport, water, public amenities, energy, irrigation, social services and other infrastructural projects.”
He listed the Hwange 7 and 8 Thermal Power Projects, the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport Expansion, borehole rehabilitation and drilling, and the construction of the new Parliament Building were projects well on course.
“Dam construction projects such as the Marovanyati Dam, Gwai-Shangani Dam, walling of Causeway Dam, among others, are also on schedule,” the President said.
A few days after appointing Angel, the president found himself presiding over the ground breaking ceremony for Angel’s own project, the 6 400-seater Harare Hippodrome and the Beethoven Hotel which will have 40 executive rooms in Harare’s Braeside suburb.
The multi-million dollar project is set to be completed at the end of this year and will see the 6400 seater Harare Hippodrome become the largest conference centre in the country, dwarfing the Rainbow Towers (HICC) Conference Centre in Harare (4500) and Harare City Sports Centre (4000).
Mnangagwa paid tribute to Angel, his wife Beverly and their financial partners for the investment.
“Government will not shy away from harnessing the diverse and unique strengths, competencies and networks of our nationals both at home and in the Diaspora, to achieve the objectives of the National Strategy Development 1 and ultimately Vision 2030,” he said.
“This is indeed a welcome development, which will contribute to the achievement of the objectives outlined in the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy, with regards to tourism infrastructure development.
“Government continues to accelerate the implementation and completion of projects meant to precipitate tourism growth. Key flagships such as the opening of tourism corridors in Matabeleland North, Masvingo and Mashonaland Central provinces, among others, are on course,” he said.
In 2018 the president was on record saying; “The tourism sector remains on an upward growth trajectory, generating about US$1,3 billion in receipts.
“To accelerate this growth trend, robust strategies are being pursued to boost investments in accommodation and conference facilities as well as widen our range of tourism products.”
In a heavily polarised environment like Zimbabwe it remains to be seen how much Angel can achieve from his appointment. His branding prowess is undoubted, Zimbabweans will however wait to see if he can deliver something that will benefit them.
If former footballer Blackstock can deliver on a cancer hospital for example, that will be one feather up his cap.