Sibusiso Moyo outlines how his government and many in Africa believe that Brexit, combined with a recent decision to use the UK aid budget in support of British businesses can enable Great Britain to achieve its stated goal of overtaking the US as the largest G7 investor in Africa

Some ten days before Brexit, in late January 2020, the British Government will play host to African leaders in London ? representing a continent of 1.3 billion people. Their stated aim: to take the UK ? by surpassing the United States – into first place amongst the G7 nations in trade and investment with Africa.

The London summit will be a showcase of British industry and diplomacy, for certain, though the UK is late to the party: China ? the largest FDI investor into Africa ? leads the charge after a 20-year strategy of engagement; America is now playing catch-up with major infrastructure investments in energy and electrification.

Yet two changes make Britain's ambition's possible – and both of them are welcomed by my country of Zimbabwe: firstly, a decision to align UK aid with support for British business and investment to drive economic growth; and secondly, Brexit ? which enables the UK to strike its own, bilateral and mutually beneficial trade deals.

Last year, unnoticed by the media and most politicians, Britain in fact signed a nascent trade deal with Zimbabwe. As part of a wider agreement with Eastern and Southern African states, it amounted to a "rollover" of trading terms between my country and the European Union for the UK, ensuring that ? in the event of Britain's departure under no-deal – our two nations would continue bi-lateral economic relations under present terms.

At the point of signing, there was, of course, still the possibility that Britain would not in fact leave. Indeed, the potential for a second referendum on the UK's "Great Question" seemed to be growing ? at least amongst British parliamentarians. We know now, clearly, decisively and unequivocally – following the voters' decision at the UK's December election – that Britain is exiting this month.

We see, and we hope, that 2020 can be a year of the renewal of older, familial ties between the UK, the Commonwealth, and other countries ? including Zimbabwe.

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Brexit offers great opportunities for Britain to trade more freely, directly, and bi-laterally in the interests of home-grown industries and investors. For Zimbabwe, we seek to reap the benefits of British expertise in finance, agribusiness, mining and energy ? to name but a few ? with the potential for lower barriers to trade and investment to the benefit of both sides. For the UK, access to invigorated Zimbabwean produce and raw materials ? with potentially lower import duties than those currently prescribed for Britain by the European Union can be a mutually beneficial circle.

But just as much as Brexit, a re-alignment of aid to foster trade is something we in Zimbabwe welcome. For a long time, shorn of much if any connection to trade and with trade terms negotiated elsewhere, Britain's aid has been honed across Africa on matters of social affairs. Much of this is right and just. Yet masterclasses in the latest western societal mores are not always the best route to putting food on the table. The way that is done is through job creation.

There is nothing wrong and everything right when a factory in Bolsover and a farm in Bulawayo work together producing materials and products together. If the British contingent is supported by their government through trade credits, diplomatic efforts or a state-backed technical skills programme ? there is only more likelihood of its success. Jobs are made, lives are improved, children schooled, and families can thrive ? at both ends of the supply chain. This becomes an "underwritten" opportunity for both. No-one really wishes for free handouts.

And what Zimbabwe also seeks is friendship. Since the end of the Mugabe years, our new government has battled, with limited resources at our disposal, to enact fundamental reforms to our economy and governance. In the 16 months since our last general election, we have repealed draconian freedom of speech and assembly laws, are opening up our media market to new entrants, and reforming the structures and behaviour of the police service. We have unveiled a once-in-a-generation land reform programme – and begun compensation payments to former farmers – that is now fostering a return, and launched a major anti-corruption drive that has seen arrests of several serving cabinet ministers.

Not all of these changes have gone as smoothly as we may have hoped. Many in the international Twitterati are unimpressed at the speed and depth of the reforms so far, believing – unreasonably ? that everything should be done by now, and to their liking. Frankly, we are changing our country as rapidly, and responsibly, as we can. And we have no intention of stopping until we are done.

Yet were Zimbabwe to have greater economic support – and I stress – through new trading partnerships and technical assistance not old fashioned "charitable" aid, then our task of reform would be proffered a fairer and faster wind. Brexit, aid in support of trade and wider partnerships which can be fostered by Britain ? including Zimbabwe's application for re-admission to the Commonwealth following our self-imposed exit in the early 2000s ? all would benefit the UK as well as Zimbabwe.

Britain and Zimbabwe both have ? in very different ways and circumstances ? their own chance for change. And it is in the spirit of new beginnings that we welcome the new British Government to the office and the opportunities that Brexit brings to both our nations.

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