Billionaire and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, says Zimbabwe must open up to foreign investment by relaxing its stringent visa conditions and improve on the ease of doing business.

Dangote — with a net worth of $17,2 billion according to Forbes Magazine — told Tourism minister Walter Mzembi on Monday that his visit to Zimbabwe was only made possible by the ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“My last call to... Mzembi is that he works at investing in an open airs system so that investors can enter into the country freely,” he said.

Mzembi concurred with Dangote and said there was need for the country to adopt an open-boarders policy aimed at embracing investors from emerging economies such as Angola, Nigeria, Egypt, India and South Africa.

“Nigeria is in category C and its citizens are required to apply for visas in their country before they come here. This means we are keeping at bay more than

17 000 millionaires in Nigeria who are willing to invest here with our visa conditions,” he said.

Information gathered by businessdaily in the past four weeks indicates that while Zimbabwe is reviewing its visa regime, only a few and little-known countries such as French Polynesia and Estonia would be upgraded to category B — which does not require visas — while economic powerhouses such as India and Nigeria are excluded.

Dangote, who met President Robert Mugabe and several government ministers during his visit to Zimbabwe, expressed interest to invest in the country that has been in economic decline for more than a decade.

“We had a very, very good meeting with the president and I told him that we... decided to invest in three areas, one is power, second one is cement and third one is coal,” he said.

“...so we are here and we will invest,” he said.

The Nigerian billionaire, who is likely to spend close to $400 million on the cement plant — to produce a million-and-a-half tonnes of cement a year, making it the biggest in the country — also raised a red flag over Zimbabwe’s ease of doing business environment.

“You know, there are so many permits and whatever, but the government promised to accelerate the process — and as soon as we get things right, we will move,” he said.

Dangote, whose investment group last month opened a cement plant in Ndola, Zambia to add to his other plants in South Africa, Senegal, Ethiopia, Congo Republic, Gabon and Tanzania, could not divulge when his planned investments in Zimbabwe could take off due to the country’s bureaucracy and red-tape.

“The time frame for the investment is dependent on getting all the documentation, for instance the mining licences, but if we get everything this year, we will start construction by the first quarter next year. We will move very fast, but that all depends on the government,” he said.

Dangote’s call comes at a time when Zimbabwe is under pressure to aggressively improve the overall business environment and investment climate to attract meaningful levels of investment.

Zimbabwe is 171 out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s 2014 ease of doing business index, a situation attributed to negative perceptions of the country’s policies such as its land redistribution drive as well as the current crusade to localise control of all foreign-owned enterprises.

Economic analysts have also singled out policy inconsistencies as one of the reasons behind low foreign direct investment inflows into the country.

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