Sanctions are real, hurt business
TAKUNDA Chingonzoh, a 21-year-old student and entrepreneur recently made headlines for grilling US President Barrack Obama over the issue of sanctions that the US imposed on Zimbabwe. Our Senior Political Writer Tichaona Zindoga (TZ) last week caught up with Chingonzoh, who is still in the US for the Young African Leaders Initiative and the young man also expressed dismay over the US’ refusal to invite President Mugabe for the US-Africa Summit held between August 4 and 6.
TZ: You are in Washington for the Yali programme; tell us how you were chosen among many other young Zimbabweans countrywide?
TC: Yali was highly publicised and people were asked to submit an online application which involved writing a short essay and submitting a resume and particulars. From there we got short-listed and we got invited for an in-person interview held at the US Embassy.
From there the selection was in two parts: there were recommendations from the US Embassy and from the team based in Washington. So that is how they selected the 30 Zimbabweans.
TZ: How did you feel when you were among those selected?
TC: I was excited because I was looking at the opportunities I was going to get; the exposure and the things I would be able to learn during the programme.
I was very excited although there were few worries here and there about the work that we were doing back home — how we would continue — and issues about school, but overally I was very excited.
TZ: Talking about that sanctions question you posed to President Obama, did you plan to grill him on the issue as you left Zimbabwe for Washington?
TC: To be honest, we were aware that we would be getting an opportunity to meet a lot of people, some in government and some in the private sector. Even before the Yali summit, there were some questions we were asking and trying to work out and finding solutions to; finding out what exactly was happening and how we as Africans can find solutions and our own work-arounds. So, it was something we were working on — to some extent — because of the nature of the fellowship itself.
TZ: You had the opportunity to interview US President Obama, did you volunteer to be the interviewer in that particular session; what was the process that saw you up being the interviewer?
TC: Again that was a selection we went through and we had interviews over the phone about your ability to speak before large crowds. Basically it was a mini-interview and I got selected and there were quite a number of other people who were interviewed.
TZ: On that sanctions question you posed on President Obama: what was your motivation?
TC: The questions that I asked were original to me. He (Obama) had said I could ask anything I wanted to ask so I thought it was something that a lot of people have been asking — even I had questions at some point — because we want to do business, grow our companies and work on our projects and the like.
TZ: May I ask you to elucidate on what you asked President Obama because some people do not believe that sanctions are not real. How have sanctions affected you as a student and as a business man?
TC: The issue of sanctions has partly been clarified and that is the whole purpose of dialogue on both sides. The sanctions are meant to be targeted.
However, the average Zimbabwean in most cases has been affected by them or fails to do business or fails to engage properly with US based entities. As a person trying to do business through the companies I founded, I found myself failing to, for example, procure equipment from US based companies and failing to engage in business. That’s really where I felt the impact because we wanted to grow our project; we wanted to be successful; we wanted to run a successful business which is the aspiration of most entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe. The inability to do that when it came to failing to engage in business with the people in the US, that’s when it became very real.
TZ: What have been your experiences outside of your business self? Have you assessed the impact of the sanctions on the larger economy, the humanitarian or the social on the larger context?
TC: My experience is pivoted in business because the reason why we are doing business is to try and create some kind of livelihoods to sustain our lives. You may say it is micro level but it cascades into everything else. That is why I believe that’s where the major impact has been. We do business to sustain ourselves; to support families and do everything else.
TZ: So that follows that sanctions are really affecting the country?
TC: I would say sanctions are affecting Zimbabweans who are trying to do business.
TZ: Let’s move to another issue. There was a summit between the US and African leaders. How did you feel about the exclusion of your own President from this summit?
TC: I believe that when you are discussing issues to do with Africans you need all Africans present and when you are discussing something to do with the youth, want to include the youth. So I would like to believe that when you are talking about investments in Africa, it’s supposed to be a continent-wide thing and participatory. So I felt that it was a challenge. The effectiveness of the summit was compromised. It would have been best if all presidents had been there to participate. The reasons why my President was not invited are complicated in their own nature but I think it would have been more effective (if he were invited).
We are talking about regional integration; projects across Africa and to have inter-Africa trade. So to have discussions like that I think it would have been better if my President had been present because we are part of Africa.
TZ: By the way President Mugabe is the Sadc chairperson and the next chairperson of the AU?
TC: So you see! You cannot isolate certain pockets of Africa when you are doing business within Africa. I think it would have been more positive and more progressive if all African Heads of State and Government were present.
TZ: When we were following your story on social media and the like there were some discussions about you being friends with Zanu-PF linked people and some even felt that because you asked that sanctions question you had been sent by the party?
TC: I would like to say this: I believe Zimbabwe is a very democratic country and my political, religious or ethnical affiliations have nothing to do with why I am here. The whole point of this YALI programme was education and for exposure. So I feel people who begin to attach reasons that are not part of what we are doing here and the work I’m trying to do here are failing to do justice to the whole issue. My affiliations and my personal issues . . . have nothing to do with doing business. Questions like that should be taken out of this context and be treated elsewhere.