By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK President Robert Mugabe has challenged both the Namibian and Zimbabwean business communities to be more forthright and aggressive in promoting business between the two countries. He said they should take advantage of the existing framework of agreements between the two countries to develop more business. “My government, through the relevant line ministries and institutions, will give you all the support you need,” he promised. Mugabe issued this challenge at what organisers billed a working dinner with the business community at a Windhoek hotel on Wednesday night. He felt one could not over-emphasise the fact that many opportunities for greater cooperation between Zimbabwe and Namibia in both trade and investment remain untapped. Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Bilateral Preferential Trade Agreement signed in 1992 that aims to enhance the competitiveness of both countries’ products in each other’s markets. He was aware that negotiations were currently underway to introduce certain amendments to the trade agreement, aimed at broadening the scope of bilateral trade between Zimbabwe and Namibia. Total trade between Zimbabwe and Namibia has continued to grow over the past five years. It grew by 18,1 percent from US$19,327,847 in 2000 to over US$22 million in 2003. “You will agree with me that these figures can easily be surpassed if only we can develop closer business networks,” he argued. Over the past decade, his government has vigorously pursued economic policies aimed at liberalising the economy and promoting investment. “Major economic reforms have been undertaken with a view to creating an enabling environment conducive to both domestic and foreign investment,” he noted. The working dinner was organised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in cooperation with the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI). The large group of businesspeople attending the dinner included a significant number in Namibia as part of Mugabe’s delegation, under the auspices of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC). Mugabe proved to be an engaging and entertaining speaker who had his audience spellbound throughout his speech. For a man of 83, he possesses exceptional mental sharpness, and the charm and wit he displayed is somewhat at odds with the picture of an ogre people have come to know. He even made a joke at the expense of his old friend and colleague, former Namibian president Dr Sam Nujoma, remarking on Nujoma’s keen interest in geology. “He is very fond of stones. So much so that I didn’t realise that when he left office he would want to study stones himself,” Mugabe affectionately joked.
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