This article was first published in the January 2018 Africa edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

As Zimbabwe emerges from 37 years of repressive rule under Robert Mugabe, I find myself reflecting on the suffering that was inflicted during those years and how Zim might be able to bounce back.

Zimbabweans value intelligence and education. Despite all the terrible acts and economic mismanagement that occurred during Mugabe’s long time in office, he did invest in education – more than any other African leader in the region at the time. Indeed, he was seen as progressive, so much so that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II (an honour that was however revoked later in his tenure when white farmers were evicted from their land).

Since the late 1990s, many successful scientists, researchers, academics and entrepreneurs, as well as qualified professionals (ACCA members among them), left Zimbabwe to live and work in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana, and further afield. Many of these Zimbabweans have been lying in wait for the opportunity to return and could quickly bring their valuable skills and efforts back to help rebuild the Zimbabwean economy now that Mugabe’s dark shadow has been lifted.

Mugabe, who was prime minister from 1980 to 1987 and president from 1987 to 2017, was in denial about the effects of his policies and actions on greater Zimbabwe. He is famously quoted as saying, ‘Our economy is a hundred times better than the average African economy. Outside South Africa, what country is [as good as] Zimbabwe? ... What is lacking now are goods on the shelves – that is all.’

At first sight, the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, appears to have a more business-like outlook. One of his earliest acts after being sworn in was to offer a three-month moratorium to the end of February 2018 ‘to return illegally externalised funds and assets in order to avoid the pain and ignominy of being visited by the long arm of the law’.

As AB went to press, the situation in Zimbabwe was still rapidly evolving. The two major global foreign players that operate on the continent – China and the US – are likely to play a key role in what develops, and the rest of the global community will also play a part. Zimbabwe has a massive national debt, thought to run close to US$10bn currently. Mugabe inherited an original US$700m public debt from pre-independence Rhodesia, but ran up much more throughout his reign; some feel he was encouraged in this by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which once praised Mugabe for his ‘persistence and determination’ in implementing the structural adjustment reforms the bank advocated.

Another potential problem is that the new president is presently the subject of US sanctions, imposed earlier while he was a key part of Mugabe’s regime.

How these delicate matters are handled will determine the future of Zimbabwe. I firmly hope that the next government will have the pragmatism to do the right thing by its people and that its people have the resilience to rebuild the country’s economy.

Alnoor Amlani FCCA is an independent consultant based in East Africa