James Moore: Let's hope Bob Diamond does not empower Robert Mugabe

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The Independent Online

Outlook This one has to be filed under the heading "you couldn't make it up". Bob Diamond's Africa-focused investment vehicle, Atlas Mara, has done a deal involving a country run by another Bob. A Bob who is even more controversial and divisive than Mr Diamond. His surname is Mugabe and he runs one of Africa's least pleasant regimes in Zimbabwe.

An investment in that country by any Western company (Atlas Mara is listed in London) would be controversial. But it seems Mr Diamond just can't help himself.

Now in the interests of fairness it should be stated here that the African banking business Atlas Mara is buying – ABC – is about more than Zimbabwe. It has interests in Botswana, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia, all of which are, along with Zimbabwe, part of the 15-member Southern African Development Community.

While its members have lots of challenges, their growth figures are respectable enough and they could get higher still if the continent was able to capitalise on its growing momentum.

Their cause would be greatly helped if Zimbabwe were to come even close to living up to its potential. Sadly, that probably isn't going to happen while Mugabe clings to power. His regime makes a big noise about economic empowerment, and indigenisation of the businesses that operate there. In practice, what this means is empowering the interests of Mr Mugabe and his mates.

Atlas Mara had better hope they don't conclude that those interests would be served by indigenising the Zimbabwean part of ABC. It accounts for 30 per cent of the assets and if it wanted to, the regime could grab it as easily as… well, you know the rest.