via Planning for a better Zimbabwe | The Zimbabwean by Ambrose B. Chimbganda 15.10.13
We have the skills, the natural resources and even the weather, so why is Zimbabwe not flourishing like its neighbours?
AMBROSE B. CHIMBGANDA shares his thoughts on how Zimbabwe can move out of the shadow of economic woes.
It is indisputable that our country has not been developing as fast as it should.
As our elders say: when you see the shadow of a dead person cast on the wall, you know there is something wrong that needs to be put right. Now, we can all see the shadow of our country cast on the wall.
In 1957, when Malaysia got its independence, it was then poorer than Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe. But, where is Malaysia now? The Zambian economy was in shambles and the Zambian kwacha the laughing stock of the region, but Zambians have managed to quickly turn round the economy and it is now flourishing. The same can be said about Mozambique.
Unlike some of our neighbours in the region, we do have a highly educated and skilled labour force to use for our development. The mineral resources necessary for an industrial take-off are there: diamonds, gold, platinum, nickel, chrome, iron ore, copper, coal and so on.
The land is there with for commercial growing of tobacco, maize, wheat, rice, cotton, tea, coffee, sugar, fruits, cattle, sheep and chicken. The climate is one of the best in the world.
Blueprint for recovery
So, to resuscitate the economy, we need a marshal plan along the lines of how Germany was rebuilt after the devastation of World War II.
The difference is that our plan should not be drawn up by conquerors, but should be drafted by Zimbabweans of all shades of political opinion.
The manifestos of different political parties can be used as a starting point to find a common ground, but the drawing up of the recovery programme should be guided by the overall national interest rather than be dictated by parochial political interests. The plan should be a blueprint for the reconstruction of the country focusing on the commanding heights of the economy, such as mining, the manufacturing industry, agriculture, tourism, banking, education and transport.
We need to source funds from within and outside the country. For this to happen, we need to inspire confidence in the potential investor, whether local or foreign. And over and above this, we need to have internal reconciliation, peace and tranquility.
For micro investment, in which many of our people are likely to be involved, the licensing process should not take more than a week. Simply put, all that a local investor with money is required to do is to go to an investment centre, fill in the documentation and then, within the same week or so, should be able to get a licence to operate after paying a nominal fee. What the state should do is to facilitate the investment process by giving advice on the areas that urgently require reconstruction.
To encourage investment, people should have confidence in the political system, which means that the party in power should be seen to be catering for all the people irrespective of their political affiliation. Once there is a stable environment, banks will find it easy to give loans to ordinary citizens who want to start up or expand their businesses because they will know that their clients’ businesses are not likely to be burnt down or confiscated by powerful officials.
The success story of our neighbour, Botswana, is based on this model. There is tolerance and all citizens, irrespective of their political affiliation, are treated equally.
As for the land reform programme, it is a bold decision intended to redress the imbalances of the land tenure system, which had been skewed in favour of a small white settler minority. However, for it to succeed, the new landowners should have access to finance so that they can buy farming equipment and inputs.
This means that, instead of having a lease, they need title deeds for use as collateral. Above all, we need fairness in the distribution of land as well as an adherence to law and order so that we can guarantee sustained development. Past images of farmhouses being torched and rampant thuggery in outlying farming communities need to be replaced by solid norms of productive farming.
Money from the diaspora
Because so many sectors of the economy need to be rehabilitated, the marshal plan needs funding from external sources. One of the potential sources is Zimbabweans who live outside the country.
At the moment, the Zimbabwean economy is fuelled by money sent individually by relatives living abroad. The marshal plan can tap into the financial muscle of those in the diaspora by introducing legal instruments that will enable them to put money into local banks for an attractive interest
The plan also needs to lure back our professionals who have left the country. Think about the shortage of medical doctors, technicians and university professors in Zimbabwe – yet, there’s not a single university in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland without a Zimbabwean lecturer with a PhD.
Establishing a recruitment centre and liaising with neighbouring and other countries to get back our professionals is not a difficult task, is it?
Zimbabwe also needs billions of international funding. We need to be part of the wider international community so that we can be reconnected with lucrative global markets.
The new leader of Iran, for example, extended a hand of friendship to the United States and its allies when he made his maiden speech to the UN. His overture of détente is a paragon of skilful diplomacy – establish cordial relations even with your adversaries so that you can achieve your goal without compromising your national interests.
As for Zimbabwe, in as much as we may not like the United States and its allies in the European Union for imposing targeted sanctions on us, we need to engage them so that we can get funding for our national reconstruction. China is a faithful ally, but we need to increase our circle of friends.
We do not necessarily need funds that chain us to the IMF because the danger is that our country is likely to be bled to death through indebtedness. And we know the consequences: we will eventually sacrifice our sovereignty as we continuously go back to the IMF, cap in hand, to ask for more funds to cushion our debt. What we need to do is to explore bilateral investment, with terms that are mutually agreed upon.
One key area that is harming our image as a country, and is likely to affect our ability to get funds for our reconstruction, is our tattered foreign policy. We need a thinktank that can do reconstructive surgery on our foreign policy.
Much of the damage appears to have arisen from our internal policies, which portray the country as lawless, teetering on the verge of anarchy.
To garner support for our reconstruction plan, we need to organise as soon as possible an international investment conference similar to the successful tourism conference held at Victoria Falls. The conference should not just be a talk show or a public relations exercise; we should plan meticulously so that we can come up with an investment portfolio that details the areas for which we need investment, the finance required, the technologies and equipment, expertise, and the skills and the labour needed.
From the general investment portfolio, we can draw up specific investment packages, sector by sector.
To demonstrate our seriousness we need, without further delay, to repeal all vestiges of social repression, to reform the indigenisation policy, which badly dents the image of our country, to review the land reform policy so that agricultural production can be vibrant once more and to renegotiate the current mining royalties that are likely to scare off investors.
If Zimbabwe is to develop and prosper, it will require our courage as an organic unit to remove the shackles that hold us back. We have what it takes to make our country a shining example of human ingenuity. It all depends on our collective will to succeed. No-one will do it for us.