via email by Prof. Ambrose B. Chimbganda Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In this article, I would like to share with you my thoughts on how our country can move out of the shadow of its current economic quagmire. My views are derived from my love for my country, my deep concern for the future of our children, their children and those generations who will live in our posterity.
I am fully aware that the ruling party, ZANU (PF), the MDC (T) and other political formations have manifestos which they put to the people for election and that the people, albeit the disputation of the other losing parties, deposited their faith and trust in ZANU (PF) to lead the country for the next five years. The people, then, have ‘great expectations’ for change, because in the evolutionary scheme of all life, the only institution that does not change is the graveyard.
In the aftermath of the last general elections some critics, such as Eddie Cross in his article in the Zimbabwean of Thursday the 26th of September 2013 entitled “Decision time for ZANU (PF)”, have pointed out that the new cabinet is a tired team that lacks new blood and ideas. In the same article Eddie also claims that the new cabinet has already been found wanting as evidenced by the flight from the equities markets of $1.5 billion and a similar amount from the banking sector.
More worrying is the perceived risk of investing in Zimbabwe as evidenced by the collapse of the deal with ESSAR to take over the Zisco Steel plant in the Midlands and to exploit a new iron ore deposit in the Mwenezi Hills.
In my view, what is even more worrying is the fact that because our society is polarized, there is embedded suspicion and mistrust. Also, there appears to be a crisis in democracy due to the fact that ordinary Zimbabweans can only watch from the margins what is going on but are unable to influence the course of events. The demand for transformation is therefore left to the elite, some of whom have embarked on a crusade to bash ZANU (PF) from left, right and centre, demonizing it as ‘un-repented’, a party that is incapable of bringing about change in our country.
Although some of the criticism may have credence, unfortunately much of it does not offer alternative solutions because we tend to see everything from the vantage point of our partisan interests. As a result, some of the critics have behaved like a medical doctor who is able to diagnose a disease in a patient but is unable to prescribe a cure. The condition of the patient therefore remains the same.
Going by the performance of our economy, it is indisputable that our country has not been developing as fast as it should. Instead, our once prosperous country has been haemorrhaging due to the contraction of the productive sector. In fact other economists have noted that except for a brief period after our independence, the country has remained in a state of incubation since mid sixties.
Like 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 done. Now, we can all see the shadow of our country cast on the wall, can’t we? And the same elders also warn us that a fly that does not take advice, runs the risk of being buried together with the dead body. Indeed our elders’ words are wise enough to make us ponder over the state of our country.
And for us to understand the scale of our economic stagnation, let us make a few relative comparisons. In 1957 when Malaysia got its independence under Tunku Abdel Rahman, it was then poorer than Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe. But, where is Malaysia now?
Of late, the Zambian economy was in shambles and the Zambian kwacha was the laughing stock of the region. But Zambians have managed to quickly turn round the economy and it is now flourishing, with the kwacha being one of the strongest currencies in Africa. The same can be said about Mozambique whose economy had been shattered under Samora Machel but is now booming.
Botswana, which was one of the poorest countries in the world when it got independent in 1966, now has one of the most thriving economies in the world. Our children, day in and day out, flock to the country to look for jobs. Even Tanzania, which was ranked the poorest among the poor in 1961 when it became independent under Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, is now considered to be one of the best places in the world in which retired old people can live in relative comfort.
What is it, then, that we the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who are renowned for their hard working, for being highly educated and for being brave and indefatigable warriors have not been able to do in order to take our country to the highest pinnacle of development?
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, etc. The land is there with different rainfall patterns, which enables the commercial growth of tobacco, maize, wheat, rice, cotton, tea, coffee, sugar, fruits, cattle, sheep and chicken. The climate is one of the best in the world, which is largely temperate with no extremes.
At this stage in our history when the economy has tragically shrunk to a pale shadow of its former self, when 3 – 4 million people have left the country, when our industries, our agriculture, our schools, our hospitals, our rail and road system, our air transport and our civil society are ailing, we need to think beyond the confines of our political comfort zones and adopt robust measures to boost the economy.
In order 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 will not be drawn up by conquerors, like was done by the allied forces led by the Americans who occupied West Germany. The reconstruction plan should be drafted by Zimbabweans of all shades of political opinion. This is a patriotic duty we must all shoulder.
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 being dictated by parochial political interests. The specifics, including how much is needed for the reconstruction process and the modalities for implementation, can be worked out by technocrats and members of the civil society with relevant skills. The plan should provide a blue print for the reconstruction of the country focusing on the commanding heights of the economy, such as mining, the manufacturing industry, agriculture, tourism, banking, education, transport, etc.
Financing of reconstruction
In order to finance the reconstruction programme, 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 required documentation and then within the same week or so should be able to get a license 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.
Many of those economies that are thriving today have been able to do so because their citizens, not just those who are well connected, are allowed to invest in the businesses of their choice without being fettered by unnecessary bureaucracy. This is indigenization proper.
And 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 where there is tolerance and all citizens, irrespective of their political affiliation, are treated equally. The government also uses the ideas of the opposition parties without necessarily admitting that they are doing so.
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 land owners should have access to finance so that they can buy the necessary farming equipment and inputs.
This means that instead of having a lease, there is need to have a title deed so that the new farmer can use it 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 farm houses being torched and rampant brigandage in outlying farming communities need to be replaced by solid norms of productive farming.
It is also necessary to review the “communal land tenure” system so that peasant farmers can move away from the current medieval form of land tenure to a modern system which allows them to have title deeds. This will allow them to own the land and be able to use it as collateral, if they so wish, in order to get bank loans for further development.
The current communal system as well as the patronage system of giving farming inputs to peasant farmers does not inspire long-term economic development and, as everyone knows, is prone to unmitigated corruption and political black-mailing. The irony of it all is that the communal areas, where the majority of our people live and where the current crop of politicians once lived, are now forlorn areas that have degenerated into arid, exhausted lands where the young, weak and old are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Because there are many sectors of the economy that need to be rehabilitated, the marshal plan will need funding from external sources. One of the potential sources is Zimbabweans who live outside the country. Currently the Zimbabwean economy is fuelled by remittances sent individually by relatives living abroad. The marshal plan can tap into the financial muscle of the diasporans by introducing legal instruments that will enable them to remit money into local banks for an attractive interest. But we should be realistic. Seeking money from the diasporans is not enough, they should also be allowed to vote from where they live as long as they can prove that they are Zimbabweans.
The Zimbabwean diasporans, like the Jews who are scattered all over the world and like many Egyptians who work in several other Arab countries, can also be encouraged to invest directly into the economy or to open up pension funds in the country. There are many Zimbabweans that you and I know living outside the country who are multi-millionaires. What good is there for these millionaires to invest in countries which are not their own when their country is reeling in poverty?
My experience abroad is that you can have everything that you need in a foreign country, but you will always miss ‘home’ because the ‘home’ in you can never go away. For many of them, investing in Zimbabwe and returning ‘home’ is determined by the level of stability, the extent to which law and order prevails and whether there is equal opportunity and justice before the law.
Also, the marshal plan needs to lure back our professionals who have left the country for one reason or the other. Think about the shortage of medical doctors in Zimbabwe, technicians, university professors, etc. For instance, there is not a single university in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland without a Zimbabwean lecturer with a PhD!
Contrast this with the fact that many of our Universities in Zimbabwe have lecturers without doctoral degrees. Do we not need these people to make our universities the best in the region? To the best of my knowledge many of our exiled professionals in various fields do not want preferential treatment, except that they want to feel that they are needed at home and that there is peace and tranquility. Establishing a recruitment centre and liaising with neighbouring and other countries to get back our professionals is not a difficult task, is it?
Like the reconstruction of Germany after World War II, Zimbabwe 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 importance of being part of the global community was emphasized the other day by the Chinese foreign minister when he recently addressed the United Nations. He made it clear that China needs the international community for its trade and sustained development, without which the country would not be where it is today. He also assured the UN that his country offers an attractive investment protocol which guarantees the protection of personal property, peace and the rule of law. This, in my view, is the right way to court investors.
In the same vein, the new leader of Iran also extended his 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 skillful diplomacy: establish cordial relations even with those countries which are your adversaries so that you can achieve your intended goal without necessarily 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 so that we do not put all our eggs in one basket.
In seeking funds for our reconstruction, however, we do not need to do so like a twenty first century Uncle Tom, whose mental slavery makes him believe that the old colonial master is benevolent; an Uncle Tom who obsequiously gives the right cheek when he is slapped on the left because he believes that he is safe in the bosom of his philanthropic master.
What we need to understand is that the global village has a paramount chief, the USA, and the tributary chiefs are members of the EU. To sustain their egos of being ‘super powers’, they need Uncle Toms whom they can remotely control or reboot at will like they do in Afghanistan, Iraq and some parts of both Anglophone and Francophone Africa.
In this regard, 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 will 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.
This brings us to the much publicized recent speech of President Robert Mugabe when he addressed the 68th session of the United Nations: “shame, shame, shame to the USA and its allies”. His speech obviously got the Americans and their allies hot.
Naturally, avowed detractors of the President would be quick to castigate his speech as totally misplaced. But come to think of it; what was the aim of the speech? In my view, the speech was intended to show that although Zimbabwe needed the help of the USA and its allies, it did not need to do so like a helpless Uncle Tom.
In a world dominated by the rich and powerful, the President’s speech showed rare courage and lion-heartedness. His fearlessness and forthrightness is perhaps his legacy to the world. Those of us who are Uncle Toms should be the ones to feel embarrassed because, in the scheme of things, he was not supposed to confront the all-mighty ‘humanitarian’ master!
Having said that, we need to understand that in seeking funds from the western world they, too, need the developing world, especially Africa where there are still untapped vast resources. The depression which is currently ravaging the economies of the western world is increasingly putting pressure on them to seek cheaper raw materials in developing countries. The high cost of labour in the US and the EU is forcing many multinational companies, such as car manufacturers, textile and service industries to relocate in emerging economies.
And here lies our bargaining chip. We need to dangle the carrot in front of their noses by showing them the range of investment opportunities in Zimbabwe. We also need to assure them that their investments will be safe by reforming all crude forms of indigenization, such as ordering an investor to give up a large percentage of his business to a local, usually a person who is well connected. Any investor, whether black, white or yellow, local or foreign, wants to see that there is transparency, and that the rule of law is upheld squarely and fairly. Surely, we can do this. Can’t we?
And above all, our moral high ground for wanting the western world to fund our reconstruction programme is that, in the first place, Zimbabwe’s resources and those of other former colonies have enriched the people of the northern hemisphere. Is it asking too much if we say to them, “lend us some of your money at a reasonable interest and we will return it to you later”? If we do not ask the US and EU to contribute to our reconstruction, we will still be the same Uncle Tom who is afraid of asking his master to help him rebuild his dilapidated house.
One key area which 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 think tank which can do reconstructive surgery on our foreign policy so that we can repair our image in SADC, the AU, EU and the UN. Much of the damage appears to have arisen from our internal policies which portray the country as lawless, teetering on the verge of anarchy.
What further besmirches our foreign policy is that we seem to have a penchant for antagonizing potential investors by making them feel they are not welcome to invest in our country. We can learn a few lessons on diplomacy from our Chinese friends who hardly lambaste the policies of other countries because they consider first their national interests.
We should also take counsel from our elders who advise us that, “a person who is proposing a woman needs to be humble; you only show your true colour after you have got what you want”. The same elders also advise us that “a person who is having a running stomach is the one who should open the door to the loo”.
Furthermore, we need to put to an end our insular foreign policy by assuming our rightful position within the region, Africa, and the world at large. In particular, we need to engage those influential members of the Commonwealth whom we have alienated, the US and its allies so that our relations can thaw. We lose nothing but gain more by being part of the wider community.
To do this, we need to staff our ministry of foreign affairs and diplomatic missions with more skillful people who can re-brand our country. Visit some of our embassies abroad and you will see for yourself that the caliber of some of our ‘ambassadors’ and their staff leaves much to be desired. In my view, an ambassador is a “representative” of the people at home: s/he is a mirror image of the people and the country s/he represents. Sadly this is not the case with some of them.
In order to garner support for our reconstruction plan, we need to organize as soon as possible an international investment conference similar to the successful Tourism Conference which we recently 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, as well as the skills and the labour that is needed.
From the general investment portfolio, we can draw up specific investment packages, sector by sector. For instance, we can have a mining investment package, a manufacturing investment package, power and energy, agriculture, tourism, rail and aviation investment, etc. Each of the investment packages can be drawn up by a team of experts drawn from different sectors of the wider community. To back up the presentations, each of the packages can have a film that highlights the critical areas for investment.
Above all, keynote speakers, our ambassadors and emissaries need to assure potential investors and the international community that Zimbabwe is, in fact, a safe place for investment and that it adheres to the rule of law which protects property rights and fundamental human rights.
To demonstrate our seriousness we need, without further delay, to repeal all vestiges of social repression, to reform the indigenization 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.
Similarly, the elected “government of the people, by the people and for the people” needs to crack the whip on political dinosaurs which tarnish the image of the country by deviously usurping the land that is supposed to be given to the people and by corruptly amassing wealth at the expense of the masses.
In conclusion, 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 shinning example of human ingenuity; but it all depends on our collective will to succeed. No one will do it for us, except ourselves. We will need to confront our shadow and say to ourselves, “the present may latch, but the future’s certain to dawn in the morning due”.