We have what we need to start our development

Our current political and economic situation does not make it easy for us to map and prioritise a way forward for our country.
There is both political pressure and a temptation to want to do everything because it is assumed that people want everything achieved at once, impossible as it may be.

By Tapiwa Gomo

The end result is that nothing will be achieved at the end of the day even, when people remain in positions of power.

Two main agenda items cloud the space today; political reforms and pressure to revive the economy.

Deciding on which one to prioritise is a major subject for debate.

But, one thing is certain, development is not an aspect of basic economics but political power.

Political power decides on the means and methods to acquire or create wealth and how it is going to be managed. A weak economy, in most cases, reflects a weak political leadership.

Wealth is created by either acquiring coercively or transactionally what one does not have or converting from zero to something of economic value by exploiting natural resources through beneficiation into commercial value for existing market.

Slave trade and colonialism, evil as they are, were wealth acquisition methods deployed by western countries to strengthen their economies.

They were political ideas deployed by western political powers to spruce up their economies.

Now that their economies have been sanitised, it now appears as if the same western countries are the best in global trading and managing economies.

Times have changed. Slave trade and colonisation are long expired.

Weak as we are, we would not be able to colonise anyone. But still how does a country such as Zimbabwe, attempting to emerge from the economic rabbles of failed politics generate wealth and economic growth?

It is seemingly a tough question for which most African countries have tended to resort to donated narratives such as opening space for foreign investment.

We have heard those tunes before and we have responded by a consensual chorus, as if it has worked somewhere before.

That African leaders have failed to do well in this area is understandable, though not justifiable.

We lack the experience in building national wealth because the economic culture that underpins it is foreign to us and controlled elsewhere.

For that reason, there has been a growing tendency to resort to Asian countries for examples of how they have acquired, embraced and domesticated the western economic culture in their systems and cultures.

A key and yet basic lesson drawn from the Asian experience is that ideas can be borrowed and adapted without inviting the entire foreign investment system.

Such an approach presumed that, even if you borrow ideas, you still need to work with what you have to get what you need.

If you don’t have what you need in order to implement your ideas, acquire from those who have without dragging their exploitative cultural strings with you.

For a country such as Zimbabwe, desperate to rise and yet endowed with plenty of natural resources, we are spoilt for choice.

But alas, we lack a comprehensive and coercive framework that directs our energy towards one common goal of development.

We have overcrowded the political arena at the expense of development.

The Malaysian economic growth story, which started in 1955, was built on a succession of five-year development plans that outlined the coordinated phases of economic focus — starting with agriculture alongside production of quality labour through education.

Recently, I read that Germany’s electricity power producers were to pay customers to use electricity, because domestic wind power generation had spiked, resulting in more power output than needed and driving electricity prices down to zero.

Zimbabwe lies in a region with better wind resource and solar potential for better power generation than Germany and yet struggles to generate power for its domestic and commercial use.

Instead of labouring the national grid with the rural electrification programme, why not invest in solar and wind which is both renewable and sustainable in rural areas and then the national power supply authority focuses on commercial supply?

With sustainable rural power supply in place, we can then draw from the Asian chestnut again by stimulating our agriculture into a productive industrial development sector with a view to firstly feed the nation and secondly give birth to an agriculture-based processing industry.

There are ready markets around us. For example, all the South African chain stores scattered across east and southern Africa region get their clothing from China, who acquire their textile from other countries in Africa.

We have the choice of supplying China with textile, so they can supply South Africa with finished clothing for their stores in the region or offer to produce either on behalf of China for South Africa or directly for South Africa.

Our relevance in this matrix depends on our capability to produce competitive products from what we have and not foreign investment. In fact, none of this requires foreign investment.

Again skilled labour is one of the resources we have in abundance, which just needs to be channelled towards the right productive direction beyond politics.

While the Asian model, especially in Malaysia, started with the production of skilled labour, we already boast of sufficient quality of labour necessary to kick-start a locally-driven industrial revolution, alongside meeting the needs of foreign investment complimenting these efforts.

An extensive national affirmative action scheme for indigenous people in Malaysia gave rise to the creation of an elite in the country which became the anchor of economic growth when foreign investors left the country.

Instead of demonising our business people, including those accused of corruption, let’s bring them home and allow them to invest in their country.

One of the key and yet basic lessons drawn from the Asian economic transformation over the past half century is the important role played by efficiency in governance and in developing locally relevant economic policies, enforcing their adherence and implementation, including ensuring peace and stability.

It also highlights the importance of educated labour in driving growth, industrial maturity and diversification of industry from light to heavy industry to service and knowledge-based activity.

The possibilities are on our doorsteps. The nation just needs political confidence and motivation.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa