When will ideas prevail over emotions?

We have just entered July — the month of elections. It is an election that is pregnant with expectations, hopes and despair. The race is between two highly polarising front-runners.

By Tapiwa Gomo

They are polarising because one has a well-known history, while the other has an unknown history. That difference alone, not ideas, are the main factors dividing the nation.

It is undisputable that this election is relevant in order to sanitise the country, to bring back democracy, to give the country hope and a respite from the protracted political turmoil.

Critical as this election may be, the pre-election hijinkery, has shown us thus far that our political market is not yet seized with and open for what is really necessary to uplift our country out of the economic situation.

What sells in this political market are historical scores and emotions. And for those reasons, our elections are about why certain candidates should not win the next elections and not what ideas must prevail.

For some the current President must not win the next elections because of his past, while for others the MDC Alliance candidate must not win because he has no past. Other great minds such as Nkosana Moyo, despite his known solid knowledge on economics, is not seen by others as a front runner as they argue that he does not appeal to the “people” simply because he lacks “a past”. None of these are ideas.

These candidates have launched their manifestos, which people must use to engage with and judge them. But then we are an emotional and mobocratic people. We rely on irrelevant considerations to make important choices on vital issues.
It does not help that our campaign system is not democratic. It is not based on a two-way communication process. The candidate speaks and the role of the crowds — the citizen — it so listen and cheer. That’s our style of democracy there.

But then elections are not a game played after every five or so years. Elections are an event of national importance which affects individual lives. The process of electing a leader is both personal and collective. It is personal because one needs to make a choice based on what they want done and who can do them better.

It is collective because, as a nation, we now face common problems and addressing them should be part of our collective vision — mainly rebuilding our economy. The main question should, therefore, be who has the credentials to rebuild the economy and not who appeals to the people.

Rebuilding this economy needs to be centred on local actors with foreign investors playing a complimentary role.
Zimbabwe should be open for business to its people first. The investment dynamics out there have shifted significantly.

In countries that are politically unstable such as ours and yet offer affordable resources, foreign investors have devised smart ways of exploiting resources, limiting exposure to unnecessary costs and no longer contribute towards national development.

Where mining companies would previously build infrastructure, housing and establish small towns and communities in the mining area, they now focus on getting the minerals, pay government taxes and flee with the profits.

Zambia faced a similar problem when they adopted the economic structural adjustment programmes. Their economy looked positive, while their national development was on the negative. They have since corrected this and allowed locals to play a major role in their economy. They understood that foreign investors can leave any time and while locals will stay, but then the latter can benefit from the former.

There is no doubt that corruption has played a major role in destroying our economy. And it still plays a role in stalling its revival and growth. There are plenty of business people interested in investing in Zimbabwe, but corruption limits them.

This election is about who can address the pervasive corruption which continues to plague our nation, including revitalising the untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions.

Corruption affects business planning, predictability of costs and also increases them unnecessarily. The ultimatum for externalised funds and its subsequent list was one of the current President’s biggest fudge since he took over. Who does that?

It sounds so promising to say Zimbabwe is now open for business. But is that enough to inspire confidence and attract investors?

For starters, there are other emerging economies in Africa that have become competitive and much more open for business. Rwanda is one example. Why is Rwanda more open for business than Zimbabwe? Because they are addressing their road network, power and telecommunications infrastructure. They are putting in place systems and policies that facilitate business. They understand that the role of government is to create a conducive environment and that investors are getting tired of the noisy generators, using water tanks and having to buy expensive cars that survive the potholes.

Last week, I wrote about how Malaysia transformed its fortunes. They too started by focusing on investing in world-class infrastructure plus sound macro-economic policies, while proactively plugged into the regional production networks. Their domestic policies helped them to benefit from being part of a regional economy using their comparative advantage. That helped them to grow as a part of the economic ecosystem of the Asian region. We can do it as well.

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