The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe can achieve the vision of being an upper middle-income economy by 2030, but it cannot get there through short-cuts, by waiting for hand-outs or by consuming its way to wealth: The only path that works is for us to produce the wealth we need.
If we get that right then we will achieve the Vision 2030. And what is more, because there is production, consumption will obviously rise. But, as any subsistence farmer understands, you cannot eat unless you first sow.
President ED Mnangagwa used both his set addresses during the Heroes and Defence Forces holidays last week to stress the path forward to the Vision 2030, something that was necessary since we tend to get bogged down in the immediate problems of this afternoon or get worked up over the peripherals of politics, rather than centring our efforts on getting the fundamentals right.
The fact that these fundamentals were way out of line at the start of the Second Republic are now openly acknowledged. Zimbabwe had gone down a lot of wrong roads. We consumed when we should have invested and produced; we embraced isolation when, without giving up anything important, we could have remained at least in contact with the rest of the world.
We inflated our currency out of existence and lost another decade of growth, when with proper budgeting and a willingness to live within our means would have given us a lot more means to live within. At the same time we did not even maintain or expand underlying requirements such as our power stations, rather being willing to import electricity because we used dollars so we could let others to do the work.
The President did not try and minimise the present and temporary side effects of ending a policy of decline and getting the nation moving forward.
We have to face the facts and realise that we can only move forward when we produce more. The Government, despite its straightened budgets, sees agriculture as a good starting point, with justification. Six months after you sow you reap, so results can come quickly. Command Agriculture was a good start, at least getting production up although contracts were frequently broken or abandoned.
But that is being fixed, the Government is keeping the concept but ensuring that competent and honest farmers will be the exclusive beneficiaries. That works as some progressive elements in the private sector ― the tobacco merchants with their 40 000 growers, some cotton ginners, Delta with its beer ingredients ― have already discovered. The economic reforms also make other agro-industrialists suddenly realise that they need farmers to produce raw materials, rather than assume the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is the main source of oil seeds and wheat., a curious idea when you think about it.
Getting agricultural production up quickly has the additional advantage that doing this moves a lot of families from zero income to at least some income, and does it by helping them produce real things that people want to buy rather than shuffling paper.
At the same time strenuous efforts are being made to expand mining. Here the timelines are longer. While much has been done to fix the legal and other impediments, so mining investors feel welcome and secure rather than spurned and sucked dry, it does take a while to create highly detailed geological maps of a mining find, dig the holes and do all the other preliminary work, so as we move into the 2020s mining will be making its productive contribution. We are making it attractive economically for miners to do their initial beneficiation here, rather than ship semi-processed ores. But that thrust is being centred on making this attractive, rather than compulsory.
Tourism is another sector where quick returns are possible and, as a notoriously labour-intensive industry, where new jobs can be created at speed. But it would be helpful if all political forces would put Zimbabwe first. Having an open and dynamic political environment can be an attraction. Getting a reputation on bad social media sites as a nation of rioters is not.
Industry is growing again. But we have lost a lot and we have been concentrating on packing other people’s production, or doing marginal final processing for local markets rather than creating and producing, from our own raw materials, new products and new brands that can join the global markets.
The modern world economy is not one of isolated economies, but to be a middle-income participant in those markets you need to be contributor as well as a pure consumer. More industrialists need to look hard at what Zimbabwe’s farmers and miners can produce, and then work out ways of converting those raw materials into desirable goods that people here and outside want to buy, rather than trying to figure out how to pack or bottle a global brand in Gweru.
Again the economic reforms have made life potentially easier for local industrialists, by pricing imports at their correct level. But now they need to convert that potential into goods and use their new costing structures to be able to sell those goods outside as well as inside.
Finally we must build our service industries. Why should every line of software used in Zimbabwe be written elsewhere? Banks are taking one lead, rapidly developing a local bulk payment system to replace an external version. Others should have the same attitude. One function of being a leader is to keep the goal in front of people when immediate concerns can obscure it. President Mnangagwa obviously agrees, and hence his carefully crafted appeals last week. We can do it, we have started doing it. But we need to keep on course.