As Nigerians were celebrating, a debate has been raging in Zimbabwe between Nathaniel Manheru, a columnist for the state-run Herald newspaper, and Tendai Biti, the Finance Minister, about the nature, character and driver of the post-colonial state as well challenges and prospects of nation building.
What makes this debate interesting and thought-provoking is that it is underpinned by a contestation for political space by the two dominant political parties. The dominant voices in the debate are both eloquent and gifted.
Nathaniel Manheru, it has been convincingly argued, is George Charamba, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity. He is, therefore, a state actor who has chosen to use the name Manheru to add his insights into the thinking that has informed the Zimbabwean post-colonial experience.
Although in many constitutional democratic societies it would be unlikely if not rare for a civil servant to openly take a partisan stance in any political discourse, the situation in Zimbabwe is unique in that the vacuum created by the ruling Zanu PF party’s inability to use its own party cadres to define its position on the key issues that confront the nation has opened the door for gifted intellectual opportunists to fill the void with personal perspectives disguised as party ideology.
Biti is an office bearer of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as well as being a state actor. He now finds himself debating with a civil servant, and not his peer in Zanu PF.
The mere fact that the debate has been opened and other people have joined in augurs well for Zimbabwe as debates of this nature assist in sharpening our minds and calling people to action and not take things for granted.
There are many of us who would rather be spectators of history. refusing to add our voices to conversations that help in shaping our worldview on what kind of Africa we want to see.
Manheru and Biti must be congratulated for taking the time to convert what lies between their ears into words that our generation and future generations can read to better understand what, if any, occupied our minds on key nation building concepts and challenges.
After a three-month hiatus, I could not find any better subject than the question of the disposition of post-colonial state actors to wealth creation and capital formation to resume my weekly contribution to the African conversation on the kind of Africa we deserve and our collective role in making it happen.
Biti observed in his article that Zimbabwe had lost 30 years because “those who have been presiding over the economy have little knowledge of statecraft and the complexity of nation building.”
As expected, Manheru objected to Biti’s characterisation of the post-colonial experience as being led by illiterate state actors.
Although both Manheru and Biti would agree that the post-colonial experience has failed to deliver its promise, they hold diametrically opposed as to the causes of economic and social decay.
To Biti, one of the factors that have led to economic decay has been the disposition of the state actors to wealth creation. He points to the fact that the last 30 years have seen the state being used to fight black capital notwithstanding the fact that the colonial state created no space for black capital formation and the natural expectation would have been that state actors that came from the womb of colonial oppression would be the active and constructive facilitators and supporters of the national democratic revolution.
Biti then backed his theses using examples of Strive Masiyiwa, Nigel Chanakira, James Makamba, Jane Mutasa, Julius Makoni, James Mushore, Jeffrey Mzvimbi, Mthuli Ncube and myself as the group of persecuted black businesspersons.
Instead of defending his position with facts, it is startling that Manheru would then choose to describe the above-mentioned individuals as “pseudo-black capital”.
What would make me “pseudo” and Charamba using a pseudo name “authentic”? He makes the point that the discourse on wealth creation is more complex and the conduct more versatile.
I was tempted to keep out of this debate but when Charamba chooses to describe some of us as “pseudo”, I felt compelled to respond and add my voice to the dangers inherent in engaging in the kind of dishonest intellectual discourse in the name of misguided nationalism and patriotism.
I should like to believe that black capital does not exist in as much as “pseudo” black capital because commerce does not recognise colour at the point of exchange. If capital can be “pseudo”, then it falls to reason that the market is irrelevant in such situations.
What may not be obvious to Charamba is that the wealth is created by ideas and that there is nothing inevitable in not only business but also all aspects of human existence.
What is obvious is that the harder one works, the luckier one becomes. If wealth created is pseudo, then it can only be underpinned by pseudo transactions.
However, business success is guaranteed by service to a customer and not to the opinions of political commentators like Charamba.
It is obvious that anyone whose worldview is not aligned to Charamba automatically assumes the label of pseudo.
Charamba should be honest by addressing the question of whether in fact and truth a case can be made that the individuals mentioned above have been affected by the actions of the very actors of a state that claims to be a custodian of political and economic transformation and democratisation.
Charamba makes the point that “much further, to the man Biti’s so-called persecuted black capitalists are neither ‘black’ nor owning or controlling capital. I take it that black ain’t a mere colour; it is an outlook. I challenge Biti to take us through each of the businesspersons he enumerates indicating to us as Finance Minister of this country what capital they own, beyond an ornamental shareholding. Why does he pretend not to know what lies beneath and behind?”
For the record, I am black. It is remarkable that Charamba would opportunistically choose to describe us as “coconuts” ignoring the fact that we have been persecuted not because we had token or speculative interests in Zimbabwe but that we have substantial interests as principals and not agents of anyone.
It is common cause, for example, that the founder and driving force of Econet is Strive Masiyiwa. He is black like me. It is also common cause that the sector in which he is operating in and its history and background exposes the bankruptcy of Charamba’s argument that it is not true that the state has been used to frustrate the progress of black entrepreneurs.
Three licenses have been granted to operate the mobile cellular business. Of the three, Econet is now the largest. If the arguments proffered by Charamba were valid, NetOne, the wholly owned state network operator, would be the largest and most profitable. The third license was granted to Telecel, led by a consortium of indigenous groups. In this case, we have three licenses with varied ownership structures but what is significant is that no white person was involved from the outset.
Instead of reviewing the problems, progress and challenges faced since the launch of the first mobile connection, Charamba chooses to ignore all the empirical evidence that confirm that the state does not have all the commercial answers for his own political expediency.
Masiyiwa is no longer a resident of Zimbabwe and yet his business has continued to thrive in Zimbabwe not because of Charamba’s benevolence or lack of harassment by state actors.
We have not witnessed the same shareholder disputes that have visited Telecel in Econet and yet Telecel was styled as a platform for collective indigenous ownership.
How many of the original Telecel shareholders are still holding shares in the company? This ought to be the question that Charamba should address. Some of the shareholders sold their shares at the outset for cash and yet today they would want the public to believe that they are victims of fraud.
It is ironic that Charamba sounds today as the champion of indigenisation and yet his voice was silent when institutions built by black persons were targeted. Where was Charamba when Strive was in court fighting for Econet to be licensed as an operator? Why is it that NetOne is struggling when the state is privileged to have the kind of brains that Manheru exhibits in his weekly column?
The millions of customers who have made Econet the kind of business that it now is must be allowed to make a comment about Strive’s patriotism. Both Telecel and Econet have demonstrated against all odds that private solutions are superior to state driven solutions.
It is important to note that all the businesspersons referred to by Biti got into business without the assistance of the Indigenisation legislation. Instead of helping people to benefit from the experiences of these individuals, Charamba contemptuously dismisses all of us. This kind of arrogance helps explain why Zimbabwe finds itself in an economic quagmire.
Charamba recklessly goes further to state: “And between Ngwerume and Masiyiwa or Mushore is no Chinese wall, both being privileged proletariats only in similar set-ups with different forms.
“This is a stratum which in outlook is as anti-nation as the MDC itself, indeed a stratum that benefited the most from the imposition of sanctions. Is it not a fact that ‘burning’ was done in their banks? Is it not a fact that to the man, externalisation was done by them?
“Is it not a fact that when the State responded, they all ran to Europe and South Africa? Is it possible to found indigenous middle class on the malpractice of externalisation? How do you ensure national accumulation with a managerial class whose bearings are external and western?
“And is it not a fact that this sub-class was most opposed to the land reform programme, itself the basis of founding a genuine middle class in a plantation economy with limited scope for industrialisation for a start?”
He makes the case that our outlook is anti-nation and that we benefited from the imposition of targeted economic sanctions. On what basis would Charamba arrive at the conclusion that our conduct is anti-nation ignoring the contribution made to Zimbabwe and not to an imaginary foreign state?
If we were not involved in business, our names would not inform the debate that is raging. It is evident that Charamba’s understanding of business is limited if not dangerous.
There is no business enterprise that succeeds because the state wants it to but business progress is a consequence of hard work and consistent service to the relevant stakeholders.
Charamba ignores the thousands of people who are employed by the enterprises led by the individuals he chooses to denigrate let alone the income that is taken by the state as tax to pay his salary.
He talks of burning in banks and externalisation as if he were a judge. One would expect a senior civil servant in a democratic constitutional order to understand the separation of powers doctrine. None of the individuals described as criminals by Charamba have been determined as such by any court of law and yet Charamba has no problem assuming the role of judge, jury and executioner.
If Charamba has a point to make, he should do so on the basis of facts rather than use state institutions to propagate malicious and defamatory garbage in the name of political point scoring.
There is a lot to learn from businesspersons like Mutasa, Makoni, Nyemba, Makamba, Masiyiwa, Mzvimbi, Mushore, Ncube and others. Their experiences must be cherished and where the state has been abused, it is never too late to say “sorry” and look for ways to move forward than attempt to re-write history.
I do hope that Charamba would one day take time to explain to all of us what externalisation means. Nowhere else in the world is the term used to describe commercial behaviour. We have been accused of externalisation but no-one has taken the time to explain precisely what this term means.
How can one externalise a currency that is external anyway? Who, in any event, would be a complainant in a transaction described as externalisation? Whose funds are involved? How does the state get involved? These are the questions that Charamba must help address?
Charamba’s worldview can be toxic and if generally held can undermine nation building. What is clear is that he is not alone in holding the kind of views that he holds compelling us to be part of this important conversation.
As we seek to build our moral capital in Africa, we need to broaden and deepen our understanding of what is required to make Africa a winning continent. We need to understand how capital can be created and multiplied to the benefit of all. Wealth is allergic to any form of abuse.