FROM MUTOTA TO MUGAGE: Zimbabwe’s regional neighbourhood effect and some lessons

The neighbourhood effect

Much has been written on the neighbourhood effect when understanding the lives of residents in adjoining urban residential areas characterized by differences in group composition in terms of race, incomes, and other variables; and how these affect a wide range of issues from education and health outcomes, voting patterns, violence, social behaviours, economic opportunities, and many other aspects of human development.  On a global scale, human geography complements the neighbourhood effect by studying how society and human development have been affected by geography – be it river systems, mountain ranges, coastal outlines, land masses, deserts, etc. – as these create obstacles and opportunities for various population groups.  The 2005 publication (Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fate of human societies) by Jared Diamond put forward a compelling argument in support of the “geography matters” approach to understanding differences in societal development, especially when talking about issues of innovation and technology.

At the level of societies and nation states, the diffusion of behaviours, innovations, and other aspects of human development is important in explaining neighbourhood effects.  In this context, Zimbabwe has been a significant regional shaper of opinions and development strategies in the past and its current economic and political approaches could continue this trend in the wider Southern Africa Region.  The basic hypothesis here is that Zimbabwe’s political leadership has promoted a political, social, and economic approach that is consistent with its history and culture within the region; and this has the potential to significantly influence future developments in Southern Africa.

Southern Africa Iron age civilization[1]

The inhabitants of present-day Zimbabwe have been significant political and economic players in the development of Southern Africa for several centuries.  In the period 4th-15th Century, they developed the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which built the Great Zimbabwe during the 11-14th Century.  This Kingdom of Zimbabwe went into decline after successive droughts and depletion of natural resources, and gave way to the Mwenemutapa Empire[2] (based further North in the Highveld) although the seat of power for the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (the Great Zimbabwe Ruins in present-day Southern Zimbabwe) continued to house part of the Mwenemutapa royal household.  The word Zimbabwe captures the idea of “House of Stone/Importance” and there are over 200 ‘zimbabwes’ in Southern Africa (including Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manyikeni in Mozambique) built of stones without mortar.  These structures were built by the Gokomere cultures, in cooperation with the Venda; with Great Zimbabwe being the oldest followed by the second oldest structure in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe (1075–1220) in present-day South Africa.

During the period 14th-17th Century, the Mwenemutapa Empire stretched North to South between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers, and from East to West between the Indian Ocean and present-day Eastern Angola. The first ruler to use the title Mwene Matapa was Nyatsimba after taking over the empire founded by his great-great grandfather, Mbire.   Before the 14th Century, parts of the Zambezi valley and the Northern plateau had been populated by cattle-raising communities also specializing in crafts and local trade as well as trade with those along the Indian Ocean coastline (Pwiti 1996, and Matenga 1998).

While the Mwenemutapa Empire was created from military conquest starting with Nyatsimba Mutota, its longevity was mainly due to economic conditions created by its rulers.  The empire had a broad economy based on livestock and the cultivation of sorghum, millet, ground nuts, cowpeas and bananas, brought by the Arabs from Indonesia (Dewey 2006, and Owen 2000).  Agriculture was supplemented with the mining of gold (exported together with ivory), iron, copper, tin, and the quarrying of soapstone (Owen, 2000).   Output from mines was used to make iron tools and weapons; jewelry made from copper, bronze and gold; carvings and pottery; and cloth made from locally-grown cotton.  The empire had clear rules governing fair trade and commerce, and facilitated extensive trade with Arabs and various European merchants – especially the Portuguese.  The rulers were also open to external influences, recording some of the earliest converts to Christianity and producing missionaries (some of whom ended up in Goa).

Interrupted by political upheavals associated with wars against the Portuguese and internal strife, the first Mutapa State came to an end during the second half of 17th Century, but was re-established at the beginning of the 19th Century (following the rise of the Rwozi Empire), only to be brought to an abrupt end by European colonial wars at the dawn of the 20th Century.  In the four hundred-odd years the empire existed, there were over 20 kings for both the First and Second Mutapa States

Egoli the City of Gold

The production and export of gold from the Mwenemutapa Empire inspired some European explorers to believe that the empire was the site of the legendary mines of King Solomon referred to as Ophir in the Bible.[3]  Some early European colonists dreamt of finding a city of gold in Southern Africa – and went on expeditions similar to those of El Dorado in South America – but this did not materialize as the gold mines became exhausted and contributed the decline of Mwenemutapa Empire. 

It was the colonists from Cape Town who were to find the “African El Dorado,” first by discovering diamonds in Kimberly in 1867, and more significantly gold in 1885, leading to the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 that saw the founding of Johannesburg (which within ten years became the largest town in South Africa although Cape Town had been founded 200 years earlier).  The demand for labour and other services around the new gold mines led to a steady flow of populations to Johannesburg, and the building of railways into present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi provided transportation for large volumes of migrant labour from these territories.  Johannesburg as the City of Gold (Egoli) became legendary in colonial Southern Africa as it spurred rapid economic development in the region.  It could be argued that Egoli became the capital of the successor of Mwenemutapa Empire as the economic foundations of Egoli have continued to dominate the region to this day as Johannesburg and its surrounds continue to be a magnet for capital and labour.

Anti-colonial wars

The modern history of Southern Africa is one of anti-colonial wars by native African populations resisting the take-over of their societies by people of European origin.  The Mwenemutapa Empire took up arms against the Portuguese, the Zulu Kingdom founded by Tshaka together with the Xhosa Kingdom took up arms against the British and Boers, while the Shona and Ndebele of present day Zimbabwe took up arms against colonial occupation led by the Cecil Rhodes-owned British South Africa Company at the end of 19th Century.   These were the struggles that inspired the African Liberation movements of the 20th Century.

The earliest African Liberation movement was the African National Congress (ANC) founded in 1912 to resist colonial practices by a Government led by the British and favouring the interests of Dutch Farmers (Boers) and non-African merchants from around the world while oppressing the African population. The ANC became the cradle of liberation movements in Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; in the same way the Pan African Congresses held by Caribbean and African migrants in England was to inspire liberation movements in East and West Africa.

Over half a century after the ANC was founded, Mozambique and Angola became the first countries in Southern Africa to gain Independence after a prolonged armed struggle supported by Tanzania and other African countries through the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity.  Zimbabwe was the second country to gain independence after using Mozambique as a springboard to launch armed attacks on the Rhodesian State; soon to be followed by Namibia and eventually South Africa.  It is this centuries-old thread of economic and political struggles against colonial occupation that ties present-day States in Southern Africa together under the rubric of “Governments led by former Liberation Movements.”

Apartheid, UDI and regional destabilization

The ANC characterized Apartheid as ‘colonialism of a special type’ to emphasize the localized nature of colonial rulers, but still dependent on a global system dominated by those of European descent.  Southern Africa struggles against local imperial representatives were particularly significant in South Africa and Zimbabwe – especially after 1910 when South Africa became a Union independent of Europe; and Zimbabwe in 1923 when Rhodesia was granted autonomy from Britain, and 1965 when it resisted British pressure to join the decolonization wave in Africa and made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain. 

The attainment of autonomous local administrations dominated by Europeans led to the idea of colonialism of a special kind in South Africa, and to some extent in Rhodesia; and gave these Apartheid-based Governments of South Africa and Rhodesia the opportunity to see the whole Southern Africa region as their backyard.  Thus, developments in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe became greatly constrained by the interests of local white populations in these countries.  Although Britain was able to push for political independence in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zambia; they failed to do the same in Rhodesia – which became part of the a triumvirate with South Africa and Portugal to keep the four other countries in Southern Africa under colonial administration; and to spur large-scale armed struggles that started in the 1960s and were only brought to an end in the 1990s.  Thus, the development of Zimbabwe has both influenced and benefited from economic and political developments in Southern Africa; and remains an important actor in the growth and transformation of the region.

Military Pan-Africanism

As countries in Southern Africa were attaining political independence from localized white administrations after 1975, African countries that had become independent in the early 1960s were entering into a new phase of political instability as economic decline created conditions for internal dissent and sometimes armed insurrections.  In the process of decolonization through armed struggle in Southern Africa, many neighbouring countries had been drawn into these conflicts – first in the form of Front-Line States and later expanded into the Southern Africa Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).  This growth in regional political bodies with an economic dimension integrated Zimbabwe into the broader Southern Africa region and ensured that its rulers and populations would continue to influence developments in the region.

Having benefited from military bases in Mozambique and being dependent on Mozambique and a hostile South Africa for access to the sea, Zimbabwe in the 1980s found itself obliged to defend Mozambique from the RENAMO armed insurrection sponsored by South Africa.  For Zimbabwe, RENAMO was not only a threat to Mozambique but to Zimbabwe as South Africa pursued a strategy to stop independent African countries from supporting the armed struggle waged by South Africans using military bases in neigbouring countries.  With the granting of independence to Namibia in 1991 and after the large scale military incursion by South Africa into Angola in the late 1980s, Zimbabwe and other countries in Southern Africa saw the growth of internal insurrection in Mozambique, DRC, and elsewhere in the region as attempts by South Africa and its backers of global white capital to keep the region dependent on Apartheid South Africa.  Thus, Zimbabwe’s political leadership (initially with broad-based support in the country) saw itself as undertaking Pan-African actions by coming to the military aid of Mozambique, the DRC, and wider afield in Peace-Keeping Missions sponsored by the United Nations – military incursions and missions that to the minds of Zimbabwean rulers were a continuation of the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-apartheid struggles.  In this respect, Zimbabwe in the early years of independence continued the Nkurumah and Nyerere legacy of Pan-Africanism by committing its resources to resolving regional conflicts.

Economic decline and Resource Nationalism

Zimbabwe more than any other country in the Southern Africa region had a liberation struggle very much structured around grievances on access to land after the colonial government had passed a series of Land Acts that restricted Africans to infertile Tribal Trust Lands without creating the kind of non-agricultural employment opportunities that South Africa had done.  Other countries like Angola and Mozambique, while ran by brutal colonial settlers, had small populations with bountiful land so that the liberation struggle was less about access to land and more to do with lack of economic freedoms and socio-economic opportunities for the Africans.

The struggle over land rights in Zimbabwe lay at the heart of the struggle for independence and was the most difficult issue to resolve at the London Lancaster House Conference in 1979 when Britain assumed the role of decolonizing power from the Government of Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front.  The Lancaster House compromises reached over land re-distribution in an independent Zimbabwe were only partially fulfilled and they came to be inter-woven with economic grievances in the 1990s when Zimbabwe found itself confronted by a population experiencing socio-economic difficulties.  The resulting resolution of land-related grievances since 2000 has come to characterize and dominate post-independence Zimbabwe political economy.  Attempts to “export” this land grievance to other parts of Southern Africa have been unsuccessful, except to a limited extent in South Africa where the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party has tried to make it an issue in post-Democratic South Africa – the outcome of which will most likely be dependent on the ability of South Africa’s economy to continue creating employment opportunities outside the agricultural sector.

The post-1980 Zimbabwean economy created few economic opportunities for Africans outside the public sector – where the Africanization of public administration became the main source of employment for the most educated and skilled Africans.   The failure to open up the private sector, with both employment and investment opportunities, provided a cocktail of grievances that brought workers and ambitious African entrepreneurs to the side of those pushing for a new socio-economic formation in Zimbabwe.   As available public sector jobs were taken up and economic decline set in, it was ambitious young African entrepreneurs who formed an Affirmative Action Group (AAG) to push the local white population to accommodate these new entrepreneurs in trade and commercial activities.  The program of AAG had little traction with Government and existing investors, and only became mainstream government policy when Ex-Combatants of the liberation war mobilized for higher pension payouts and greater access to land held by white farmers – leading to further economic decline and the farm invasions of 2000 that became the nucleus of a Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP). 

Alongside the FTLRP came a policy of Indigenization and Economic Empowerment (IEE) as foundations of African Economic Nationalism in post-colonial Zimbabwe.  Outside Zimbabwe, this form of Economic Nationalism has only taken significant roots in South Africa with the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program, and complemented by recent Government proposals to reform land ownership laws to reduce foreign ownership and increase African participation in land ownership.  Elsewhere in the region, leaders in government and the private sector have pursued a strategy of inclusive growth where emphasis is on increased Foreign Direct Investments as creators of greater economic opportunities that will benefit the general population.

The policies of FTLRP and IEE have been used by Zimbabwe to propagate an African consciousness on Economic Nationalism, but given the economic decline and socio-economic difficulties that beleaguered the Zimbabwe political scene and economy these last fifteen years, few Governments in the region (and Africa as a whole) have shown eagerness to implement similar policies.  Nevertheless, the populist culture of taking away resources and assets from ex-colonial white populations and transferring them to Africans has been spreading among African populations disillusioned by the lack of economic opportunities promised by the attainment of independence.  It is therefore possible that once the Zimbabwe economy registers a turnaround and attains economic growth rates with greater inclusivity, other African political parties and governments may well come under increasing pressure from populations to adopt the kind of policies captured in the Zimbabwe FTLRP and IEE programs. 

This form of African Economic Nationalism built around FTLRP and IEE is feared by many African leaders: concerned by the attendant negative impact on the domestic economy, foreign investment, and international isolation it has brought on Zimbabwe.  At the same time, African leaders are concerned by the populist views of many population groups in Africa on the desirability of these policies; often supported by an emergent opposition political leadership keen to replace the old African Nationalist Political leadership with a new form of Economic Nationalism in place of what is characterized as Neo-Colonialist Policies.  While the evolution of this African Economic Nationalism is in its early stages, the Zimbabwe example (if followed by rapid socio-economic transformation) could propel this thinking into a Pan-Africanist movement that the EFF of South Africa is also pushing (but so far with limited success).

Nationalist responses to Political Trade Unionism

Although Zimbabwe was in 1980 the second most industrialized country in Southern Africa, it is in Zambia that the first transition of Welfare Trade Unionism into Political Trade Unionism took place in the 1990s when the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions created a Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and successfully replaced the United National Independence Party (UNIP) as the party of government. This transition of African Nationalism from Liberation to Political Trade Unionism triggered off some excitement in the region as workers and students imagined a new political economy driven by urbanized worker demands away from the rural economy driven by peasant demands.

The political leadership in Zimbabwe was therefore alert to the emergence of Political Trade Unionism in the late 1990s as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) copied the Zambian example and formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) political party in 1999.  A combination of poor economic management leading to a rapid fall in incomes and a deterioration of living standards in Zimbabwe propelled the MDC into a leading political party, buoyed by international opposition to the methods adopted under the FTLRP and IEE programs that constituted “legalized dispossession” of white populations of their land and commercial enterprises.  In the face of rising discontent due to economic hardships and curtailment of MDC’s political activities by Government after 2000, the population rallied behind the MDC.  Faced by eminent loss of political power to MDC the way UNIP had lost to MMD, Zimbabwe African Nationalist Politicians turned to their allies in the region to stop such a transition by forming the Inclusive Government of 2009.  Thus, the lessons of MMD and UNIP in Zambia were not lost on the leaders of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) when dealing with MDC, and the Inclusive Government provided Nationalist Politicians with a tool to halt the ascendancy of Political Trade Unionists into power.

Ruling Liberation Movements in Southern Africa regularly hold consultative meetings to exchange ideas and lessons learnt while in government, and the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe is a rich source of lessons for Southern Africa Nationalist Politicians.  Equally, there are many lessons of how to deal with splinter groups within National Liberation Movements in the region.  In Zimbabwe, ZANU has generated many lessons from the way it dealt with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM); and these are lessons the ANC of South Africa could have used in dealing with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC).  Similarly, the ANC in dealing with the Congress of the People (COPE) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has had access to the experience of ZANU-PF in dealing with Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn (MKD) and other forms of internal dissent.  These are lessons that have also informed strategies pursued by Nationalist Politicians in Mozambique and Angola in dealing with political opposition parties. 

It can be expected that the way ZANU-PF has dealt with Political Trade Unionism under the ZCTU-MDC umbrella will not be lost on Nationalist politicians in South Africa (dealing with COSATU-related Political Trade Unionism); and other countries in the Southern Africa region will be aware of these strategies.  Lessons from economic performance by the Inclusive Government that brought together leadership from African Liberation Nationalism and Political Trade Unionism in Zimbabwe are a useful addition to the political lessons ZANU-PF and MDC have brought to their regional counterparts.  Thus, the entry of Political Trade Unionist leadership into a sharing of political power with African Liberation Nationalist leaders in Zimbabwe opens the way for more coalition-driven development strategies covering both political and economic organization in Southern Africa. 

National policy choices with regional consequences

The period when Zimbabwe’s economy was growing in the 1980s coincided with a period of poor economic performance in the region – induced by poor domestic policies and the impact of South Africa-led political destabilization efforts in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and even as far afield as Tanzania.  By the time the region started to record economic recovery in the late 1990s, Zimbabwe was entering a period of politically-induced social and economic decline that has continued into the 21st Century as Zimbabwe’s international isolation continues on account of poor economic governance associated with default on debt, FTLRP, and IEE policies as well as political repression in response to growing internal dissent.

The de-synchronization of economic policy making and growth periods in the region makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions on the impact Zimbabwe’s economic decline has had on the region, although there have been suggestions that regional economic growth has been reduced significantly by the failure of Zimbabwe to grow with the rest of regional economies.  Three major arguments have been advanced to support this view:-

The first has been “a drag effect” where the Zimbabwe crisis has been seen as dragging down regional economies (resulting in reduced economic growth rates of 2-3% per annum on account of the country’s infrastructure of road, rail and air being unavailable to play their full role as intra-regional connectors). 

The second has been “displacement effect” which has negatively effected regional economic development because political leaders in Southern Africa have had their time and efforts taken up with resolving political crises in Zimbabwe and elsewhere within SADC instead of developing and managing a regional economic integration plan.  

The third has been “reduced economic democracy” because Zimbabwe’s success in suppressing internal opposition and stopping the ascendancy to power of popular Political Trade Unionism has encouraged other regional leaders to pursue political survival strategies that do not support economic growth and development.

Against these three arguments on how Zimbabwe could have negatively impacted regional economic development have been two major positions put forward to show how the politically-induced poor economic environment in Zimbabwe has benefited the region:-

The first has dealt with “transferred opportunities” where the migration of white commercial farmers and their skilled personnel out of Zimbabwe into Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Nigeria, and other countries has had a positive impact on agricultural production in these countries.  Similarly, the migration of Zimbabwean skilled and unskilled labour into South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and other countries has allowed these countries to close skilled labour gaps that would have held back their economic recovery and growth after the decline in the period 1980-90.

The second argument complements the first and deals with a “catch-up effect” for countries like Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique who had fallen behind in attracting foreign tourists and direct investors during the period of regional destabilization and apartheid in South Africa.  The argument has been that Zimbabwe’s economic decline and political instability have spurred regional growth while leaving Zimbabwe behind – a case often cited being that of Victoria Falls which is widely marketed under the banner of South Africa and Zambia, and hardly under Zimbabwe on account of its negative international image.

From a political economy perspective, the “catch-up” effect has been identified as having a negative effect on regional politics, and therefore cancelling out any positive impact it would have had on the economy.  The xenophobia attacks directed at Zimbabweans (especially in South Africa) are seen as counter-productive to the successful growth of regional integration.  The international image of instability associated with Zimbabwean migration into the South African economy has re-enforced existing concerns over individual personal security and negatively affected the economic stimulus that a peaceful region would otherwise have experienced.

Nine Lessons the region can learn from Zimbabwe

1. Past performance is no predictor of future prospects; The history and success of Mwenemutapa Empire, its predecessor and successor should point to a national consciousness on the need for Zimbabwe to contribute to a culture of high economic performance in the region, but this has not been the case.  It is also not enough for Liberation Nationalist Politicians in Southern Africa to rely on the success of the armed struggle to carry these societies into a successful future.  Similarly, it is not sufficient for the leaders of South Africa to assume that the inherited largely successful economy will remain so irrespective of the policies they pursue; Zimbabwe shows how easy it is to dismantle a highly successful economy without planting the seeds for its recovery on a different trajectory.

2. History is an important National motivator, but insufficient for progress: The Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle was infused with important symbols from its past – the Zimbabwe bird, ruins of Great Zimbabwe, and spiritual mediums that motivated anti-colonial wars among others.  In post-independent Zimbabwe, the leadership has invoked the spirit of national liberation struggle to push and implement radical reforms in land re-distribution and attempted to develop a brand of African Economic Nationalism at home, in the region, and in Africa.  On the face of it, the recalling of heroic struggles should generate a national momentum to overcome adversities; but not when the population sees that its leaders are not making the sacrifices ordinary people are called upon to make. 

3. A crisis must be matched with a strategy: When faced by a declining economy and demands from Veterans of the War of Liberation for payouts the economy could not sustain, Zimbabwe’s political leadership embarked on a chaotic land invasion program (renamed FTLRP).  Faced by a crisis in economic production after the FTLRP, the leadership resorted to unprecedented printing of money and wiped out individual and national savings from the resulting hyperinflation.  Although both actions were identified and understood to be harmful to the development of Zimbabwe if prolonged, strategies were not developed to turn their threats into opportunities for recovery and growth; and for the country to build on its internal strengths while managing its weaknesses.  When called upon to provide economic leadership to drive recovery, Zimbabwe leadership failed the test of developing a strategy based on an alignment of its national vision, resources, and organizational systems with the new global environment.

4. Revolutions should be short: The history of successful revolutions from around the world is that effectiveness is matched with the duration of the “struggle phase”.  Rapid changes during the French Revolution, the two World Wars, and other major shifts in power have all lasted a few years.  Even in Zimbabwe’s own history, the intense phase of armed combat lasted less than five years; and yet the FTLRP presented as an agrarian revolution in Zimbabwe has lasted for over 15 years, too long to allow the society to focus on reconstruction.  The prolonged radical changes in land redistribution and proposals to forcefully change the ownership of other economic assets have created continuous political, economic, and social instability in the country that is not conducive to economic recovery.

5. Being a good neighbor has consequences: Tanzania and Zambia were among the first countries in the region to learn and experience the consequences of good neighbourliness when Apartheid South Africa bombed and destabilized these two countries for the position they had taken in supporting those struggling to liberate Southern Africa from minority white rule.  Similarly, Mozambique and Angola paid a high economic, social, and political price for providing bases to the liberation fighters of ZANU, SWAPO, and ANC.  Post-democratic South Africa is also learning the consequences of being a good neighbor by welcoming those fleeing economic difficulties in Zimbabwe and watching a social revolution unfold as these migrants join others from Mozambique, Malawi, and as far afield as the West Africa and the Horn of Africa. 

6. Scapegoats only have a short-term good feel factor: After 2000, Zimbabwe was faced with economic, political, and social consequences of its poor economic management, military interventions, policy choices on land acquisition, and handling of internal political dissent.  While actions taken by the international community have had the short-term effect of slowing down economic recovery, their elevation to international sanctions without acknowledging that (a) the country was a bad debtor; and (b) the impact would remain small as long as the sanctions were limited to the few Western governments that had imposed them has not helped Zimbabwe. While developing a political strategy to deal with these limited sanctions, the leadership failed to systematically develop a matching strategy to contain their economic impacts; and instead used Western Governments as scapegoats for many of the internally-driven policies that had negative national impacts (useful politically, but very damaging to both social and economic welfare of its citizens). 

Within most African countries, political leadership has equally learnt that the use of colonialism to explain poor economic performance is no longer convincing to a population used to seeing widespread plunder of national wealth by the new African elite.  For Southern Africa, time is also fast-approaching when the policies of apartheid rule in and outside South Africa will wear thin with a population experiencing deepening poverty while the local elite uses national wealth to access global goods and services without rebuilding national economic production systems for the benefit of all.

7. Militarism, factionalism, and decline go together: A study of past empires around the world should have helped Zimbabwean leaders develop a clear understanding of the relationship between wars, political factionalism, and societal decline.  Whether it is the Mwenemutapa Empire, Czarist Russia, pre-Communist China, or European colonial empires; the mixture of expensive wars with political dissent and fragmentation at home have often been followed by economic decline and sometimes political violence driven by economic hardships experienced by the populations.  That the Zimbabwe political leadership failed to connect its economic difficulties with (a) the wars in Mozambique and DRC (however necessary these might have been considered), or (b) with the rising factionalism in national politics; and therefore produce appropriate corrective national policies has been a major catalyst for the continued national economic, political, and social crises. 

8. Economic development is the foundation of civilizations: Whether it is from a study of the Mwenemutapa Empire, the Industrial Revolution in Europe, or economic reforms in China, the leadership in Zimbabwe has failed to recognize that its regional political influence is short-lived if it is not matched with a corresponding growth in the economy.  The national Look East Policy, while initially informed by past acts of solidarity from China and other Asian countries, could not have been sustained without the rise of these countries as global economic leaders.  While finding a political compromise to underpin economic and social development is an important strategy, it has eluded the Zimbabwe political leadership.  Equally, while SADC continues to be an important political player in Africa, its continued success will very much depend on the success of its economic integration and increased productivity.

9. It is disastrous to look ahead with your eyes firmly fixed on the past: Although the leadership in Zimbabwe recognizes and articulates a desire to move forward on politics and the economy, this forward-looking articulation is matched by a firm fix on past injustices – be they over land, economy, and political affiliation to opposition parties by the small wealthy white population and the growing mass of urban poor, who are seen as in need of “punishment”.  On the economy, there is an equally strong fix on an economy from a by-gone era before the rise of Asian global manufacturing centres, and this generates unrealistic economic policies on manufacturing, mining, distribution, pricing, and other globally-dependent tools for sound economic management.  Equally, the region will need to look ahead without its primary focus just being on the role of Liberation Movements as leaders of heroic anti-colonial struggles to retain support from populations – who now demand a forward-looking economic development strategy!

From Mutota to Mugabe, Zimbabwe has been an important player in regional developments, but the drivers of this influence need to be explored and lessons learnt.  This is a subject that deserves more than complaints about the nature of African politics or its leaders, and calls for the development of analytical tools to help Africans learn from themselves in a global system where local issues can quickly have global significance with influence and consequences. 


[1] Iron Age defines a civilization and culture of a people using iron as the material for their cutting tools and weapons; and started over 3,000 years ago and lasted until late into the first millennium; having succeeded the Bronze Age (3,000-1,000 BC) and the Stone Age (9,000-3,000 BC).

[2] Alternate titles of Mwene Mutapa are Mwene Matapa - “Ravager/Conqueror of the Lands” – a title carried by a line of kings ruling South-East African in present-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique, from the 14th to the 17th century.  The domain was often called the empire of the Mwene Matapa, or simply Matapa or Mutapa; or Monomotapa in Portuguese.

[3] Elkiss, T.H. 1981. The Quest for an African Eldorado: Sofala, Southern Zambezia, and the Portuguese, 1500-1865. Waltham, MA: Crossroads Press. 



The Zimbabwe Spring of Inclusive Government (2009-2012) formally came to an end with the elections of July 2013, although it had effectively petered out and stopped by the end of 2012 as politicians turned their attention from the economy to preparing for elections. The promise of reforms contained in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) had by 2012 fizzled out in the midst of endless policy disagreements between the parties to the Inclusive Government, and the general mood was that a government to tackle the deep-rooted problems in the economy needed a fresh and clear mandate from the population. Figuratively, the nation therefore held its breath as it went to the polls in 2013; with all the signs there that Spring was over for the economy, but few could say what would follow.

Consistent with its dominant ideology of national liberation, ZANU(PF)’s 2013 election manifesto underpinned its economic development program on a promise to Indigenize, Empower, Develop and Create Employment.  It promised that a ZANU(PF) Government would indigenize 1,138 firms –90% of them in the mining, manufacturing, and tourism sectors – by using the 2007 law to transfer 51% ownership of these businesses to indigenous Zimbabweans; in the same way that 12.1 million hectares of land had been transferred from 3,500 whites to Africans -  much of it given to 276,000 indigenous households. While the promise of land redistribution was based on available land, the promise of indigenization was made in an environment where most companies had either closed down, or were operating at low capacity.  Some analysts therefore hypothesized that the many coffee shops and lodges springing up around the urban areas (often run by displaced white farmers) and retail spaces owned by foreigners were included in the companies to be indigenized given the desperate conditions of industries.

After ZANU(PF) had won the July 2013 elections, government announced the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset), for the period October 2013 to December 2018, as the instrument to turn the party manifesto into an economic development program. While the Short-Term Economic Recovery Programs (STERP) I and II during the Inclusive Government had been developed under the Ministry of Finance, ZimAsset saw economic policy-making reverting to ZANU(PF) - as had been the practice before 2009 - and it was approved by the Politburo for implementation under the joint leadership of Ministry of Finance and the Office of the President and Cabinet. ZimAsset outlined four priority areas (Clusters): food security and nutrition, social services and poverty eradication, infrastructure and utilities, and value addition and beneficiation.

In order to empower, the manifesto promised to use natural resources to unlock value for indigenous businesses in twelve sectors, where 1,238 of the companies to be indigenized were reportedly worth US$7.3bn; and then unlock a further US$1.8 trillion from local authorities, parastatals, mines and other assets. With manufacturing companies operating at around 40% of their capacity (many unable to pay wages to their employees for months), and practically all local authorities and parastatals deeply in debt, it was not clear how the manifesto writers computed these numbers

For greater economic development, the manifesto promised to allocate Agribank US$2bn to stimulate agricultural production; to capacitate IDBZ with US$3bn to finance physical infrastructure development; to use US$2bn to rehabilitate social infrastructure (schools, clinics, etc.); and to give SEDCO US$300m to finance women’s and youth initiatives. It appeared from a reading of the manifesto that these proposals were based on value to be unlocked from indigenized firms, but it was not clear how the indigenized shares would be turned into monetary value to finance the recapitalization of these three major parastatals.

Finally, to create employment, the manifesto promised 2.265 million new jobs over five years, half of them in the agriculture and tourism sectors, and the rest in manufacturing, electricity generation, construction, finance, and the public services of health and education. Having instructed utilities responsible for power and water services to write off uncollected revenue in the run-up to elections; and with tourists having long deserted Zimbabwe, and agricultural financing from banks not viable without bankable tenure instruments, it was not clear how these new jobs were going to be created.

The manifesto promise was that these strategies would drive recovery, and the economy would register an average annual growth rate of 9% by 2018, starting with a low 4% growth in 2014. This would see Zimbabwe’s economy double in eight years, and would indeed constitute a Summer of Rapid Growth. The promises and realities on the ground led many readers of the manifesto to consider it ambitious but unrealistic, and this might explain why the nation was curious, anxious, and expectant about what was to follow after 2013.

In order to deliver the promised growth, ZimAsset contained four critical policy commitments: to maintain a multi-currency system for the foreseeable future, to introduce Special Economic Zones, especially in urban areas, to review the indigenization framework, and to focus on the rehabilitation of industry, agriculture, and mining. It further made commitments to resolve any outstanding land issues and pave the way for expanded irrigation programs to underpin agricultural recovery, while remaining on course with government programs being monitored by staff of the IMF[1].  To finance ZimAsset (estimated to require US$27bn), seven sources of funding were identified: tax and non-tax revenue, leveraging resources, a Sovereign Wealth Fund, issuance of bonds, implementation of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), securitization of remittances, and mobilization o f resources from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries. With government revenue projected at around US$4bn in 2013 and over three-quarters of it set aside for civil service wages, the capital funding of ZimAsset would require at least an additional US$5bn from external sources (exports, FDI, or ODA).

 ZimAsset outlined a program on how government would tackle obstacles standing in the way of economic recovery if a Summer of Rapid Growth was to follow the Spring of Inclusive Government. On the creation of conditions enabling businesses to thrive, ZimAsset was silent and instead focused on state-driven measures as drivers for economic recovery. Similarly, the state was going to be the primary actor in dealing with issues of natural resources management in order to attain the projected economic growth. Thus, the mechanisms of how ZimAsset could herald the coming of a Summer of Rapid Growth were either vague or not covered at all.  A good strategy is normally based on the best fit between an organization and the environment the organization operates in: telling us not just "what" will done (the agenda), but how it will be done.  Without a detailed strategy (covering short, medium and long term horizons), ZimAsset did not present a clear understanding of the prevailing environment (local and international) so necessary to underpin the viability of any strategy; and therefore failed to produce a sound strategy that could link the prevailing environment with the organization of Government and private agencies.  

ZimAsset laid out an expansive program, with more than 80 Cluster Key Results Areas, 150 Cluster Outcomes, 350 Cluster Outputs, and 350 Strategies. Although it recognized that implementation would be hampered by a lack of adequate resources, and would require robust and prudent fiscal and monetary policy measures, it did not provide a framework for prioritization.  Furthermore, without a detailed breakdown of inputs (materials and finance) needed to produce the 350 Cluster Outputs, ZimAsset did not produce viable detailed implementation plans with timelines and schedules of producing these Outputs.  Without detailed Inputs matched with Outputs, ZimAsset strategy could not link a poorly understood environment with existing national systems, organization, and resources so necessary for success.  Without detailed and specific activities, resources (human and finance) needed, and targets (time when outputs would be delivered by); a Zim-Asset fell short of an Implementation Plan. 

It can be argued that during the Winter of Fast Track Policies (2000-2008), the economy built by the Rhodesian Front in the period 1965-1980 was destroyed. It can also be argued that by pursuing Fast Track Policies, the ZANU(PF) government hit a ‘re-set’ button – taking Zimbabwe back to the early 1960s before the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Unlike countries that set out to build a new economy with very little in the 1960s, Zimbabwe in 2013 found itself with an infrastructure and human resource base that it had inherited and expanded after 1980. Secondly, regional geography had changed, with a post-apartheid Southern Africa with enormous opportunities for growth. Thirdly, a rapid growth of technologies in the world had created opportunities for countries to leapfrog and bypass stages of development that relied on older and more cumbersome technologies. These were just three elements available to those thinking about long-term prospects for Zimbabwe’s recovery and growth. The Summer of Inclusive Government set the conditions for a takeoff in economic recovery; what remained for its leadership was to figure out how Zimbabwe could successfully use these opportunities.

The first step towards economic recovery was to incorporate sound policies into the national development strategy (in this caseZim Asset) and specifically address the key obstacles to attracting investments, whether from individuals, corporations, or states. In the case of Zimbabwe, a Growth Enhancing Property Rights Framework (GEPRiF) – in its approach, content, enforceability, predictability, consistency, and credibility – lies at the heart of what a sound economic recovery program should tackle in order to improve services to the population. The adoption of a GEPRiF would be a sign that economic policy-making in Zimbabwe is no longer hostage to political veto, and give momentum to the adoption of a sound economic recovery program incorporating government policies on prudent budget management with a balanced budget (the debt of close to US$9bn in 2012 was mostly arrears accumulated since 2000 when the country defaulted on its external loan repayments while increasing domestic borrowing). Prudent budget management with a focus on service delivery to the poor would open the way for Zimbabwe to engage international creditors (especially the IFIs and traditional Paris Club members) in order to develop a viable debt clearance strategy – including repayments, write-offs, rescheduling, and other options pursued by countries in similar and sometimes worse circumstances than Zimbabwe’s.

The conditions for economic recovery in Zimbabwe exist, subject to the rebalancing of technical and political considerations in policy formulation and implementation. With its stock of natural resources and a well-educated population, Zimbabwe has advantages that many countries did not have at independence, or when they re-set the clock for economic recovery and growth. In addition, the people of Zimbabwe are highly mobile in Southern Africa, with an estimate of nearly 25% of the population having emigrated in the last two decades, mainly to South Africa, and with a reputation for hard work and trading skills in the region (three-quarters of the adult population inside the country are also engaged in some form of trade activity). Added to this extensive distribution of its population around the world, the country has opted to maintain a multi-currency system dominated by the US$ which gives Zimbabweans a great opportunity to take advantage of global commercial opportunities if the country can re-establish domestic production systems. For this to happen, Zimbabweans need to accept that the War of Economic Liberation  - fought over land and indigenization - during a decade of Fast Track Policies is over; and that the Spring of Inclusive Government has presented the country with a platform on which a transition to a of Summer of Rapid Growth can start under conditions of new political and economic freedoms that were unimaginable in 2008.  

[1] The IMF Staff Monitored Program (SMP) focuses on improving transparency in the mining sector (revision of Mining and Minerals Act, and preparation of a new Diamond Policy and Act), addressing vulnerabilities in the banking sector, improving government payroll management, and ensuring minimum funding of social services. 


Like the changing weather seasons we humans have planned our lives around, economies undergo cycles with a high peak (summer) and a low trough (winter), with citizens planning and hoping for a spring transitioning into summer, and not too long an autumn before a short and mild winter. But unlike the weather, whose seasons fit into a clearly defined period, economic cycles are subject to local, national, and global forces that produce long and variable seasons that often last for years. Ideally, governments and businesses hope for a relatively short spring leading to a long summer of economic boom, and then two sharp and short periods of autumn and winter during an economic downturn, before a steady recovery period of spring is followed by the longest possible summer of economic boom.

For Zimbabwe, the forty-year period 1972-2012 can be divided into six economic seasons: the Winter of National Liberation War (1972-79), the Spring of a New Nation (1980-86), the Summer of Structural Reconfiguration (1987-1996), the Autumn of War Veterans (1997-2000), the Winter of Fast Track Policies (2000-2008),[1] and the Spring of Inclusive Government (2009-2012). The next season is expected to a Summer of Sustained Growth, but it is not only difficult to predict, but it will depend on how government responds to local, national, and global politico-economic conditions.

In explaining the post-independence economic development of Zimbabwe, two leading economists[2] from the Zimbabwe Institute divided the period 1980-2005 into three ‘economic policy epochs’: controlled growth (1980-1990), ESAP and start of crisis (1991-2000), and national destruction (2001-2005). The application of a ‘weather seasons analogy’ to these epochs further enriches the discussion by introducing the dynamism of the transitions between the epochs. 

The seeds of the Winter of National Liberation War (1972-79) were sown in the late 1950s. Although preparations for the armed struggle had started in 1964, and the first guerilla attack was in 1966, 1972 saw the commencement of large-scale guerilla attacks on Southern Rhodesia by African Nationalist combatants operating from bases in Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.  The Lancaster House Conference to prepare a constitution for a new Zimbabwe opened the door to the 1980 elections, and the commencement of the Spring of a New Nation (1980-86) – full of promise, hope, and confidence that this new nation would avoid the mistakes made by countries that got independence in the 1960s.

While citizens in the rest of the country were enjoying the Spring of a New Nation, those living in Midlands and Matebeleland were going through the Winter of Gukurahundi (1982-85).  Operation Gukurahundi of 1982 ended with the death of over 20,000 people and brought to a close a thirty-year fierce struggle for power that had started in 1963 between ZANU and ZAPU.[3]  By 1986, ZAPU had accepted that it was no longer the equal of ZANU in the political struggle, and the Unity Accord signed between the leadership of the two parties on 22 December 1986 gave birth to ZANU(PF.  Mugabe was later to call Gukurahundia moment of madness” but did not agree with those who characterized it as “genocide”. 

The Summer of Structural Reconfiguration (1987-96) marked a period of significant economic growth and recovery throughout the country, as demonstrated by growth rates in GDP per capita, with expansion in the provision of services in education, health, water and sanitation, and transportation, and a steady rise in employment opportunities and prosperity. It was also a period of expansion in government spending, in particular to support a military incursion into Mozambique to combat the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO). This combination of domestic spending and foreign military engagement placed the Zimbabwe economy under severe pressure and laid the ground for an Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), endorsed by the IMF and World Bank. The ESAP of 1991-96 was doomed to fail as spending continued to outstrip economic growth. The hope and excitement ushered in by independence in 1980 had sixteen years later given way to disillusionment as jobs and other economic opportunities for the majority declined.

The abandonment of ESAP coincided with an onset of the Autumn of War Veterans (1997-2000). Many ex-combatants from the ZANU military wing (the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army – ZANLA) who had not been absorbed into the structures of government found themselves among the ranks of the unemployed, ranks which were swelled by demobilized soldiers and retrenched civil servants. The army of unemployed ex-combatants made economic demands and threatened to bring down the very government they had fought to bring into power.[4] Without time to adjust policies and bring about increased economic growth, government in late 1997 started printing money in order to meet its rising commitments. The sudden increase in money supply, the DRC war, and general economic decline led to a crash of the local currency on 14 November 1997 – ‘Black Friday[5] – which was to mark an important point in the onset of Autumn of War Veterans. The era of trying to reconfigure the inherited Rhodesian economy of import substitution had come to an end; nationalist forces were gathering to demand a new and more equitable economy, but government was ill-prepared for it.

The sudden economic contraction of 1998 following ‘Black Friday’ led to price increases, food riots, and emergence of political opposition to ZANU(PF) from within its alliance partner, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) grew out of the ZCTU to campaign for more political space, a new constitution, and a new pro-labour economic programme. A new constitution was formulated and put to a referendum in 2000. ZANU(PF) campaigned for ‘yes’ vote, but lost the referendum, bringing to an end the Autumn of War Veterans. This also marked the end of economic growth in Zimbabwe and the onset of several years of decline, while the rest of Africa continued to show positive growth.

The Winter of Fast Track Policies (2000-2008) began with the invasion of white-owned commercial farms by groups led by ZANLA ex-combatants, completing what was started in 1894 and aggressively resumed in 1972 – the taking back of African land occupied by European colonial settler farmers during the period 1890-1950. Government efforts to buy land from white farmers after 1980 had failed to meet the demand for better land by Africans living on land with marginal soils in the colonial Tribal Trust Lands (also referred to as African Reserves and after 1980 re-named to Communal Areas). Lack of adequate funding, refusal by white farmers to release land into the market even under ‘willing seller willing buyer’ principle, and a growing antagonism between ZANU(PF) leadership and Western Governments, all combined to trigger a nation-wide invasion of land owned by white farmers who had in 1999 joined the MDC in large numbers.[6]

The rapid decline in economic production associated with the Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP) only increased the number of unemployed people and drove more of them towards the MDC’s promise of prosperity. Government’s use of price controls, money printing, elite corruption, and threats to the private sector only gave more ammunition to MDC leadership. The impact of money printing on the economy was catastrophic as incomes and savings in Z$ became virtually worthless (from US$0.04 in 1998 to virtually zero in 2004).

For the masses of poor peasant farmers waiting to benefit from the FTLRP, there was the promise of a better socio-economic future; and ZANU(PF) developed a second policy promising a transfer of shares from private (predominantly white-owned) firms to the state and the African population – giving rise to the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment policy in 1998 and later the Act of 2007. This combination only accelerated economic decline, and government responded by an even faster printing of money, which culminated in the highest hyperinflation rate in the world (while the enforcement of price controls drove goods from the formal to the informal markets).

Real GDP was projected to have fallen by over 6% in 2007, driven by output declines in all sectors. Frequent electricity shortages, deteriorating infrastructure, fuel and foreign exchange shortages, the rising impact of the substantial emigration of skilled workers, and uncertainties over property rights all contributed to the decline.

Inflation had spiraled to hyperinflation levels . The official consumer price index significantly understated price pressures due to the fact that many of the goods with controlled prices were not regularly available in the formal sector, but were recorded with no price increase or only a negligible increase in the official basket. This led to a severe downward bias in the official inflation estimate.

The external debt situation remained difficult, with the public debt as a proportion of GDP having more than doubled during the period 1980-2006. At the end of October 2007, official reserve assets, reported by the authorities using the template agreed with IMF staff, stood at about one month of imports. This was greatly inadequate in view of Zimbabwe’s substantial official external arrears of over US$1bn and pressing import needs.

Private sector financial intermediation had dried up and banking sector assets and profitability had already been eviscerated in real terms. While the RBZ’s standard stress tests pointed to limited systemic credit and exchange rate risk, the role of the banking sector in financial mediation was continuously declining.

Shortages of food, fuel, and electricity had further undermined social conditions. Hyperinflation had eroded the purchasing power of wages and salaries, and intensifying price distortions worsened shortages of basic goods. Price controls and freezes since June 2007, although some of them were later relaxed, made food shortages more severe, encouraged informal activity, and seriously damaged business confidence.  The situation was doing long-term damage to the Zimbabwean economy. Private sector investment was virtually zero, infrastructure was deteriorating, and skilled people, such as teachers, doctors, nurses, and technicians, were leaving the country, particularly for South Africa.

 It is in this environment that the elections of 2008 led to a defeat of ZANU(PF) by MDC, followed by violence against supporters of opposition parties, and the commencement of negotiations to stop a national slide into an expanded conflict. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) in 2008 appointed South Africa to mediate between ZANU(PF) and MDC, and this culminated in the signing of a Global Political Agreement (GPA) on 15 September 2008, laying the framework for the formation of an Inclusive Government in which ZANU(PF) and MDC would equally share ministerial positions, with Mugabe retaining the Presidency with two Vice-Presidents, and the MDC getting a newly-created post of Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers.

 While negotiations on the composition of the Inclusive Government were going on, the RBZ and Ministry of Finance continued with their efforts to address the country’s economic problems. In late 2008, the RBZ Governor issued a hundred-trillion Z$ note (having removed close to 15 zeros from the currency in the previous two years). Within a week, the blue note had gone down in value from US$100 to US$0.1. Citizens stopped accepting the Z$ for their goods and it was effectively abandoned as a medium of exchange. 

On 29 January 2009, Patrick Chinamasa as acting Minister of Finance presented to Parliament a budget statement that took some critical steps towards economic reforms – officially allowing the use of foreign currencies alongside the Zimbabwe dollar, relaxing price controls, and stopping the RBZ quasi-fiscal activities and money printing. Government adopted the US$ for denominating its budget, payment of taxes, and trading on the Stock Exchange. At the same time, the Ministry of Finance was to work with the RBZ to pay civil servants’ allowances with coupons denominated in hard currency and to be exchange for US$ in the market.

 While the budget statement signalled the end of fast-tracked land reform and hyperinflation, the Spring of Inclusive Government was delayed until 11 February 2009, when Prime Minister Tswangirai announced that Zimbabwe civil servants would be paid in hard currency. In the lead-up to this announcement, extensive discussions had been held between the in-coming Government economic team and International Financial Institutions (IFIs) on how formal dollarization could be attained, as the Government team concluded that the choices were either to pay civil servants with Z$ (as good as not paying them) or pay them in a hard currency. Given the difficulties of formal dollarization without official engagement with the United States of America, the new Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, in the 18 March budget statement to Parliament announced the adoption of a Multi-Currency System (MCS). Thus, within two months, Chinamasa and Biti had announced the critical monetary policy that was to mark the end of Winter of Fast Track Policies and the commencement of Spring of Inclusive Government.

 In 2009, those who had seen themselves as waging a war for economic liberation during the previous decade found themselves sharing power in the Inclusive Government. The Spring started out quite chilly, though, with all services having practically collapsed and government having no money to finance the recovery. The first priority was to stabilize the economy, which the MCS did by halting hyperinflation overnight, after which the private sector restocked shops and supermarkets within a fortnight – the South African economy had the capacity to meet this demand. The funding of services was more difficult. In February 2009, at least US$45m was needed to pay every government employee US$100 (without contributions to pensions and medical aid) and meet the minimum Government expenses, but only collected US$25m; the balance had to come from private borrowings. The focus from March 2009 shifted to increasing government revenue, which rose from US$25m a month to over US$100m by year end, a major success story under the Summer of Inclusive Government. In two years, the revenue had recovered to almost the 2000 levels, and had by 2012 surpassed them.

This dramatic economic recovery sent the strongest signal that the stabilization strategies as outlined in the two phases of Short-Term Economic Recovery Programs (STERP I and II) were working, and gave hope to many that the Spring of Inclusive Government was indeed setting the stage for a Summer of Rapid Growth after the 2013 elections; but some feared that that it would give way to a Winter of Uncertainty for unknown duration.   



[1] The government has presented the large-scale farm invasions that started in 2000 as marking a struggle to liberate the economy from white race-based capital, both local and international. The idea of a new African struggle for Economic Liberation/Freedom has also inspired sections of South African politicians and population to rally around the idea of Economic Freedom Fighters.

[2] Danile Ndlela and Peter Robinson (2007) ‘A New Zimbabwe – Sustainable Growth and Transformation’, ZimConsult and The Zimbabwe Institute, Cape Town, South Africa.

[3] The first Operation Gukurahundi was carried out within ZANU’s military wind (ZANLA) in December 1974 and lede by Urimbo and Nhongo to put down the Nhari-Badza rebellion.

[4] As the War veterans demanded Government payout as compensation (of a lump sum amount plus monthly allowances) for their role in the liberation way, the Svosve people (100km east of Harare) invaded a white-owned farm in November 1997, and government published the first list of 1,471 farms to be compulsorily purchased. The farmers tried to block the purchase orders in the courts as they believed the sums on the table did not reflect the market value.

[5] The Zimbabwe dollar fell by 71.5% against the US$, and the stock market crashed by 46%.

[6] The nationalists in ZANU(PF) often cited a famous TV news clip showing the leader of MDC seated on a sofa while white farmers wrote out cheques, and farm workers sat on the grass in their blue overalls. 

INNOVATION LESSONS FROM TSHAKA - get inspiration from solitude and your environment

Today I was invited to spend a few hours with a group of young innovators and their audience at Pitch Night held at Celebration Centre in Harare.  I was expected to say something inspirational, but instead I found myself quite inspired by what I heard from three young pitchers engaging with an audience of close to a hundred members. 

When it came to my turn, for inspiration I turned to Tshaka and some legends around his life.  Stories abound of Tshaka spending much time on his own, on the hills and valleys; running, exercising, practising the art of war, training his troops, thinking, or simply issuing instructions on a variety of issues.

One of Tshaka’s major challenge was how to produce the most efficient fighting machine in the region, capably of taking on and winning any battle among his contemporaries. Two major issues were of concern to him: military weapons and battle formations

The history of how Tshaka fashioned his weapons of war is reasonably well known – an example of innovating from experiences by shortening the spear, developing shields from treated cowhides, and even selecting his soldiers based on their height (short men are said to have been put to death!).   Less well known is about his innovation on battle formations built around ideas he got from cattle horns and ocean waves.

While sitting on the beach, watching ocean waves come in with regularity and growing force, Tshaka was fascinated by an observation that even when the tide was going out, the waves still came forward while retreating.  He was impressed by the relentlessness of waves, and their force.  It is said that he would put to death any of his fighters coming from battle with wounds on his back; it meant he was not moving forward while retreating.

Tshaka was also intrigued by Zulu cattle horns, and his experience with tending and wrestling with stubborn bulls left him convinced that the design of horns was for efficiency and effectiveness.  Horns had sharp tips and broad bases – underlining effectiveness and strength as a cattle's defensive weapon.

From these observations, Tshaka developed the “Waves and Pincer Movement” battle strategy.   In all future battles, his fighters were to come at the enemy in small groups from the front, at intervals Tshaka would determine; imitating the waves.  At the same time, his fighters were to attach from the sides in small groups, imitating the horns.  Groups of fighters coming from the sides and front, in waves, and relentlessly, were to prove decisive in Tshaka’s many battles with various nations/tribes in the whole of Southern Africa. 

Tshaka had learnt from his environment, and as entrepreneurs we can learn from our environment.  Consider a few facts for demonstration effect: Africa’s annual food import bill is over US$40 billion; and Zimbabwe’s trade balance during the first six months of 2015 was made up of over US$3 billion worth of imports and  just over US$1.2 billion worth of exports (leaving a deficit of US$1.8 billion - a business opportunity).  Furthermore, informal traders across Africa, especially in the cities are considered a nuisance; although most of what they sell are imported items for everyday use, that are often of basic and sometimes poor quality (more business opportunities!).

Innovatorpreneurs need to watch, reflect, and innovate.  An understanding of African consumer behavior should force our entrepreneurs to reflect and then innovate.  Tinned tomatoes are for instance mainly water, often imported at great cost in tins.  Our innovatorpreneurs need to ask: why are we not replacing imported tinned tomatoes with locally dried tomatoes that can be reconstructed with water at the time of use (they would be cheaper to transport and cheaper to store).  Similarly, plastic buckets manufactured in factories around the world are convenient, but our innovatorpreneurs need to ask: what is wrong with Vapostori/Jua Kali/village artisan hand-made buckets?

The future African innovator needs to find time to think, alone!  To walk, alone!  Walking in the streets with eyes fixed on cell phone and tablet screens, bumping into people, and hardly aware of one's surroundings is not going to inspire us.  Eyes glued on these screens will tell us what our friends are doing on Facebook, Twitting, watching on Youtube, or engrossed in various social media products; but it is unlikely to inspire us much. 

We need to think and act like Tshaka. We need to walk our streets, suburbs, rural villages, urban human settlements, various markets as well as our forests and savannahs; without the cell phone or the tablet as the only thing in front of our eyes.   We need to reflect deeply on problems, but this is only possible if we take time to observe and understand them.  We need to think differently about solutions, but that is only possible if we are familiar with how existing problems are being tackled. 

Thinking and acting like Tshaka in our environment today will help us innovate for tomorrow and take to the market products that will solve tomorrow’s problems.

With this reflection on some lessons from Tshaka's,  innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!

Obama to push for greater innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa

During the planned 25-26 July 2015 sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Obama will not just be visiting the land of his father for the first time as President, but more importantly he will be bringing to Africa an important discourse on entrepreneurship and development.  While his grandmother Sarah Obama has promised to cook for him a feast of African foods, African youths are planning a different feast: of the genius of African innovation and entrepreneurship! Obama will in July join Uhuru Kenyatta (a youthful president by African standards) in networking with innovators, entrepreneurs, financial, and other important actors in the evolving story of how technology in the twenty-first century will be at the heart of replacing poverty with prosperity in the world.  African entrepreneurs will also have a chance to measure their progress against that of others from around the world - with over 1200 delegates expected to mingle with the powerful in business and politics in Nairobi. 

The President's Spark initiative has an ambitious target of raising over US$1 billion by 2017 in order to finance new businesses and social entrepreneurs - with most funding expected to benefit  women and those under 35. In the twilight of his second Presidential term, this is a worthy cause in a world where the major concern is how to create jobs for the rising numbers of young people - whose options are either joblessness with hopelessness and despair, or creativity that expands economic opportunities for all; especially in the developing world. It will be the hope of many that once in retirement, he will continue to engage deploy his charisma, skills, energy, and persuasive skills in the cause of development driven by technology, innovation, and entrepreneurs; and committed to a more inclusive economic development and social order.

During Obama's t visit to Kenya in August 2006, he generated much excitement; but also made important observations on the nature of Africa's development.  In particular, he was critical of ethnic-based tribal politics which in his eyes "stifles innovation and fractures the fabric of the society" because "instead of opening businesses and engaging in commerce, people come to rely on patronage and payback as a means of advancing".  For Obama, this politics "is rooted in the bankrupt idea that the goal of politics or business is to funnel as much of the pie as possible to one's family, tribe, or circle with little regard for the public good"  It is this public good that takes entrepreneurs to the market, using innovations coming from the best minds in a country irrespective of their language, colour, religion, or social class.  In that instance, Obama was selling the American dream to the descendants of his fatherland. 

Back home after the Nairobi 2006 trip, Obama went on to successfully campaign for Presidency - and ushered in a global mood of optimism on the potential of humans to rise above biological differences and focus on abilities. At his inauguration on 20 January 2009, he reminded his own citizens that in spite of the difficult period they had endured during the 2008 Food, Fuel, and Financial crisis, it was time to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work for remaking America" .  In the seven years of his presidency, he oversaw the formulation and implementation of innovative solutions to the multiple crises facing American industries in banking, health, motor, energy, and others.  His administration has come to be defined by a single-minded focus on technology-driven renewable energy development strategy - and American industries have as result registered impressive recovery and citizens are feeling more hopeful than they did in 2008.

Obama's campaign slogan was "Yes We Can" and he went to to show that with an understanding of technology and societal problems, innovative solutions are possible.  In 2015, this spirit of "Yes We Can" needs to make major inroads into our community of innovators and entrepreneurs to produce solutions and products that tackle the daily problems denying Africans an opportunity to live fulfilled lives.

With this anticipated Obama visit,  innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!


Technology should not under-develop Africa

A writer on a planned conference in Arusha (June 29-July 1) by the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) urges the Zimbabwe government to reject the proposed ARIPO Plant Variety Protection Protocol because it will deprive African farmers the power to manage seeds and transfer it to multi-national seed corporation; thereby undermining Africa's ability to manage its food security.  The arguments are compelling and deserve further debate, especially in view of the observation that African farmers were not consulted on this protocol - suggesting that when it comes to technology, experts have taken the view that science trumps culture and its attendant practices. A protocol with such far-reaching potential consequences for African agriculture and food security (especially at the household level) deserves wider consultations and should as a minimum include the views of smallholder rural farmers who live far from markets and depend on own-grown seeds.  

In the pharmaceutical sector, similar approaches have been pushed by big pharma (the global pharmaceutical industry) seeking to improve the management of diseases using patented products resulting from scientific advances (itself a good thing), but forgetting that for the majority of poor people around the world, such patented medicines from the latest advances in science and technology are out of their reach on account of price. In fact, most diseases afflicting the poor in the world (like malaria, intestinal worms, diarrhoea, skin infections, etc.) can be treated with existing drugs whose patents expired many decades ago; but even these are inaccessible to the poor. Poverty in this case has turned easy-to-treat and preventable illnesses into killers of the poor around the world.  Parallel to the efforts of big pharma have been efforts by activists to preserve traditional herbal medicines because they are available in the localities of the poor, but this is a battle that the poor are slowly losing as known traditional technologies to prevent and treat diseases are being abandoned in favour of industrial products.

In the case of plant variety protection, the situation could be much worse as new industrial seed varieties would kill off traditional varieties rather than exist side-by-side with them the way industrial and traditional medicines have continued to exist in poor communities around the world.  This is where community seed banks should be promoted and conditions created for them to coexist with large-scale farming techniques using genetically-modified seeds because we should not stop scientific progress.  A pragmatic solution of co-existence is necessary to ensure that the poor are given time for their economic welfare to improve so that they too can take advantage of scientific and technological advances in agriculture (and in other fields) rather than condemning them to a life of misery as plant and other biological materials are sucked out of African rural communities for modification in urban centres around the world.  The top ten seed companies are American (three, one of which accounts for 23% of the market), European (five) and Japanese (2).

In the second half of the last century Walter Rodney wrote a seminal work on How Europe underdeveloped Africa, primarily by sucking Africa's able-bodied labour (through slavery) and its raw materials (through exports without creating much local employment).  Rodney's thesis is that deprived of labour and without the necessary technology to process local resources a, Africa experienced under-development as its labour and natural resources built Europe - very much in line with the strategy put forward by Cecil Rhodes towards the end of the 19th Century. As a leading advocate for European imperial expansion, Rhodes was clear on the economic dimensisons:

"To save the forty million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, our colonial statesmen must acquire new lands for settling the surplus population of this country, to provide new markets... The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question.” (see Simpson, William, Jones, Martin Desmond (2000), Europe, 1783-1914, Routledge, p. 237)

Activists against the Plant Variety Protection Protocol are worried that future problems of hunger in Africa will be driven by the denial of modern seed materials to the poor on account of price once traditional seeds have been wiped out by genetically modified seeds that require farmers to purchase them every planting season.  The argument that commercially-produced seeds have higher yields are correct, but rural farmers are disadvantaged by non-functioning markets that mean that rising prices of seeds gradually outstrip incomes from produce sales.  It is this trade imbalance between rural and urban, and between underdeveloped and developed countries that needs to be addressed before we change the traditional-industrial seed balance.

In the 1990s campaign to increase drug availability for Africans affected by HIV/AIDS, big pharma was accused of "killing the poor" on account of these drugs being out of reach because patents stopped the production of cheaper drugs while the patented ones were simply too pricey for health budgets in poor countries needing to purchase the required quantities.  It is this accusation of "genocide of the poor by patents" that the drug companies were accused of that could be levelled against the seed companies in the future.  One of the most effective campaign for affordable HIV/AIDS treatment was led the vocal South African TAC.

For technology to be effective in serving the poor, those who develop and deploy advanced technological products must ensure that technological innovations remain in tune with cultural and economic realities.  The application of intellectual property protection protocols, especially for processes and products that have been developed through community knowledge in non-industrialized societies over the centuries, needs new tools that do not shortchange poor communities by transferring community knowledge rights to individual ownership.

Innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!


New technologies needed for food and nutrition security

Today, I attended a seminar to plan a Food and Nutrition Expo scheduled for 8 July 2015 and the conversation was wide-ranging, especially on ailments and solutions facing food production. One of the issues discussed was how Malawians could share their experiences with Zimbabwe on ways to increase the production of maize - a key indicator of food security in many Sub-Sahara African countries.  I found myself reflecting on the exchanges of experiences between Malawi and Zimbabwe in this critical area of production policies and technologies.  I arrived at a conclusion I had not anticipated.

After 1980, Zimbabwe found itself faced with a series of droughts affecting a population that had just come out of a ten-year war that had destroyed much of the infrastructure in the rural areas where small scale farmers earned a living under very difficult conditions - characterized by small parcels of land holdings, marginal soils, and inadequate inputs.  The Government embarked on a program where targeted inputs distribution, strengthening links between small farmers and commercial infrastructure, running feeding programs for the vulnerable, and adopting measures that helped small farmers become more efficient.  By 1990, peasant farmers in the Communal Areas (characterized by a communal land tenure system) were producing over 60% of national maize requirements, rural incomes were rising, and human development was recording impressive rates.  Public Works Programs (PWPs) where poor households worked for food, inputs, and sometimes cash had for instance been rolled out for nearly two decades.

When Malawi was faced with a severe drought in the early 2000s, the Government and World Bank teams working on response strategies looked into lessons from Zimbabwe and developed a program where PWPs were implemented with cash transfers and inputs distribution (maize seeds and fertilizer).  These PWPs helped communities improve rural access roads, rebuild community bridges, build new earth dams to capture rain water, rehabilitate run down irrigation programs, plant community woodlots, and undertake other activities that helped communities rebuild their capacity for resilience.  Malawi in 2005 for the first time produced more maize than its national requirements; and was to sell the surplus to Zimbabwe for more money than Government had invested in the entire production program.  The transfer of well tried global technologies to tackle food insecurity and strengthen safety nets for the vulnerable had gone on to strengthen economic recovery; with improved rural infrastructure contribution to greater and efficient movement of goods and services to and from rural areas.

When in 2007 Zimbabwe wanted to know how Malawi had turned round its fortunes, it was interesting to note the reaction of Government. The thinking in Harare had shifted to an approach that free tractors, combine harvesters, diesel, fertilizer, seeds, and other inputs was the future instead of building on experiences from the 1980-1996 period.  The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was for several years to try this new formula without reaching anywhere near the Malawi success; although spending many times what Malawi had spent.  The needs of a small group of well-connected "telephone farmers" had over-ridden evidence-based policies that had worked in Zimbabwe and Malawi.  In the post-2005 period, Zimbabwe continued to experience food shortages in spite of these expensive programs that transferred Government resources to a small group of inefficient large scale farmers without the attendant rise in production.

Today, Government has embarked on a large-scale program of tractor distribution; but this time with the idea of increasing production through group farming.  Again, this flies in the face of several years of community survey results that show that rural farmers want solutions to water management, improved infrastructure, and access to markets.  While PWPs with safety nets dimensions will not solve most of the problems raised by communities in these surveys, maize production in the urban, peri-urban, and communal areas could be increased several-fold if PWPs with cash and/or vouchers for agricultural inputs (piloted in 2010 in several Zimbabwe districts) were adopted.  Not all the old technologies are relevant today, and Zimbabwe could also explore a new combination of increased use of farming implements (supplied through commercial channels), expanded contract farming, and expansive rural dissemination of household-level technologies could be the foundation of a new era in African farming.   Given the large-scale transfer of better land to new small scale farmers now resettled on old commercial farms, a new packaging of production technologies could put Zimbabwe at the forefront of a new agricultural revolution in Africa.  For this, new and appropriate technologies for food production, processing, preservation, and storage would be needed.

Innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!

Open Society in Africa – potential and limitations of technology

On Friday 22 May 2015, the Swedish Embassy in Harare invited guests to a discussion on what it means to be an open society in a globalized world – with a focus on Zimbabwe.  Much tweeting (#SWEDISH OPEN FORUM) around this event expanded the discussion to an audience beyond the 230-odd who attended in person.  I chose to explore the subject through four questions:-

1.    What is it?

2.    How does it come about?

3.    Where is its relevance to Africa?

4.    Where is Zimbabwe in this context?

1. What is it?

The concept of open society  was originally suggested in 1932 by the French philosopher Henri Bergson; and further developed during the Second World War by Austrian-born British philosopher Karl Popper. Popper’s five characteristics of open society were that it is:-

1.    a stage in a historical continuum reaching from the tribal closed society,

2.    critical of tradition

3.    about reaching the abstract or depersonalised society without face-to-face transactions.

4.    a critical frame of mind on the part of the individual, in the face of any kind of communal group think.

5.    not about democracy, capitalism, or a laissez-faire economics.

2. How does it come about?

For its post-World War II supporters, open society is where:-

1.    the government is responsive and tolerant,

2.    political mechanisms are transparent and flexible.

3.    authoritarianism is opposed.

George Soros, a disciple of Karl Popper and having lived under Communism before its collapse, has strong opinions and actively engages on issues of open society, with his main arguments being that:-

1.    in open society, we should explicitly make a strong commitment to the pursuit of truth to support the separation of powers, free speech, and free elections.  For Soros, “politicians will respect, rather than manipulate, reality only if the public cares about the truth and punishes politicians when it catches them in deliberate deception."

2.    today’s sophisticated use of powerful techniques of subtle messaging/deception borrowed from modern advertising and cognitive science by conservative political operatives such as Frank Luntz and Karl Rove challenges Popper's original conception of open society.

3.    the electorate's perception of reality can easily be manipulated, and democratic political discourse does not necessarily lead to a better understanding of reality.

The three elements by George Soros, one of the foremost advocates of Open Society, are a good summary of issues in this discourse.  

The concept of open society runs into problems when it comes to implementation.  For instance, it can be argued that social media, the Internet, and overall connectivity have created conditions that make African society open.  At the same time, I can Tweet and do Facebook posts to my heart’s content; until what I say becomes offensive to others: and then my contributions are “pulled down” by faceless individuals working for media institutions. Cyberspace has created a new reality in a whole range of human activities – from investments, trading, financial flows, commodity prices, politics, etc. – where information flowing across global information networks can bring about shifts in global moods and attitudes to individuals, companies, communities, nations, etc. through what seems like “faceless rulers” of the universe.  These in effect function like the “HA-HAs” constructed in England to give humans and domestic animals unrestricted view by building walls into the ground at the end of a ramp instead of putting up a wall above ground.  The institutional restrictions/obstacles to individual actions when it comes to an open society have become the main arena of debate on the political economy of open society. 

3. Where is its relevance to Africa?

We can approach the idea of “openness” in Africa by identifying three important stages:-

1.    Pre-colonial societies (often tribal and for Popper “closed”);

2.    Colonial society where tribal societies were modified by new religions, production relationships, and consciousness about the individual and society; and therefore on the road to being “open”.

3.    Post-colonial independent societies, more integrated into the global economy and culture, more impersonal, digitally highly connected; and therefore considered “open”.

In contrast to the above perspective, Africans generally think that:-

1.    Pre-colonial societies might have been tribal, but they were relatively open to trade with outsiders.

2.    Colonial societies might have liberated the tribal mind through literature, but the African world became “closed”.  An open society cannot have slaves or a colonized people!

3.    Post-colonial African societies have experienced unprecedented opening to global culture, economy, and technology; but poverty remains a great barrier to access for the majority of Africans.

4.    In spite of rising global consciousness on the characteristics of open society, the African individual is often constrained by a consciousness/fear of how individual actions will affect the family and the wider community.  This might partly explain why the actions of individual Africans are in many instances contrary to general public opinion and expectations – for instance when it is time to elect their leadership that might be at variance with the dominant political party.

4. Where is Zimbabwe in this discourse?

The people who lived between the area bounded by the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, the Kalahari Desert, and the Indian Ocean built a functioning society for over four centuries – the Empire of Mwene Mutapa (called Monomotapa by the Portuguese) – based on rules governing trade within the empire and with outsiders (especially Arabs and the Portuguese). It took internal political strife, a depletion of resources, and the transformation of European Traders into Colonisers to change an empire into a colony.  The pre-1880 society in this African empire was carved up between European powers and a young seedling of openness was trampled underfoot.

Zimbabwe today has both open and closed dimensions:-

It is open to the global import of goods, which account for more than double what it exports to the same global market. At the same time, it has a huge out-migration (with over 25% of its population making up the Zimbabwe Diaspora).  The world is therefore open to receive well-education Zimbabwean citizens, and to sell goods to Zimbabwe on account of its continued trading using global currencies.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe receives few immigrants and visitors from around the world.  There are local circumstances that “close” Zimbabwe to immigrants and the outside world to its goods – these circumstances being global perceptions that Zimbabwe is not a country of opportunities on account of the rules/regulations that make the country unattractive to investors.  These rules/regulations effectively hold back the productive potential of Zimbabweans and denies them a bigger share of global commerce.

For Zimbabwe, the prevailing negative global perceptions are stronger than the reality of openness on account of all its exports, greater connectivity, and proliferation of social media. Understanding why this is so in Zimbabwe and not in other African countries in similar and comparable circumstances is an important question for the students of an African Political Economy of Open Society.

What role can technology play in African Modern Land Reform Programs?

Last week, there was a discussion of land reforms in South Africa, very much in the background of Zimbabwe's Fast Track Land Reform Program; with both countries dealing with an inheritance of unequal land holdings where a few thousand European Settlers have for a long time (over 300 years in South Africa and just under 100 years in Zimbabwe) held most of the arable land.  With decolonization in Zimbabwe (1980) and democratization in South Africa (1994), both Governments subscribed to a policy of voluntary "willing seller, willing buyer" in pursuit of land redistribution and restitution.  In 1998, the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union and the Zimbabwe Government in an international land conference in Harare restated their joint commitment to this policy.  Nevertheless, outside that conference were political forces led by former combatants of the Liberation War who by 2000 had gone from "willing buyer, willing seller" to "unwilling seller, forced occupation".  Last week, Agri SA (an organization founded in 1904 to represent farmers in South Africa) and the ANC Secretary General were reported as restating their commitment to the same policy of "willing seller, willing buyer"; although it is unclear where leaders of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF) were, and they have publicly stated their admiration of the "unwilling seller, forced occupation" policy.  

Back in 1986, the Chavunduka Land Commission had floated the idea of a land tax to force individuals occupying under-utilized land to incur a cost for the under-usage.  The idea had been that land taxes owed to government by farmers would be accumulated for a maximum of an agreed period (say 3 years), after which land equivalent to owed tax would be surrendered to the State in lieu of unpaid taxes.  Over time, Government would either have collected enough revenue from land taxes to implement the "willing seller, willing buyer" policy, or it would have received enough under-utilized land to resettle the landless - without having to raise additional funds for the resettlement of landless Africans.

Today, any government interested in an efficient and economic utilization of land in Africa has access to technological tools that could make such a land tax policy possible, resulting in a fair distribution of a scarce resource.  Based on ecological zoning of agricultural land and known productivity levels, the Global Positioning System (GPS) can be used to create a national electronic database open for inspection by all users (Government, buyers, sellers, and the general public).  With electronic Personal Identification Number (PIN) system becoming a common feature of tax authorities in Africa, it is a fairly simple process to link tax records with land holdings, productivity, outputs, and other data that would enable the tax authority to calculate taxes due, and to either collect as cash or as land in lieu of taxes owed.  While the GPS, taxation systems, and digital biometric data collection systems exist, much remains to be done by way of developing applications that can generate data on all these other variables that would link GPS data, Tax System, and biometric information to bring technology tools to any African government interested in a modern land reform program - where fully digitized personal, taxation, land-holding, and agricultural productivity data would be available.  

For Africa in the twenty-first century, it should no longer be a choice between "willing seller, willing buyer" and "unwilling seller, forced occupation".  A new policy of "unwilling indebted seller, voluntary surrender" is a viable option, and technology can play an important role in its implementation once the political will is there to formulate the appropriate land tax instruments. 

Innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!

People, Trade, and Technology

The African Union is determined to fulfil an old dream: a link from Cape to Cairo; except that the original imperial dream articulated by Cecil Rhodes focused on rail (the technology of the 19th Century) while the new thrust is based on trade (built around the idea of a Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) bringing together three regional organizations.  There is yet an articulation of what technology will replace the rail; although much is said about the inadequacy of road, rail, and air communications as obstacles to intra-Africa trade.  

Africans were trading with each other and with the outside world long before the boundaries from the Berlin Conference of 1883 were drawn.  Even then, trade was constrained by the inability of traders to quickly travel long distances.  In that respect, transportation infrastructure remains the main obstacle to intra-Africa trade.  But there is a new dimension today, far more challenging than physical infrastructure - boundaries!  The richest man in Africa, Mr Dangote, summarized it at the recently World Economic Forum held in Cape Town: an American wishing to trade in Africa would need fewer visas than Mr Dangote wishing to do the same.  The myriad of traders, many of them women, around Africa will tell you the hassles of crossing borders - on account of complicated regulations, insecurity of the person, as well as limitations of physical infrastructure.  In spite of poor infrastructure, more intra-African trade could be realized if traders could freely move their goods across borders.

With available technology, it should be possible to capture information of traders and their goods so that transit through borders is faster, more efficient, and supportive of local production.  One-stop border posts are able to quickly clear containers on trucks; and there is no reason why similar technologies cannot be developed to assist local traders move their goods across these borders.  While the lack of rail was the obstacle to Cecil Rhodes dream of Cape to Cairo trade, today's main obstacle has much to do with the rules we have put in place to stop people movement and ultimately hold back intra-Africa trade.  New appropriate technologies to process people and goods speedily would therefore be a good place to start in order to unleash the commercial potential of Africa's dynamic traders.  With Point Sale Devices and internet connectivity, an Electronic Traders Travel Document should be a goal to drive trade by the thousands of African traders trying to cross borders everyday.

Innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!

New Economy needs New Technologies

Zimbabwe faces an economic environment many African countries inherited at independence and which they have been trying to change: the domination of economic life by the informal sector.  While most African countries have been growing from the informal to the formal economy, Zimbabwe has in the last decade experienced a decline in the formal economy and a rapid growth in the informal.  The use of import substitution inherited in 1980s has all but died, but a new formal economy is taking too long to evolve at a time when more young Zimbabweans join the market after graduating from various institutions of learning.  It is estimated that close to 90% of the adult population is engaged in the informal sector, with nearly two-thirds of them operate as micro enterprises (one person traders and producers) and estimated to earn less than US$200 a month.

Six years ago, Zimbabwe closed a chapter of hyper-inflation; where too much much was chasing too few goods.  Today, Zimbabwe is faced by deflation, with too many goods chasing too little money as the country has been importing twice as much as it has been exporting after adopting a multi-currency regime dominated by the US$.  The economy has cumulatively imported more goods (funded from remittances and other external sources), but less money is entering the economy as a result of the shrinking export base.

In the last three months, Harare has experienced an invasion of informal traders (referred to as vendors, hawkers, street traders, etc.) and they have taken over every single available square meter of pavement in the Central Business District (CBD); blocking entrances to offices, shops, and other businesses.  Goods are laid out on the pavement, on areas usually used for parking, or supplied from car boots by the more affluent informal traders.  Roads for cars have been reduced from two to single lanes, sometimes to zero as traders jostle for trading spaces and visibility by prospective customers with declining disposable incomes.  These traders, many with imported and few locally-produced goods, are all struggling to sustain their families by capturing the few dollars in the economy.

Zimbabweans are a hard working people.  They are willing to produce if the market is there, but the decline of formal economic production activities has been so rapid that informal economic production has in the  available time been unable to establish a viable cash-goods equilibrium.  The liquidity crunch facing the whole economy has generated this mushrooming of informality - what the Minister of Finance in 2014 called The New Economy!  At the same time, old and antiquated technologies are ill-suited to the needs of the New Informal Economy.  

New technologies are urgently needed to process local raw materials into goods for export in order to match the importation of goods not produced in the country. New technologies are also needed to support those working in the informal economy so that they can reach the market without having to physically come to the streets; and to create an efficient and healthy trading environment that can help the new informal exist symbiotically with the established formal.  New technologies are urgently needed to foster these kinds of linkages between the informal and formal sectors in Zimbabwe as the New Economy goes from Informal to a rebalanced Formal-Informal New Economy.  

The innovators and entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe have been challenged!




We need Innovation Supply and Demand Side Responses

At an innovation event held by the Netherlands Embassy in Harare yesterday (9 June), we had an exciting and passionate panel of four - a visiting Dutch Entrepreneur, two Zimbabwean young promoters of tech hubs, and the Minister of ICT, Hon. Supa Mandiwanzira.  Many subjects were covered - including lack of funding for promoters, innovators, and entrepreneurs; insufficient Government support by way of infrastructure and simplified regulations; exclusion of rural populations from innovations that are either not relevant to their lives or inaccessible; as well as challenges that need to be tackled in future.

Listening to the full range of interventions, conversations, and comments; and watching the flow of tweets, it became clear that there is a lot focus on the Innovation Supply Side  - products being developed, ideas needing incubation, and institutional mechanisms needed to nurture a viable and sustainable innovation/entrepreneurial culture built on the foundation of a well education Zimbabwean population with a youth hungry for change in their lives.  What I heard less of was Innovation Demand Side: from farmers, business people, and ordinary citizens faced with problems that need solutions that are potentially sitting in the minds, books, and drawers of eager entrepreneurs.  The Minister and a few in the audience briefly talked about positive changes that ICT could bring to the Government Department handling registration (passport, births, national identity cards, and various business procedures) and how using a platform from a German firm progress was being made.  The use of ICT to reform Doing Business processes ranked high in these discussions.  I thought comments from the Minister of ICT in these areas were a good start, and he followed them with an offer to facilitate the adoption of innovations by any innovator/entrepreneur who went to his office. 

While several hubs have been established in the country to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the ICT field, there is yet no mechanism to aggregate the full range of challenges facing investors and business people in a framework that can enable the hubs to mentor those with potential solutions.  There is also a shortage of innovators working outside the ICT sector, although there are some gallant efforts to link potential ICT solutions with problems in the physical world of agriculture, water, roads, and others; but more needs to be done. These are not jobs for the government or NGO, but tasks for the market to find the paths that are walked by innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, businesses, and those grappling with development problems so that the power of the market can exert its influence in the natural selection of survivors from the many ideas coming from the hubs, Universities, and other institutions engaged in the search of solutions that meet real needs, have a commercial or social value, and can justify their being financed from private or public funds. 

Technology solutions to Africa's problems

Like everyone else in the world, Africans face a myriad of problems, many of them quite similar and needing common solutions.  There are however problems that other parts of the world found solutions to decades (even centuries) ago using technologies of the time; but to which African citizens are still grappling with.  Given advances in technology, Africa has a chance to solve these problems (of water, food, health, education, transportation, and others) at a much lower cost than say a decade ago!  InnovationBaraza is about challenging Africans and their friends to find solutions (be they original or copied/modified/adapted/improved) to solve current problems. Successful technologies under InnovationBaraza will be those that can solve real problems on the ground while being commercially viable and giving investors a reasonable return on their investement.

The InnovationBaraza Fair of July 10, 2015 is calling on inspired innovators to share their thoughts with the public, potential entrepreneurs, as well as those with inclination to be venture capitalists or social investors.