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Brian Sedze: “Open for Business” is a defective national strategy based on “dependence syndrome”

It's a game of ideas, value creation and innovation. Money follows value not the other way round.

By Brian Sedze

“Open for business” is a docile and passive approach that depends on the benevolence of the world for economic prosperity. We must be on the offensive ourselves instead of our hundred per cent dependence syndrome. We have to create the platform for value creation.

Brian Sedze
Brian Sedze

It’s a game of ideas, value creation and innovation. Money follows value not the other way round.

The idea in brief is that a country should balance its innovation funnel with desires of Foreign Direct Investment. We need to demonstrate our value instead of just opening doors.Opening doors is not a competent strategy.

 When China was going through its renaissance during Deng Xiaoping era, it targeted Wall Street banks and other financiers but the fundamental remained on the bedrock of Chinese ideas. It didn’t expect to be fed by world ideas. China went to banks because don’t produce for nation but support such production.

Open for business mantra probably has traction for investors who desire to exploit natural resources at times with token value addition. My view is that our government should go unto the world to seek partners instead of inviting capture .Open for business stinks of free for all and makes us look desperate.

International capital has tendency to invest and disinvest at dictates of their parent company therefore not sustainable model. We all lived during the times global giants like Phillips, General Electric and BP were pulling out of Zimbabwe. Some of the exits had material impact even in sensitive sectors like health.

The government, local partners and research companies must set and fund a truly innovation funnel system to enable germination of unique services and products that solve unsolved local, regional and global markets. This country’s future should depend on business start-ups and inherent country competencies to solve world problems.

 The innovation channel should ensure universities are centres of research .The present scenario  is of churning out graduates who besides having memorized old theories have limited use for the future economic wellbeing of the country. The majority of them graduates have to de-learn and relearn.Some may never be employed for their entire lives.

There is no doubt the country has to preserve the core in industrial renaissance. The core being products or services of national strategic importance.

Instead of the pursuing the idea of self-sufficiency and protecting archaic industries .We can never be a Jake of all trades and a master of none. It force feeds the nation to rise to its level of competence.

The challenge is that the country has no national strategy hence the question or research into what exactly are our core competences both as a people and a country. We have to also answer the question on what we can leverage on naturally God given resources to create new value.

In answering these national questions lets remove the myopia of land and minerals. World large companies by value like Apple, Tencent and Alibaba have no minerals. Mauritius doesn’t leverage its success on the land.

Some Industries should be allowed to die and government purposefully leapfrog germination of others. A pedestrian comparison of presently protected industries using the four arenas of product quality; timing and know how(technology);market strongholds and deep pockets(cash) will show that we are two decades behind our peers.

The government are flogging a dead horse and attempting to innovate around the familiar with industrial policy. The country is being foisted inefficiencies. Its the reason why for years the government is being lobbied to protect industry.

Without even a new innovation funnel to increase competitiveness the old industrial complex could do with death, mergers and consolidations.

We are an unfortunate country in that we don’t even have a comprehensive long term national strategy like fifty year programmes. When you realise we have the same description of Ministries since 1980 it’s a sign we captured in myopia and thinking in the old ways.We are akin to one remain in the analogue era in an artificial intelligence world.

The country work with pseudo strategies only tailor made to “win” elections. Its reason we have a new mantra every election season and countless policy documents. When we have hundred day plans and so forth without the founding national strategy it forces fiddling of results and short termism.

 Due to deficient strategies we do not even preserve the core. Our country often pretends and peddles a falsehood that it is an agriculture driven economy, which is probably our core.

On the other side of the dichotomy the production of seed is outsourced to a foreign company and some from countries are perceived to be hostile by the present government. How are we to farm sustainably for the next fifty years without seed.

Open for business mantra seem to love perpetuating economic slavery.

Money is not a problem in Zimbabwe  but lack of innovation and value creation strategies. Like Dr Langton Chirinda said  “ Until this sinks, until we begin to create innovative start up ecosystems in our back yard as a nation – we will remain third world!

Our leaders are still thinking in terms of archaic strategies to solve challenges – heavily focused on FDI and political approaches to economic challenges !”

We will remain a third world country even with billion tonnes of copper, gold, coal, lithium and other minerals until and unless we have innovative start-ups in our backyard.

The high sounding Value Addition cluster in ZIMASSET means nothing without strategy execution. Without an innovative start up ecosystem we shall continue to import finished products from mining instead of us exporting finished products.

Innovation funnels often start with copying and I say specifically this for Agriculture because we cannot stop eating. In agriculture for instance we may also have lost the edge despite friendly weather and soils. To leapfrog regional peers we may realise that copying is more innovative than we think.

A purposeful investment in technology and skills transfer through partnerships at university, individual and corporate may put us at same level with countries such as Brazil and Israel.

Instead of political expedience scholarships lets support scholarship driven at innovation funnels. Instead of churning out agriculture graduates who use 1980 technology lets send some to research universities.

To add on the country innovation value ecosystem a deliberate and tailor made diaspora skills attraction policy is imperative. Expatriate attraction and retention schemes are also required. If we provide peanuts lets expect baboons to work. Expertise is expensive and highly internationalised.

If this country fails to deploy an innovation start –up ecosystem, capacitate research in universities, start innovation funnels, value add its mineral, partner diaspora and international experts, invest in technology transfer, partner capital and support its people to be own masters the “Open for business” mantra will not take us out of being a poverty stricken third world country.

Brian Sedze is the President of Free Enterprise Initiative. Free Enterprise Initiative is an advocacy in less government, free enterprise, fiscal and public policy. He can be contacted on [email protected]