By Chipo Dendere
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is getting an A at engaging the citizens. He is getting a C on implementation but that is a story for another day. On Thursday morning, the President dressed in a shirt and tie addressed the business community. For the afternoon meeting he got rid of the tie and dressed down to meet the youth also known as the youthiez.
According to the most recent census in 2012, the Zimbabwean population is very young, an estimated 60% are under the age of 40. Therefore, Zimbabwe’s future is very young, hopeful and bright. As a result, the challenges facing the youth are the biggest challenges for Zimbabwe.
The youth had an incredible opportunity to tell the most powerful man in the country about these challenges because by his admission he has no idea what the challenges are. The president also admitted that his cabinet, including his two vice presidents are out of touch with what the youth need.
The President must be commended for admitting this gap in knowledge and providing an opportunity for young people to speak out. The meeting was a great start but it was also a missed opportunity partly because the audience was not diverse enough.
We all have a lot to learn about engaging in a newly open society so we should also take note of ways to improve. That said, the conversation should continue. In this essay, I suggest additional questions that should have been asked by the organizers and those present.
- Unemployment – Mr. President, what is your strategy to address unemployment in the short term?
Recent statistics suggest that 90% of the youth are unemployed or underemployed. The president was shocked that the room was empty. Mr. President the room was empty because the majority of the youth are trying to churn out a living in a difficult and constricted economy.
The majority of our graduates cannot find jobs. This is not because their skills are worthless but because our industries have failed. Zimbabweans have the skills for a modern economy but they are functioning in a pre-industrial economy that cannot fully utilize their skills.
One of your cost cutting measures was eliminating the youth officers which added an additional 5,000 unemployed youth into the system. What plans do you have for those young people who suddenly found themselves unemployed in the new dispensation.
- Entrepreneurship – Mr. President we cannot entrepreneur ourselves out of poverty, do the ministries of youth and finance have a game plan to provide capital for small businesses?
Mr. President, the room was empty because the majority of our youth are vendors (hustlers). Our talented citizens are using their skills in selling airtime and tomatoes and barely using their brain power. Zimbabweans are innovative, the types of small businesses being designed by Zimbabwean youth rival start-ups in Silicon Valley.
A few examples include the incredible Simbarashe Mhuriro Zimbabwe’s savy solar innovator listed in Forbes under 40, the trio of diaspora and locally based young women who founded ZimTuckshop an online store that provides the Zimbabwean diaspora with food from home, BusStopTV which has grown from just another YouTube show to a formidable work of art, Jackie Mgido and Ruby Lynn who have created globally acclaimed make-up brands.
There are many incredibly innovative young farmers, Zimbabwe has the ability to solve much of the global food security crisis because our land is fertile. Some of the world’s richest countries China, the UAE, U.K. are not producing enough food for their populations. They should be importing quality organic food from Zimbabwe. We should not sell our land we should leverage our competitive advantage in the food sectors.
The businesses mentioned above could be bigger and we could have more job creators but Zimbabwe is not business friendly. There is evidence that when firms in Africa thrive they have a greater chance of survival than their counterparts in other regions.
However, our entrepreneurs fail to start-up and to survive because the government does not have a sound strategy to inject capital for the kinds of projects we need to revive the economy. Zimbabwe is ranked among one of the countries with the worst ease of doing business by the World Bank.
The biggest challenges for innovators in Zimbabwe are corruption, political instability, lack of electricity and water (clean water), and lack of access to finance. Internal political feuding in our political parties puts business owners in an incredibly difficult position because they are forced to tailor their strategies to the whims of individuals instead of a competitive market economy.
Our revenue authorities (ZIMRA) are corrupt. It costs more to import simple products into Zimbabwe than our neighboring countries. For example, it costs $700 to send a 50-gallon barrel to Zimbabwe almost 50% more than sending the same shipment to Zambia or Kenya because shippers must bill in kickbacks for corrupt officials. There is no clear tax law for small business.
Question: Is your government working on cleaning up confusing tax laws that make it both confusing and expensive to do business in Zimbabwe?
Question: Would you consider tax incentives for youth owned businesses and diaspora owned businesses? For examples, you may look at what the New York city mayor has done in the last five years to retain small businesses.
Zimbabwe’s first billionaire, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa was only 35 when he started his business. Our political climate has made it impossible for him to return home in the last 16 years. His business is heavily taxed both financially and politically. Imagine how much more the next Strive can give Zimbabwe if we make it easier for our young people to do business.
- Those 2 million jobs- “Mr. President, not everyone can be an entrepreneur or should be an entrepreneur. What are your projections for creating formal employment? How many jobs do you estimate your administration can create in the next year?
- The diaspora- Mr. President, are you willing to actively look for ways to fund the diaspora vote?
The Zimbabwean diaspora makes up about a 1/3 of our population and their remittances contribute more than FDI to our GDP. Spending on the diaspora vote is not only democratic it is a smart business decision. Globally the African diaspora sends more than USD $40 billion to their home countries every year. The Zimbabwean diaspora remits at least USD$4 billion this is our entire national budget.
Which other African countries allow diaspora voting? More and more countries recognize that isolating and punishing the diaspora is not a smart move. Among our friends Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, and, the list is growing.
In each of these countries the diaspora is critical part of the economic strategy. An example closest to us is Kenya. After Moi left office the diaspora was so thrilled by the change and excited to invest in the home country. Zimbabwe has the same opportunity.
As you head to DAVOS may we share their report on why the world and especially the diaspora should invent in Africa. The diaspora more than any other group of investors are willing to take the risk on “Africa”. Although the corruption is frustrating it does not scare them away because they are invested in the country, in the people and the future of Zimbabwe.
- Drugs – Mr. President in addition to the national health crisis, we also have a growing drug abuse crisis, do the ministries of health and youth have a plan to address this crisis?
Mr. President the youth are not here because we have a drug crisis. In high density areas most of the unemployed are finding comfort in cheap, dangerous street drugs. Most of the drugs are smuggled from South Africa through the Chirundu and Beitbridge borders. We need to have a national conversation on drug abuse in high schools, at universities and churches.
Drug abuse is positively correlated with poverty. The recent reports that the new dispensation has increased delta sales is problematic. Increased alcohol consumption is not a sign of a thriving economy. The poorest members of the society are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. When things are hard people are more likely to engage abusive behavior.
The Zimbabwean economy is not difficult to rebuild. In addition to an abundance of natural resources has human capital. Our citizens are highly educated and extremely hardworking. A combination of sober policies and access to financial resources will boost the economy. In the short term addressing corruption and refocusing government expenditure to income generating projects will put the youth to work.
Author Information: Chipo Dendere teaches African Politics at Amherst College. Dr. Dendere received her PhD from Georgia State University and her primary and secondary education at Waddilove mission in Marondera. You can follow her on twitter @drdendere and her website at www.drdendere.com