By Hopewell Chin’ono
Legendary reggae DJ Lieutenant Stitchie has a Jamaican classic song called Wear Your Size.
It is a euphemism for understanding your strength and where you fit, and it is also a clarion call to avoid punching above your weight unnecessarily, because eventually it will wear you down.
Do you think that as a country we have worn our right size that matches who we really are as opposed to wearing ridiculously oversized gowns?
Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia share a common trait, one that makes any investor salivate with want and desire when they look at these countries’ population numbers.
Those three countries share a simple common reality that makes one override other imperatives, it is population, their human numbers are huge and money is about numbers!
How many Zimbabweans are living inside Zimbabwe and are able to exercise regular spending power on various services and products on offer by business?
Nigeria has a population of 200 Million people, Egypt has 100 Million people and Ethiopia has a population of 111 Million people.
A country’s greatest resource to any meaningful foreign investor is in its people and their spending power.
Zimbabwe has 14 Million people on paper and its best brains are invariably out of the country, motivated to leave by the biting two-decade crisis.
So we must look at the important drivers of investment and trade in rational perspectives and understand where we fit in the investment pecking order on the continent.
If Burger King wants to invest in Africa, where do you think it will take its burgers to if given a choice of the said countries?
Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia or Zimbabwe?
We overestimate our importance as an investment destination whilst doing very little to entice the global investment capital available to be shared by many countries on the continent, and in the process we miss on huge foreign direct investment opportunities.
This was a tragic flaw accentuated by the former President and founding father of our country, Robert Mugabe.
He made a lot of noises and insulted huge world economic powers and got big applauses for only comical entertainment value at world forums like the United Nations, and yet he would fly back to a starving battered and bruised people!
Pride is a good and at times great virtue, but it must be logical and one shouldn’t sacrifice his people for a few laughs, doing so is a sign of a bad leader!
Now if you add the headaches that come along with investing in a country such as properly rights, policy consistency, currency issues, stable economy, corruption and incompetence, where do we fit in the African context?
We don’t even make it into the top 20 Africa’s investment destinations yet we bellow loudly about our importance, which ordinarily should be there had we been making the right decisions!
Oh dear we do bellow and we talk up our importance on the global stage and yet we have nothing to show for it! Kuzvifonera as the young ones say these days.
I say these things because I love my country and I can see that it is headed towards the wrong direction and yet for saying that self evident truth, one can be called all sorts of unpleasant things by folks who analyze important issues through partisan lenses.
Our country has been heading towards the wrong direction for decades now, and our failure to accept and fix the problematic issues shows that we are not as smart as we want the rest of the world to believe!
Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia have had serious security issues but investors prefer to go there as opposed to a peaceful Zimbabwe, it is a bit like a woman who prefers to date a married man rejecting the advances of a single man!
The single man must ask himself why one would rather be with a married man and his baggage rather than be with him.
Painful truth I know but we have to say these things it if we are to promote honest dialogue that can lead to successful resolutions.
Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia have the numbers, but if it is about only their numbers, how come Rwanda a country which only has 11 Million people manages to attract decent investment and has an annual growth of 7 percent?
It is because Rwanda has realized that it must reform and focus on fixing that which attracts investors regardless of its smaller population!
We don’t have the numbers and we have a chaotic monetary system in place, with so many unresolved issues and yet we expect investors to come in their droves non-the less because we are Zimbabwe!
Over and above that, we have one of the most corrupt systems especially in the civil service, something that the current president promised to fix and is yet to start showing results.
I have met investors who simply couldn’t believe the huge amounts that they were being asked to part with in order to get things done!
They compare these hurdles and headaches against our numbers and simply leave because whatever we offer doesn’t justify the huge kickbacks being corruptly asked for!
As I have always argued here, we simply do not understand the relatedness of things in world and economic affairs.
We have no logical strategy that takes care of our weaknesses and our disadvantages like any smaller population should.
We operate as though we have 100 million people, unique resources that can’t be found elsewhere and an unparalleled patented wisdom.
We make comparisons without nuance, referencing misplaced examples and accentuating our victimhood especially around the sanctions discourse that is patently partisan and not rooted in facts and an objective reality.
Unfortunately it is used to articulate excuses for our incompetence and inability to excel as a nation, our inability to harness the power of our postcolonial foundation, our education.
Countries that have imposed sanctions on us are doing so in pursuit of their own national interests and objectives.
We should have responded to those challenges and global realities with solutions that are also in pursuit of our own national and not partisan interests.
Foreign policies of nations are not homogenous but country or region specific, so the wild comparisons between Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia reflect our failure to understand foreign affairs and policy and how it affects us all as nation states.
Saudi Arabia is an important American ally and common interests in oil, security, trade and Israel bind their relationship that has been there for over 90 years.
American companies and businesses have been involved in the Saudi oil industry since 1933.
Their trade in the last eleven months alone was worth US$37 Billion, so it is not in the interests of American people to harm that important relationship with the Saudis.
Compare that with Zimbabwe, the Americans give Zimbabwe US$200 million in aid and our trade with them is only at a paltry US$87 million a year.
The last trading between the two countries before sanctions were imposed was in 2000, the Americans imported goods from Zimbabwe worth US$112 million and they exported goods worth US$52,3 million.
Eight years earlier in 1992, Americans imported goods worth US$105 million from Zimbabwe and they exported goods worth US$147 million to Zimbabwe.
Those figures show where we are in the hierarchy of needs for the Americans and they also reflect why we shouldn’t compare ourselves to their relationship with Saudi Arabia.
We have declared that we will fight the Americans, can we really afford such a fight with the U.S. and who amongst our allies will come with us to that fight?
America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018 was at US$20.5 trillion (US$20,500,000,000,000) and Zimbabwe’s GDP is US18 billion (US18 000,000,000), so what fight are we going to take to the U.S?
ZANUPF leadership has said that the sanctions are about land and yet they haven’t tested that philosophy by exposing the Americans.
ZANUPF leadership has also said that they are happy to implement all the demands by the U.S. because they are good for Zimbabwe, except the issue of land.
What is stopping Zimbabwe then from implementing the demands that are also local and then saying, “…look, we have implemented everything but we wont pay for the land?”
Can you tell me a single demand in the U.S. sanctions list that any sane Zimbabwean is opposed to except the land dispute?
China is the second biggest economic global powerhouse and yet we have never heard it insulting other economic powers yet it can afford to do so if it chooses to, and it would even get away with.
A Chinese diplomat told me that China doesn’t do so because it only says the things that only advance the interests of its one billion plus people, and it only speaks when it has to and when it does, it will be in the national interest.
Why then is our leadership failing to do simple things that will advance the national interest by deescalating the futile fight with the Western bloc?
The land issue is not necessarily about the land itself, it is an issue about property rights that are central and are also the bedrock of capitalism, which is the primary ethos of the free economy doctrine.
The land issue was resolved in a chaotic and violent manner unnecessarily so because it was meant to anchor ZANUPF and Robert Mugabe and to help them avoid an impending catastrophic election defeat after a referendum defeat at the hands of the opposition!
We have signed up to many agreements and international statutes, why not adhere to that which we want to be part of by simply implementing the political reforms that are central to an economic turn around?
Instead of harping on about land being the only issue to the sanctions debate, why not implement the political reforms and then see if America will impose sanctions on the basis of land alone, it won’t and our government knows it!
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
The recently departed music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France and in the UK at the Heart of England International Film Festival. You can watch the documentary trailer below