Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Brian Sedze: Ideas not money is what is in short supply in Zimbabwe

By Brian Sedze

The economic challenges of Zimbabwe are not about money. Our major issue is deficiency of a supportive government with competencies to design policies that enable innovation and value creation.

Brian Sedze
Brian Sedze

The country should also not pin its hopes and aspirations on welfare economics but rather it must trade for success. That trade require new products and solutions instead of benevolence.

Country leaders should also disabuse themselves from the fallacy of new money from Bretton Woods but instead walk into private banks with bankable projects.

The importance of the Bretton Woods institutions should basically be the simultaneous and sequential signalling that the country is not in good hands.

Open for business credo, itself a flawed public policy initiative is premised on foreign direct injection of money. The government expects money without creating a platform for ideas. A country that needs money should be alive to the fact that money chases ideas not vice versa. Without ideas money will not come, instead we have to be content with resource robbers.

Creative ideas, intellectual property and new knowledge enable conversations with private banks, venture and private equity firms among many global funding options. Ideas should be to creatively solve unique challenges, satisfy local demand and production of exports to the world.

At the moment all the government is seized with is trying to solve old problems with new money. New money must be to create new demand and export orientation.

Government mind set is warped and captured in the old in that they believe the old industries should be resurrected and be made to run again. As opposed to that it should throw away the bravado and have a starting point where we have to think afresh as if there are no Zimbabwean industries at all.

One Dr Langton Chirinda said “Zimbabwe should be viewed as completely dead economy wise and that we have to think afresh as if there were no Zimbabwean industries at all!”

Then we should see the government promoting massive trial and error through research and development budgets! This must be the biggest budget for now- to stir up new thinking that would result in new industries and a new economy!

The government should no longer view itself as this Leviathan that exists to tax existing industries and few employees to the last cent, fix market failures, provide public goods, fund infrastructure and correct industry externalities but instead drive the next big revolution in innovation and germination of new enterprises.

Let us learn from the Americans and Rhodesia.

The United States became a powerhouse by directly supporting those who innovate. It often had to move from an innovation policy maker to a player, reason why the coolest tech companies are American. In fact some of their great industries germinated within the army.

America is great because of innovation not resources.

Ian Smith made Rhodesia a bread basket by supporting industries in Agriculture. Rhodesian products commanded respect and had demand across the region due to implementation of quality ideas in Agriculture.

In fact most of the few agricultural products we still export are relics of colonial government economic initiatives. The country has failed to move forward nearly four decades later.

Hundreds of manufacturing and service industries during post UDI Rhodesia depended on agricultural inputs to germinate and run.

We at present are producing products and services that our regional peers and trade partners already have better competitive advantage. We will not create valuable exports by investing in this old way of thinking.

Import substitution is a great option but it should be done by creating leapfrogging new processes and technology. Investing in ensuring our country is not being taken advantage by neighbours is a start to great import substitution.

The country may leverage on its resources to create more value instead of just deriving national pride from good soils, great weather and minerals. Is it not shocking that up market furniture shops in Zimbabwe import from the United Arab Emirates, an arid country without significant forests and cattle?

The crowds that advise the president (Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), Cabinet, government “technocrats” and other informal structures) should start with the very basic new truth. The new truth is that the country doesn’t need economic renewal but a complete new birth.

With the new truth the president should start with a national plan then derive a structure (ministries and state actors) from there. Structure follows strategy not vice versa.

Zero based budgets must be implemented, them speaking to national strategy of value creation. More resources should be applied in generation of the new instead of feeding the same old non value adding structures.

A lot of ministries should be disbanded as they served 1980 economic realities not 2018. The country should have more ministries focussed on re-birth, creating a new economy and a new Zimbabwe with focus on radical and disruptive initiatives.

The much touted mega deals unfortunately are not exactly the answer as they are mostly based on primary resources. Exporting our chrome, gold, tobacco, lithium, gold, coffee and so forth without a value addition will build industries in other countries.

In fact the companies driving mega- deals are doing exactly what we should be doing. Walk into private banks with business plans to borrow. Not much equity is invested by these companies, rather they invest in ideas. In their stride the major idea is that Zimbabweans are sleeping on their laurels and their minerals can be taken after paying a pittance.

To enable creation of the new, the government must entrench fiscal laws that are punitive to exporting raw and a reward system for value adding industries. Part of the success matrix is to reward technology transfers and local human capital capacitation. Though implemented half-heartedly value addition proposal in ZIMASSET was a step in the right direction.

Beyond the metrics of creating both employment and spurring of investment it is also of strategic importance to have nationals controlling primary resources. The badly negotiated mega deals dis inherits our children.

If we invest in thinking, idea formulation and commercialisation of innovations we are likely to meet success. This idea of thinking we can just have money without investing in ideas will continue our circle of poverty. We have to create the new. 

Brian Sedze is strategy consultant and 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 brian.sedze@gmail.com