By Brian Sedze
Our country seems be designing and implementing the economic strategy in a manner that Douglas Alexander described as “a fundamental error of what makes success in the 21st century”.
There are two challenges that our national strategic initiatives should ideally resolve. That first is how to get out of the present economic quagmire and suffering.
The second is to restore economic competitiveness and leapfrog other countries after nearly four decades of economic mismanagement.
The country’s political and economic leaders seem to be oblivious to the fact that this requires a new 21st century mind-set in terms of strategy, skills, systems and structure. We are attempting to solve 21st century challenges using a 20th century mind-set.
One of the narratives that is now archaic is that Zimbabwe is an agro based economy, therefore the land is the economy and the economy is the land. Nothing is further from the truth than that.
The value of land and climate now plays an insignificant role in agricultural success. Israel as an example is a desert nation about fifteen times smaller than our country yet they lead in agricultural production and exports.
The 21st century agricultures variables are so different from the old and they include but are not limited to technology, genetic engineering, irrigation, robotics, and finance and biotechnology.
Because of these innovations any nation can now prosper irrespective of soil and climatic condition. It is innovating around the familiar to over emphasise on land as it’s slowly becoming dead capital. It’s now even possible to grow crops without soil.
For us to achieve medium term success the government must drive a robust initiative to sponsor our brilliant minds to study regionally and abroad the areas that make agriculture a success. In addition local universities should start building local capacity for the same by actively courting international partners and the diaspora using big, audacious and hairy remunerations or incentives.
In as much our country must preserve the core of mining, agriculture, hospitality and the old manufacturing industrial complex. The idea is that what made a success of the present industries post Unilateral Declaration of Independence is going to be a lot different in the 21st century.
The messenger of Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) is probably now discounted in the corridors of power but the future surely still is in related fields of artificial intelligence,fintech,genetic engineering, green energy, computer sciences, automation and robotics amongst many emerging fields of study.
I suggest that the country aggressively fund students to study in countries with related subject matter experts like United States, China, Russia, Brazil, Japan and a few others. The country seems to be holding on to the myth that Zimbabwe has top drawer education. That lie will lead us to economic destruction in the future.
There is another 20th century mindset that leadership often peddle as the truth. It’s the concept of self-sufficiency leading to driving national collective anger on some of our imports like wheat, toothpicks, maize, soya beans, potatoes and so forth.
I think the correct mindset is that a country should not produce everything it consumes. Rather, we should produce what it has optimum comparative advantage to enable both consumption and export. The self-sufficiency concept leads to investing in avoidable expenditures in the form of both input subsidies and output price floors leading to promotion of inefficiency.
We have to answer the important question of what are we good at producing instead of a thumb sucking the idea of producing everything.Self-sufficiency was a concept of Ian Smith government due to the UDI induced sanctions and probably irrelevant now.
The 20th century idea is that present companies should create massive jobs.It is the reason you often hear dumb assertions of creation of thousands of jobs any time a potential investor visits the country.
Job creation is a mirage, a ruse, lie and deception. It is a misguided public policy initiative. Economic competitiveness and progress require massive job destruction by minimising rather than maximising number of jobs for production and service.
Job creation requires a paradigm shift in skills sets for alternative industries. Jobs are an economic cost not an economic benefit. Efforts to create/save jobs (e.g. tariffs, protectionism, tax breaks/incentives to save/create jobs, etc.) are destined to make our economy worse off (and weak), not better off (and great).
To create jobs in alternative industries or support services we require to invest in new set of skills. The other side of the dichotomy in the creation of the new skills set is to avoid giving our children irrelevant education and we should do that by discarding or reducing some university faculties and germinating what the country actually require to prosper this century.
This country requires radical and disruptive innovation for the simple reason that we need to leapfrog regional peers because we are presently in an economic abyss. The country requires open and inclusive innovation beyond elite university based innovation hubs.
Innovation requires participation by the entire population as ideas are resident in people not a few intellectual or pseudo intellectuals.
It requires participation by banks, venture and angel capital, international financial institutions, other university partnerships, industry, commerce and broader society.
There is few eureka moments in innovation so the base for idea generation should be very wide and inclusive to enable traction, collaboration, co-creation and ideation on a national level with a great reward and commercialisation carrot to everyone.
Traditional medicine as an example have lacked traction due to the elitist university based research and innovation system. It’s also the reason why most our millionaires have never seen the door of a university.
Some of our 20th mind-set is that a government must provide freebies and subsidies yet the same can be efficiently provided through free enterprise instead of parastatals. We are so driven to punish hard work and enterprise through incremental taxes yet reducing the taxes will spur savings, investments and job creation.
We so love this dependency inducing mantra of free education. Those who drive this free education policy know the hard work and several beasts sold by their parents for them to acquire an education. There is nothing called “free’ education. Education comes with a cost all the time.
Instead the government should limit the safety nets to vulnerable groups like orphans, widows and the elderly. The value of hard work should be instilled not dependency. It’s very difficult to get out of dependency reason why Africa after the billions it receives in aid still remains poor.
Subsidies to provide safety nets is just a creation to tax the few until the very last cent, yet production subsidies should be funded by financial institutions if indeed the enterprise like farming is actually a business.
Other subsidies like flour and fuel are absolutely not necessary because none of these are necessities. Business people like farmers, miners and other industries should be funded by financial institutions not government.If that is done we get the correct cost and pricing model.
Most of free health provision can be avoided. In the 20th century the government must have robust policies for life style changes through investment in voluntary village or suburb based lifestyle education and facilities.
This country is captured by the old 20th century people. Outside age the Presidential Advisory Council, Industry Associations, Political Actors Dialogue, Civil Servants directors and secretaries, State Owned Enterprise Boards, Company Directors and many institutions are captured.
The country need to infuse new ideas by deliberating fishing outside the usual pools. The present pools are of people that are in it for self-preservation and lobbying for self-interests. They are not loyal to ideas but themselves.The same applies to companies that rotate and deploy the same old faces since 1980.
At a level of mediocrity we should re-invent but at best we must have a new world view, new identity and able to disrupt. The strategic answer to our national challenges is to approach our country as a start-up, dismantle and reassemble from constitution, governance system, parliamentary systems, senate, cabinet, civil service, state owned enterprises and parastatals, adopt value addition based budgeting and abandon traditional ministry classifications.
The 20th century mind-set revolves around costs reason we were foisted with the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).Costs can be challenge but the greatest let down for our country is production. This austerity is a self-induced ESAP, it failed in the century past and it is likely to fail again. It’s a 20th century model of “either” “or” but the new should be “either” “ and”.
A lean cabinet is suggested simply for reasons of increasing efficiency not costs. This country can easily be managed by less than hundred members of parliament, ten cabinet ministers(without deputies),one vice president and half of the civil service if we adopt the right mind-set.
The ministries, parastatals, State owned enterprises, diplomatic services and civil service have almost been static, defined by the 20th century imperatives. The right thing will be to re-design these as if we are a new country that has just emerged not using continuity and an incremental approach to solutions.
It is an old mind-set to continue relying on borrowed socio political ideologies ,governance systems and working culture. The systems are not working for us and the rest of Africa. The Anglo-Saxon, Russian, Chinese, Cuban and many others that we borrowed are acts of being lazy.
The country should invest in their intellectuals to design or re-design the constitution, national governance system, corporate governance systems, taxation models, social security and parastatals models, and health and lifestyle systems and so forth that suite us. The 21st century is almost requiring our unique way of doing things not foisted ideologies.
I can say the same, that regurgitating liberation war heroics without creating economic heroes is a narrative of the old which may encourage myopia or capture of the the mind of what is required of us as citizens. The same applies to sanctions.
Our country requires re-education. It require complete overhaul of the mind-set. The treatment of symptoms like corruption is just punitive without long term sustainability. We are generally corrupt at household, village, schools to national level.
We teach our kids for example through tsuro nagudo that trickery should be applauded. Compare this with what Jews learn in Deuteronomy and Leviticus that honesty is not only Godly but a responsibility to fellow humanity.At an early age you will learn that every bad thing has a consequence.
We need to remodel our 21st solution starting with pre-school by ensuring we have a complete and refined kid loyal to his/her home, community and the nation.
As long we invest our energy on trying to fix the present and the future using old mind-set the country is likely to continue on a downward economic trajectory.
The present trajectory is a mindset of a generation that relies on adult knowledge, old models, old experiences and wisdom which is now of doubtful value and often irrelevant for solving modern challenges. There is a tendency to hold on to stability, identity and same world view.
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 [email protected]