So with all the many economic blunders that I think our government is making including the recent closure Telecel when companies are closing everywhere and people losing their jobs, yesterday I was presented with an interesting problem.
I was watching Frank Underwood, that duplicitous, fobbing rump-fed fustilarian from the NetFlix hit show House of Cards playing tricks on the unwitting D.C types. You know Frank Underwood who thinks Chimbetu is the current Zimbabwean president.
Well somewhere in the show (in season 2) one of the arrogant billionaire types makes an interesting boast: he is so rich he can buy himself a third world country if he really set his heart and mind to it, well several countries in fact.
It is a boast that is frequently made in most U.S made big screen and small screen productions that somehow make it their goal to insult every country and culture under the sun creating stereotypes of funny Russia accents, sexy French accents, the Chinese inability to pronounce words, all Brazilians live in favelas, all Mexicans are drug dealing scum and how all Arabs are probably terrorists hell bent on destroying America.
So, when I heard the boast I started to wonder, if this was another stereotypical insult or if there was some truth in it? So I set out on a Googling journey to find out. Being a geek who is mostly familiar with tech companies, I decided to find out how our own Zimbabwean economy measures up beside the most popular Tech companies.
For the sake of the comparison, I made one big assumption: I decided to treat the entire country of Zimbabwe as one big business. It kind of makes sense as a country’s macroeconomic goals are not that very different from those of most businesses. Like I always tell my students whenever I introduce them to the business world, there are several methods of measuring the size of a business.
The most popular methods used to measure and compare the sizes of businesses are: number of employees, the amount of capital invested, market capitalization, profit and turnover (revenue). Most of the methods do not lend themselves to the measurement of the size of a country’s economy.
For example, methods like the number of employees (would you include all the country’s able-bodied workforce or what?), capital invested (there is no easy way to calculate this for a country), market capitalization ( Zimbabwe does not really sell its shares on the stock exchange) nor do we really have a profit motive.
Revenue is another matter. While companies make and sell services, the size of a country’s economy is usually measured by calculating the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While rudimentary at best comparisons can be made of a company’s annual revenue vs Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product in order to gauge which is larger.
So how does Zimbabwe fare against most of the tech brands we know?
For this exercise, I decided to use figures from 2014. Out of possible list of 53 African countries for whose published data I could find online, Zimbabwe is the 26th largest economy in terms of annual GDP which stands at an estimated $13.7 billion a far cry from Nigeria’s $594 billion and South Africa’s $341 billion.
Even little Botswana and its $16 billion economy is larger than ours. “Starving” Ethiopia’s economy had a GDP of $49.8 billion, “poor” Mozambique $16.5 billion and “chaotic and warring” Libya has a GDP of $70 billion which is not something you would believe from all the negative comments and flack these countries get from Social Media, Blogs and News sites. It’s not just Hollywood that has prejudicial views.
By comparison, the following made more money than the entire Zimbabwean economy. Samsung made a whopping $189.5 billion, Apple $182.8 billion, HP $111 billion, IBM $92 billion, Amazon.com $88.99 billion, Microsoft $86.83 billion, Sony $72.34 billion, Google $66 billion, Dell $56.94 billion, Intel $55.87 billion and LG $54.75 billion.
Do not despair though, Zimbabwe is definitely larger than Facebook and its modest revenue which stood at around $12 billion in 2014 which is slightly less than our GDP but I would expect this to change as Facebook grows in 2015 and our economy shrinks.
To be clear this is not even close to a foolproof way of comparison but when your country’s GDP is as much as 13 times less than the annual revenue of a company it does not really matter how precise the method is because it is hard to envisage how your country’s economy can be larger even if you were to employ more accurate methods.
I also suppose this is the point where people start to talk about our natural resources and how Zimbabwe is rich with these, about how it is difficult to quantify the beauty of the Victoria Falls, or the value of the coal at Hwange, the diamonds at Chiadzwa among other things.
But these resources have little value if there remain like what they are right now: untapped potential. While we read about how companies like Google constantly keep an eye on the future as they develop new products like Google Glass, smart watches, driver-less cars and so on while we continue to stay in the agricultural past.
Image Credit: Says.com