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Zimbabwe needs its own Ministry of the Future, here’s why.

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City of Harare, Zimbabwe, African Cities, Pick n Pay, African Traffic

Most people will agree that the world is undergoing massive transformation and this rapid succession of changes require preparation with planning and strategic focus that looks beyond the medium to short term.

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Which is what a Ministry of the Future for Zimbabwe is supposed to do.

What is the Ministry of the Future?

It is an emerging idea that is responding to a reality that today’s societies are entering uncharted territory from technology to climate change.

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It calls for the introduction of an arm of the government, much like any other ministry, that has a focus on long-term policies and decisions that affect the development of the country in response to anticipated changes in the environment.

It oversees scientific research and development, science and technology policy, as well as research specific to the changes in national production and consumption and resource

Its work cuts across the fields of ICT, Engineering, natural sciences, health and economics and integrates their strengths to create a forward outlook for national progression.

There’s a need for that in Zimbabwe

Ministry of the Future is a new concept I agree, it can be astounding that I also agree. The most urgent consideration is that what is driving it is something that no society is exempt from it. This makes the concept more important than the name itself.

It’s an idea that left me thinking what if someone in our government back then thought about it and did something about it as early as the 80s and 90s a time when we were arguably at our peak?

Bata Shoe Company in Gweru could probably have been 3D printing shoes by now just like other forward-looking globally competitive businesses.

Looking around evidence is awash of  limited dedication to a futuristic mindset, from the noble idea of building thousands of schools in the 80s and more recently Universities to finding ourselves with nowhere to put hundreds of thousands of those graduates.

What about the issuing of mobile telecoms licenses in the late 90s to finding ourselves later thinking about and trying to beat out the fires of infrastructure sharing?

On the current trajectory we are on course to becoming permanent firefighters and losers in a dynamic and rapid global environment.

Ministry of the Future is staffed by people hired to sleep, eat, talk and breathe the future who are the nation’s primary eyes and ears.

Their holy grail should be, by law, transmitting their future calculations, in our case, across our 27 odd government ministries for inclusion in policy formulation and policy implementation.

My thinking of such a ministry goes as far as giving it ultimate legal standing by triggering its existence via the national Constitution because of its fundamental importance to our survival and coherence as a nation in a complexly dependent global community.

An opportunity for Zimbabwe to catch up with rest of the world

Admittedly, a Ministry of the Future will get a lot of things about the future wrong, but you can trust me that it will be much closer to reality than any 20th Century inspired, organised and therefore backward peddling bureaucracy left to itself.

Wittingly or unwittingly our traditional government fabric, for the most part, creates more problems than it is able to generate opportunities for the future. I have given convincing examples already.

The idea behind a Ministry of the Future is, therefore, a willful attempt by any concerned government to admit it’s made for the past and accept its apparent limitations and begin disentangling itself from the oddity of a traditional government trying to find its way in a rapidly and uncompromisingly changing 21st Century.

Ministry of the future, at least of the current model being debated, is inclusive by design running on a horizontal or sideways approach. Sideways instead of top down must necessarily entail citizen inclusiveness and openness.

In 2013 Korea launched a dedicated ministry of the future by another name of Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP).

Among other things Korea’s MSIP says it is focusing on “establishing an ecosystem for the creative economy through the convergence of science, technology and ICT while ensuring that software emerges as a national priority”.

Korea is not alone, Sweden and Australia have been at it and there are calls in the United States and India for something similar. The chorus gets louder because the need is inescapable and is careless about one’s status – whether for a developed or developing country.

At the Davos World Economic Forum 2016, Marc Benioff chairman and CEO at Salesforce (USA) certified the debate saying “every country needs a Minister of the Future”.

The problem may not be that our government doesn’t really think about the future. The problem is that our government ministries and ministers tend not to speak in futuristic terms beyond the next election.

Just last month the Chinese president Xi Jinping addressed a major national conference in Beijing on science and innovation, at which the goal was agreed to make China the leading innovator in science and technology by the nation’s 100th anniversary in 2049. Judging by what they have achieved so far, this cannot be mistaken for lip service.

Ministry of the Future which is open and inclusive and preferably empowered by the Constitution will hopefully begin to erode our expensive lack of a national culture of decisive public discourse about the future even when that future excludes us as individuals.

At family level, people do talk about the future they want for their children, but I think this is an exercise in utopia when those same children are contained in a society that lacks a corresponding focused and broad conversation about its preferred collective future.


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10 thoughts on “Zimbabwe needs its own Ministry of the Future, here’s why.

  1. Why are people preoccupied with creating super bureaucratic structures for every new fad – we need a lean government. Changing a title wont make it so – It just needs to be government policy that is led by the Ministry of Science & Technology

    I think all governments should have at most 15 ministries. I suggest 13 as outlined below for the Zimbabwean government
    1. Finance (economic development)
    2. Education (arts & culture, sports, science & tech)
    3. Health
    4. Police
    5. Local government (labor, public service, cooperative governance & traditional affairs)
    6. Home Affairs
    7. Agriculture (forests, fisheries and land reform)
    8. Justice (correctional services)
    9. Foreign Affairs
    10. Defence (Military Veterans)
    11. Commerce & Entrepreneurship (tourism, public enterprises, trade & industry)
    12. Infrastructure development (energy, transport, telecommunications, housing)
    13. Environment affairs (water & sanitation)

    USA has 16 ministers
    Australia 17 ministers
    Uk 20 ministers
    Zimbabwe 31 ministers
    Russia

    1. listen its not that simple us is basically 50 countries in one so by the time that it gets to national level they would have been aggregated into 1 entity. so behind 1 minister is about 60+ other functionaries.

  2. You are right on the functions of the ”Future Ministry” but these are all basic functions of a government.

    Do we need a Future Minister to single handedly do what is suppose to be done by the whole government, my answer is NO.

    What we need is a goverment working coherently without teering itself apart! We need ministers who respect law, ministers who understand modern society dynamics.

    Modern society dynamics are being driven by technology, do our ministers understand technology and how it can revolutionalise people’s lives?

    Ideas build future, l witness everyday ideas being put into practise and future plans being born, only that can be achieved if the government understand modern trends and how to drive people’s asperations, not hender them.

  3. the unfortunate thing for that ministry is that people will abuse it the ministry will spe d on a 2020 budget level about 1 billion on a 2016 revenue flow.
    I applaud it but zims issue is that we operate in constant election mode everyone is trigwres and makes plans just to win the next thong

  4. I think having a Ministry of the Future will be duplicating what the current Ministries (drastically reduced in number of course!) should be doing. The Ministries should be forward looking, amongst other duties, as part and parcel of their mandates. For example a Ministry of Telecoms should be be keeping with trends in that industry and anticipating what can happen in future and gearing the government and society to deal with various possible scenarios. This could be enhanced by engaging with private sector players and others in discussions and mapping out a possible future. I remember the Econet saga in the 1990s when one of the of the reasons given by the the government for refusing Econet a mobile licence was that it would compromise state security! Now in 2016, who doesnt have a mobile phone and has our national security been compromised. Definitely NOT. At that time Europe, Japan and the Americas were seriously engaged in the nascent mobile phone industry and theretofore leaders in gvt could have taken the Econet issue more seriously in order to benefit the country. Zimbabwe could have been one of the pioneers in Africa, even beating South Africa in the mobile race. This thinking can be replicated in other areas in agriculture, power etc. All it requires is that the Ministers who are appointed are suitable for the job i.e. technocrats etc. who will then drive the future agenda on the gvt side and then collaborate/engage the other sectors of society in looking forward.

    1. @Taona the underlying premise of the idea of a Future Ministry is that existing government bureaucracy is largely incapable of effectively responding to 21st Century demands so much so even advanced countries as cited in the article see a need for it. The case is even dire in the global south. Ministry of the Future is actually a proposed solution to this problem and I think its a mistake to see it as duplication. Our ministries are too entangled in day to day business and political cycles it will take even more effort and resources to upskill them to a more futuristic mindset. In addition in an interconnected world were there is rapid tech convergence and a growing internet of things, for example, its wiser to cut to the chase and create a dedicated ministry that encompasses all these emerging issues. In any case, our government (and almost every government I have worked with in SADC) at any given time has ad hoc or standing inter-ministerial committees that essentially aim to bridge the gap between ministries. It is clear to me that after going through the trouble of creating future oriented departments in respective ministries, as you essentially propose, you will be compelled to get those departments meeting at inter-ministerial level there-by creating a pseudo Future Ministry which is inferior to a real Future Ministry.

  5. Great piece. I personally sense a Think-tank model is more desirable approach over creating a govt arm. USA is a perfect example of how innovation is driven by these economic/political/medical/IT think tanks. They even term certain individuals ‘economic prophets’ for example

    1. @Tim Think-tank model while good has not been that effective in African countries. The reasons are many, among them suspicion since many of them would have to rely on foreign funding to effectively function. Think-tanks also tend to be consulted or listened to at whim by government which means they can be ignored or downplayed. They also have no seat in Cabinet the most important weekly meeting of the Executive were critical national decisions are arrived at. So they have to rely on the responsible minister (the same one who has got vested interest in election cycles) to carry their message in Cabinet. So overall they are viewed as outsiders.There are too many weaknesses, in my view, to expect the model to have a real impact in such a fast paced global environment. So Ministry of the Future is a proposal for a more effective solution from within as it were.

  6. I would prefer think tanks and universities to be responsible for planning the future rather than a Ministry staffed by cronies.Ministries are normally staffed through patronage and cronyism.We need an independent thank tank funded by the state whose budget and Director are approved by parliament.

  7. This was a well thought out article! I like the idea and the previous contributions @Tim, @Arthur and @Phinny on think tanks and universities are very valid. Particularily the universities which should be our innovation hubs anyway. the only but is anything approved by a parliament which is already dominated by no futuristic thinkers who might see this as money making opportunity. I think a universities/ministry collaborative framework could be the way to go after dealing with the way they are staffed.

    In the end, it’s a great idea with a long way to go whichever option you propose

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