I am not as critical of Emmerson Mnangagwa as a few people seem to be. I actually think people’s expectations of him are a tad too high and some of the calls that people make are just mere politicking.
However, I am still waiting for the president to cast a national vision. Yes, he is more of a caretaker president but that’s all the more reason for him to communicate a clear vision not just for the caretaking period but to convince people to vote for him.
But Zimbabwe Is Open For Business…
Yes, the president proclaimed at inauguration that Zimbabwe was open for business. This became his mantra and he has said it in South Africa, in Davos and on several other platforms locally. It is a catchy thing to say and very goose-bumpy: you can’t but be hopeful and say I hope he means it.
He does mean it, I think. The moves taken so far indicate that he wants to follow through with this openness. Shredding up the indigenisation act would not have been done by a guy who doesn’t mean what he’s saying (yes the act is yet to go through due process).
Open For What Business?
What the president has not articulated is what our economic priorities are. Just inviting investors into the country is disastrous if they do not have a sense of what the long-term play is. As I said before about Rwanda, every other person there knows what the country is building towards.
Locals and foreign investors understand clearly that Rwanda is becoming a knowledge economy in which ICT will be central. So what do you see happening? You see a Silicon Valley startup going into Rwanda to set up the first fully functional drone delivery system in the world. Rwanda is still the only country in the world that has a drone delivery system and it is being used to solve a real problem in healthcare. You see a local bank setting up a technology startup in preparation for the next 50 years. You see a startup work with the government to transform a chaotic transport system through technology.
I will share the above stories more fully in other articles.
Does It Need To Be ICT?
I have been accused before of being biased toward ICT being the all and be all. Of course, I am biased toward ICT. I belong to and I am writing on a platform called Techzim so what would you expect? Besides that, I have a firm belief that technology especially information technology particularly the internet has the potential to change all aspects of our societies and economies.
However, Mnangagwa doesn’t need to point towards ICT as the national vision. All we need is a vision. It can be any industry, any concrete goal, any vision that causes a vibration in every business and individual.
ICT Doesn’t Need It To Be ICT
The thing with technology is that it is a cross-cutting issue. All technology needs is the goal to be identified and it will kick in and evolve towards it. If the president tells us that agriculture is the goal we are going towards, technology ‘will deploy itself’ to solve that problem.
The modern state of Israel set itself an impossible goal to have a robust agricultural sector in the middle of a desert. That’s all technology needed. Now Israel arguably has the most technologically sophisticated agricultural sector in the world. They produce 95% of their food and then export some. Agriculture contributes 2.5% of GDP, 3.6% of exports whilst it only employs 3.7% of the workforce working on the scarce arable land (20% of total land is arable). This excludes food processing, agritech and other pieces of the value chain. Did someone say efficiency? I say technology.
What if Mnangagwa says tourism? It will still work. The United Arab Emirates decided to have tourism replace oil as a major economic commodity before their oil ran out. Very simple goal but not easy. When goals are not easy, technology develops to achieve them. Everybody knows their story. They built in the sea to expand their territory and increase their coast line, they built remarkable, tall buildings in Dubai. Now, Dubai is a recognised technology hub.
So, Mr President, we in technology are waiting for you to point and we will dash and steer Zimbabwe towards that direction.
What A National Vision Enables
A national vision is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It allows us to build and solve for the future. The Rwanda Bank I mentioned above is the Bank of Kigali. It is the biggest and oldest financial institution in Rwanda. A couple of years ago, they celebrated their 50th anniversary. As they celebrated, they asked themselves the question, “What do the next 50 years look like and where will we be?”
They realised the next 50 years were going to be dominated by technology and so they asked themselves how they were going to be relevant in that digital Rwanda. They decided to start a technology startup and they did. The CEO of that technology business is a 32-year-old ‘kid’ who is so clear about what he is doing. Already they have solved a problem in agriculture because the ‘kid CEO’ asked himself, “If farmers are going to be using digital tools in the future, how can I make them digital customers right now?”
When there is a vision you can imagine what the environment of the future will be and so you don’t have to wait to get there before you build for it. That’s the only way you stay ahead, that’s why Japan is ahead with its 100-year planning cycle. That’s why the US is ahead. That’s why Zimbabwe is behind.
Startups should be forming right now to solve problems that don’t exist yet but problems they know will exist as the national vision is fulfilled.
The Cost Of Just Being Open For Business
Just being open for business without a clear vision leads to exploitation. Exploitation of the country’s resources and its people. Investors who come in, need to come within the framework of a national vision and national priorities otherwise they will just come to make money and go away without any regard for the country’s future.
If the ruling royals of Dubai had just issued a blanket declaration that the United Arab Emirates was open for business, investors would have come in and drilled for oil and gone away and the UAE would have been in a worse off place after the oil runs out. The UAE vision was clearly about tourism and trade and engineers came to build the relevant infrastructure and now a little piece of land built on the sea costs more than some former president’s farm in Mazowe.
Our mineral resources are gonna run out some day. What economy do we want them to build before they do? Do the Chinese or any other nationals who are coming to mine know of this vision? Mr President, please open Zimbabwe for specific business such that those who come will find ready partners who are already determined towards something concrete.
May Zimbabwe have a coherent vision soon.