When you hear this phrase/mantra ‘Open for business’, you naturally know that we are talking about President Mnangagwa’s Second Republic. Ironically, Zimbabwe has of late been ‘Closed’, with inflation, foreign currency shortages, commodity shortages, and pessimism inspiring an economic downturn.
For our Northern neighbors, Zambia, the phrase “Open for business” really resonates with them. Last week I spent some days in Zambia and I must say that the country is in a boom period. Before last week, I was of the opinion that Zambia was dormant, but I was taken by surprise at the economic activity that I sighted. You need not ask the general populace how things are since just strolling down the streets of Lusaka you can clearly see a lot of construction going on. Buildings and roads are being built at a scale that Zimbabwe cannot match at the moment. This shows that there is government (infrastructure) expenditure, which in economics interpretation, stimulates economic activity.
Some may argue that Zambia’s government expenditure is financed by Chinese debts which its now failing to honor. But Zimbabwe has been (and is) accruing debts also, Chinese one’s and other’s but what tangible things are we seeing? I can safely say that I’m not seeing the kind of economic activity and progress in Zimbabwe than that I witnessed in Zambia. Much of Zimbabwe’s government’s spending has, lately disproportionately fell on the public service wage bill, leading to a measly investment in infrastructure.
Beside the debts that are financing Zambia, Foreign Direct Investment is pouring in too relative to the amount that’s getting in Zimbabwe (Zambia got $865 million relative to Zimbabwe which got $289 million in 2017). The simple fact that investors can take their money out of Zambia without a hassle, its able to attract more foreigner’s monies than Zimbabwe currently does.
When it comes to the state of the financial sector, Zambia is in a totally different world than us. You can only admire. The Kwacha has value, you can easily withdraw your money from the ATMs and you can easily exchange whatever the currency you have into your preferred currency at Bureau de change. This is easy as ABC in Zambia. It was quite an unusual but good feeling seeing all this.
The Tech space is booming too
The economic activity in Zambia is pervading into everything, namely the technology space. Zambia’s technology landscape, though it still lags Zimbabwe’s, is really coming up such that in no time we could be standing toe-to-toe with it. I visited 3 technology hubs and they seem like they are working towards something quite big. BongoHive is one such hub I visited. The hub has seen over 10 start-ups that have graduated from its accelerator programme, which is a massive milestone considering that the hub was established only in 2011. Aside from the exceptional mentors and coaches that it has, part of the BongoHive’s success is owed to the seemingly helpful financial donations and grants it receives from international institutions (which Zimbabwe’s technology hubs don’t (adequately) receive).
I also fell in love with a start-up accelerator called WeCreate, that also has the financial muscle of international institutions backing it too. WeCreate helps start-ups that are owned by women to stand on their feet. Hence in this male-dominated start-up world, WeCreate’s stature really stands out. Mentorship, coaching, co-working space etc. are some of the support that WeCreate is providing to women in Zambia. This is not your usual accelerator and Remember!, we don’t have such one in Zimbabwe.
In comparison to Zimbabwe, our hubs also have exceptional mentors that have what it takes to run a successful hub but funding to run these hubs is still our Achilles heel. Until we start to get grants and donations for our start-ups, let’s sit back and watch as Zambia swiftly pass us.
And guess what? Registering a startup or company in Zambia doesn’t take the ‘100 years’ we are used in Zimbabwe. Oh! I forgot ‘100 years’ is for company name-search only. So you take more than ‘100 years’. But as for Zambia you only need just 3 days, at maximum to register your company. How’s that?