In a recent article reviewing Joe Studwell’s book about how countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and China (The Asian Economic Tigers) have become development success stories, Bill Gates asks if “The Asian Miracle” can happen in Africa. According to economist John Page, the success of these countries had clear policy origins. Growth and development were ignited by “combinations of policies ranging from market-oriented to state-led that varied both across economies and over time.” They have been sustained by good macroeconomic management and timely and effective responses to macroeconomic shocks.
None of this is beyond our capacity as Zimbabweans to do. I am not convinced we don’t know what to do technically to right our economy. If we don’t, we certainly should. We are too educated and too world-traveled not to know. Our problem lies elsewhere. At independence, manpower development was, along with land reform and raising the standard of living of the population, one of three economic objectives in the first National Development Plan announced by a government led by the second most educated cabinet in the world. Education and manpower development had been a critical part of the war. Those who are old enough will remember the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Survey of 1982. Today many of Zimbabwe’s sons and daughters who are products of this manpower development strategy have the opportunity to provide their best thinking to other nations and Fortune 500 companies, but little opportunity to do so for their own nation.
Zimbabwe can become a high-performing economic tiger if we decide to need each other, and engage every Zimbabwean at home and abroad in the business of building our nation. This is something we need to do as a matter of urgency. We are a nation of exceptional entrepreneurial talent with significant human capital outside of our borders, all of which can, along with our abundant natural resources, be leveraged for rapid economic growth should we choose to. I am not one of those who believes that there are no external forces that work against our success. At the same time, I believe we owe it to ourselves to succeed in spite of them. As long as we continue pretending we do not need each other, Zimbabwe will not be able to succeed in a competitive global environment. The cost of not leveraging everything we have to advance the common good is unacceptably high. If we are not moved by the urgency of this moment, our non-performing economy will prove to be the greatest enemy not just of our present and future, but of our past. It has already become an effective weapon in the hands of those who seek to delegitimize the efforts that brought freedom to our country, even as it distorts the present and delays the future.
My late grandfather (Asekuru as we all affectionately called him) worked as a cook for some prominent people in Rhodesia, including Chief Justices Tredgold and Lewis, Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins and Governor Herbert Stanley. His determination to gift each of his thirteen children with a life he could only dream of produced great educators, diplomats, a freedom fighter, a government minister, nurses, etc., a generation which did not think like him, but which he was rightly proud of. Asekuru not only gifted his children, but himself in the process. By the time he died in 1969, the quality of his life was much better because of his children. Had Asekuru lived long enough, he would have been proud of one of his grandsons who is an advisor to a US$17 trillion economy and a much sought after consultant to the world’s top technology companies.
The reality is that we do not have a shortage of intellectual capital to deal with the problems of an economy that is a fraction of the size of a company like Google. The World Bank puts Zimbabwe’s GDP at US$13.49 billion. Google’s Market Capitalization stands at $391.16 billion. It makes no sense that a $17 trillion economy and companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars would be more desperate for the counsel of a Zimbabwean than our own country! Other important global entities Zimbabweans touch or work at include The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, sovereign wealth funds, global private equity firms and other technology companies from Google to Facebook and Twitter. They play leadership roles in many of the world’s leading hospital systems, banks, not to mention all the successful homegrown businesses. Let me repeat what I wrote earlier: Zimbabwe can become a high-performing economic tiger if we decide to need each other, and engage every Zimbabwean in the world in the business of building our nation. Again, it is something we need to do as a matter of urgency. Every Zimbabwean must be recruited for this effort and each generation given the space to contribute in its own way to the building of our country.
Allow me to close with this thought: The nationalists who brought it home in 1980 did not think nor fight like their forbears, even though they shared their values. They were a different breed who used the best thinking of their generation and the tools available to them to win the war. I have no doubt that their predecessors were cheering them on all the way to the finish line. They in turn successfully paid it backwards (made the sacrifices of those who preceded them worthwhile) and forwards (made self-determination a reality for future generations) by winning the war for everyone. Zimbabwe can become an economic tiger, and in short order too if the different generations can cheer each other on. Together we can get the job done.
Is There Not a Cause?