“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired” – Franz Kafka
IF each of us does not believe passionately that a new, prosperous and truly democratic Zimbabwe beckons, then how do expect to create such a Zimbabwe? It is generally accepted that 1998 to 2008 was Zimbabwe’s lost decade. These were traumatic years in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and in spectacular fashion too. The corruption, mismanagement of the economy, reckless printing of money, general cluelessness and incompetence of the government at that time resulted in our economic collapse, record hyperinflation and decimation of our local currency, all man-made disasters which could have been avoided.
Only the intellectually challenged, delusional or just downright stupid will clutch at thin air with their sanctions excuse. From 2009 to 2013, under the GNU, we had a glimpse of what Zimbabwe could be, with the economy recovering and growing at a rate of 6% in 2009, 11.4% in 2010, 11.9% in 2011 and 10.6% in 2012, quite surprising since we were presumably under the so-called “sanctions”. The double digit growth seemed to lose momentum towards the 2013 elections and growth subsequently declined to 4.5% per annum. Since the revolutionary Zanu PF “crushed” the MDC in the 2013 elections, the economy lost about US$1 billion to capital flight, which resulted in the liquidity crunch, and the growth rate fell to 3.1% by the end of 2014.
By the end of this year there is a real danger of going into recession, negative growth rate, if no corrective action is taken on an urgent basis. Company closures continue unabated, jobs continue to haemorrhage and the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be an oncoming train. When was the last time we heard any good news? My question is quite simple. Can we afford another 2008 come 2018, because all the signs are clearly pointing in that direction? Worse still, can we afford another lost decade? Can we allow our country to be dragged down to the economic abyss yet again because of our current black colonialists’ desperation to cling to power at all costs?
I am always truly disheartened when I hear fellow Zimbabweans harking on about the good old days of Rhodesia, with some even going as far as to say bring back the whites to run the country. Why do we Zimbabweans have such low self-esteem? So only white people can run Zimbabwe effectively? This thinking is a result of the current Zanu PF government’s failures and incompetence on all fronts. Admittedly, I too used to suffer from the same self-depreciating mentality, despite being a reasonably well-qualified engineer, with a first class pass in mechanical engineering from a UK university, having passed through the UZ in the 90’s. I was lucky enough to have worked for, and with, various multinationals in the engineering sector, which was enlightening and gave me a better understanding and appreciation of my own level of education.Advertisement
It is unfortunate that we Africans are the main culprits in limiting ourselves by artificially confining ourselves within imagined boundaries when it comes to our capabilities. I have worked with the Europeans – Brits, Germans, Italians, Dutch, Spanish; I’ve worked with Asians – Japanese, South Koreans, Chinese and Indians; I’ve worked with the North Americans and South Americans, and I’ve also worked with Arabs. Every time I’ve met and worked with certain nationalities for the first time, I’ve always had my own preconceptions and stereotypical views, some of which turned out to be correct and others not so.
I’ll give you a few examples. I found that the Germans were direct, efficient and well organized. The English were similar to the Germans but placed an emphasis on budget and adhering to contractual delivery dates. The Japanese were brutally super-efficient, paid too much attention to detail and were overly pedantic. In their own organizations, you found that most of the Japanese engineers were reluctant to make important decisions and would always pass questions up the company hierarchy. They have an unparalleled work ethic, and I remember one incidence where our Japanese client called us at 18:00 UK time, it was only after I hung up the phone that I realized it was actually 03:00 am in Japan and this guy was still in the office.
The Arabs I interacted with were normally the end client. I remember one incidence when I was in a meeting in the UAE with some Saudis, and as soon as the Europeans stepped out of the room the Saudis asked me where I was from. When I told them I was from Zimbabwe, they were quick to say “Ah Zimbabwe … Robert Mugabe”, they gave him the thumbs up, chuckled and then cracked a few jokes about how our dear leader knew how to deal with the “West”. They of course were oblivious to our economic collapse, general mismanagement, rampant corruption and poverty that most Zimbabweans now find themselves in.
I had a similar experience with the American’s who were also an interesting lot. They were confident, which could sometimes be mistaken for arrogance. With the American’s you got what you paid for and nothing more, they stuck to the letter of the contract. Having said this, they placed a lot of emphasis on pleasing the client and getting the job done right, on time and under budget. When they asked me where I was from, I would say Zimbabwe, to which they would always then say “Wow your English is pretty good”, to which I would always reply “Well your English is not bad either”. I always made a point of telling them that although we have 14 official languages in Zimbabwe, the majority of people do speak English. Some would sometimes remark “Oh Zimbabwe…. Robert Mugabe”. I would then watch them as they went through the thought process, before deciding to hold on to their thoughts and quickly change topic.
The one thing that I had always erroneously believed was that all these people from these different nationalities and different cultures were somehow more intelligent, or were exceptional in some way. But when I sat across the same table and discussed technical engineering issues, or when I liaised with them through the various channels of communication, that’s when I realized that there is nothing particularly special about any of them; hapana chino shamisa. You see we are just as intelligent in every way, and do not need the outside world’s acceptance, acknowledgement or recognition. Self-flagellation seems to be our favourite pass-time as Zimbabweans; we do not need outside help, all the resources we need are in Zimbabwe.
Our main problem is that the relevant competent personnel, with the relevant knowledge and skills set needed to turn key economic sectors around, are mainly in the diaspora. I’m sure that there are others in Zimbabwe who are just as learned but the missing ingredient here is valuable “know-how”, which is only attained by exposure to global companies. Our great exodus began around the year 2000, and while some went on to perform menial jobs, others have entered key sectors in finance, banking, mining, engineering, construction, bio-technology and pharmacy, and now most have anywhere between 10 to 15 years of experience accordingly.
You only need small number of about 100 highly skilled individuals deployed in key sectors; it is this critical mass that can turn the economy around. For example, a few months ago Saudi Aramco were looking for engineers across various disciplines, and South Africa and Zimbabwe were the only countries which were shortlisted for possible candidates from a total of 53 African countries. For those who may not be aware of the significance of this, Saudi Aramco is the biggest global oil company. Were it not a parastatal, it would be biggest private company on this planet with an estimated worth of up to US$7 trillion dollars. Compare that to Exxon, currently ranked as the world’s number one private company based on a market capitalization of US$352 billion. The point I’m trying to drive home here is that Zimbabwean engineers are valued on the global job market by those in the know, but the majority are plying their trades outside Zimbabwe and at whose loss?
If the reader has been following my articles they will remember that the first one I wrote on the Great Zimbabwe Empire was to show my fellow Zimbabweans that we were once an advanced civilization on all accounts, and that we are more than capable of becoming a prosperous country. Africans have been denied and robbed of their true history for too long, which is why we suffer from this low self-esteem.
You will see this lack of self-knowledge when some ignoramuses claim that Africans have never invented anything of worth. I’ll give you one easy example. Who invented modern day steel, that thing without which the industrial revolution would never have happened? Ever heard of the Haya of Tanzania to be precise? Until recently, it was thought that modern steel had been invented by a Henry Bessemer (British) in the 1850’s. However, it is now known that 1,500 to 2,000 years ago the Haya tribe in Tanzania was the first to make carbon steel. There is a difference between cast iron, which has been around for about five thousand years, and modern day steel (or carbon steel) – which is iron that contains more than 2% carbon.
The Haya practiced a method of smelting iron and making carbon steel that was technologically far superior to any steel making process in Europe until the middle of the 19th century. Although it has long been known that Africans were amongst the earliest of peoples to develop smelting of iron ore, the Haya’s process was far more sophisticated than what was practiced elsewhere. Today’s modern day blast furnaces, which were supposedly invented by the Europeans, seem to be large scale replicas of the Haya’s furnaces invented some 2,000 years ago. Coincidence?
The Haya made use of several ingenious techniques that not only made their furnaces hotter than those of the Europeans, but consumed less fuel in the process, and produced medium carbon steel that was far more durable than plain iron. The Haya used a system of preheating air, which is now referred to as hot blast and was also supposedly “invented” in 1828 for Ironworks in Scotland, to improve the efficiency of process fired heaters in refineries. The Haya had practiced steel making for thousands of years but ceased early in the 20th century when an influx of cheap imported steel tools displaced the ancient methods. See the following link: (http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1665&dat=19780927&id=Eu4eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=cyQEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6852,3269639).
It is only now that after scratching the surface of our African history we are beginning to find out about such inventions. If Africans are capable of this and much more then what is the problem? Why is Africa not the hub of steel manufacturing and heavy machinery? Guinea is the biggest bauxite exporter and has no alumina refinery (to be constructed in 2017), nor any related downstream industries. Why is ZISCO (Newzim Steel) still lying idle and losing US$500 million a year based on its current capacity and steel prices? Four years have gone by now since the much-vaunted signing of the investment deal with Essar, that’s about US$2 billion of lost revenue. Whose palms have not been greased yet, because that’s the real reason why it’s not up and running?
Why do we have to suffer so much as Zimbabweans and Africans in general? Why are our economies so backward, why does the gap between us and these industrialized giants continue to grow? Why can we not even get the basic fundamentals right, i.e. a minimum three meals a day, decent accommodation, clean running water, constant electricity supply, basic health care and a decent education for all Zimbabwean citizens? There are many factors which have played their part, and which continue to play a part to this day, but we need to start looking into the future.
Whilst colonialism and slavery played a big part in tipping the scales to our disadvantage, we need to start looking past this and stop using this excuse. You cannot drive a car looking in the rear view mirror, as Zanu PF is doing, and expect not to crash. Bad governance and corruption have been the greatest impediments to Zimbabwe and Africa’s development, but this is only a symptom of the root of our problems, which is the system of multi-party democracy that we’ve tried to implement. If we focus our efforts on advocating for an inclusive democracy, in which each individual citizen has a direct say in policy making and implementation, then all other social, economic and political aspects of governance will fall into place or realign themselves to this democratic structure.
The other big difference which may explain our own shortcomings is that most of these industrialized countries I mentioned above had a clear vision. Japan decided, right we’re going to be the biggest and best in steel making, heavy machinery and electronics and they did it. The South Koreans decided, right we’re going to be the biggest ship builders, and compete with the Japanese and the Americans on the electronics and car manufacturing front, and they did it. The Germans decided, right we’re going to build the best cars and focus on certain engineering sectors in which we have a technological advantage, and they did it. The Chinese decided, right we’re going to embark on state-led capitalism, pay our workers peanuts to give us a competitive advantage, mass produce and put most of the West’s industries out of business, and they did it.
They all had clear goals and national visions where they set out to be the best in what they do on a global scale. None of them sat back and expected things to happen by themselves, they didn’t sit back and wait for handouts or external funding, they drew up their economic blue prints which were SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Result based, Time-bound), and used a SWOT (Strength Weakness Opportunities and Threats) feasibility analysis. Instead of lining their own pockets as the current Zanu PF government is doing with the diamond revenues, these enlightened countries put all their capital resources into these economic strategies and the results are there for all to see.
In Zimbabwe we do not have any visionaries in the upper echelons of power, and yet we are we surprised that our economy is limping along and is now in clear and present danger of deteriorating to 2008 levels. The major setback of not participating in politics is that we end up being ruled by our intellectual inferiors as is now the case in Zimbabwe. The visionaries that we need are probably sat behind some keyboard in the diaspora somewhere, engaged in some mind-numbing work, when they should be setting up factories and industries in Zimbabwe and driving the economic recovery. Yet with the village politics of primitive wealth accumulation, which is based on the economic exclusion of the majority of Zimbabweans, extortion, corruption and patronage, what else can we expect.
In general Zimbabweans are hardworking people, but we are working hard and toiling needlessly in the wrong sectors of our economy. We’re not placing enough emphasis on the labour productive sectors with higher wages. Agriculture is labour intensive but is not on the higher productivity end of the scale yet we erroneously think that building our economy around Agriculture will lead to economic prosperity. We need to focus on industrialization. Why do you think the word “industrialized” is associated with “developed” or “wealthy” nations?
In my conclusion I’m going to take excerpts from an inspiring article which was written by Field Ruwe about Zambia, but which resonates with all Africans and encapsulate everything that is wrong with Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole: (http://zedfibre.com/2012/01/zambian-intellectuals-are-lazy/).
“If for a moment we are to put our skin pigmentations aside, yes melanin, that thing which provides some human beings with more protection from the sun than others, what is the difference between Africans and everyone else? Absolutely none! Scientists in the Human Genome Project have proved that. It took them thirteen years to determine the complete sequence of the three billion DNA subunits. After they were all done it was clear that 99.9% nucleotide bases were exactly the same in all races. We are the same people. All white, Asian, Latino, and black people are the same.2
Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. You will see them in the markets and on the street selling merchandise. You will see them in villages toiling away. You will see women crushing stones in Kwekwe to sell and wonder where are the Zimbabwean intellectuals? Are the Zimbabwean engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher for these women to use, or a simple water filter to purify well water for our relatives in the rural areas? Are you telling me that after thirty-five years of independence our universities and schools of engineering have not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is the school there for?
When we rest our heads on the pillow at night we don’t dream big. The so-called African intellectuals are damn lazy, each one of them. It is them, and not those poor starving people, who are the reason why Africa is in such a deplorable state. Do you know where you can find most of our “intellectuals” in Zimbabwe? Most will be in bars quaffing away. Those Zimbabwean intellectuals lucky enough to have a job, work from eight to five and spend the evening drinking, whereas they should reserve the evening for brainstorming.
The Zimbabwean intellectuals in the Diaspora are just as lazy and apathetic to their own country. The majority of them don’t care about their country and yet their very own parents, brothers and sisters are in Mberengwa, Lubimbi, and in villages, all of them living in squalor. Whilst there are a significant number of those in the diaspora who have been sending money home, and have sustained the country through billions of dollars in remittances, this has not stopped some in Zimbabwe dying from neglect, dying of AIDS because we cannot come up with our own cure. We call ourselves graduates, researchers, scientists and engineers, and are fast at articulating our credentials once asked—oh, I have a PhD in this and a PhD in that – but what do we have to show for it? What have we given back to our country?
We should be busy lifting ideas, designs, drawings, formulae, work processes from American and European manufacturing factories and setting up our own companies and factories in Zimbabwe. I am certainly “borrowing” designs for myself which I hope to use in the near future. All those research findings and dissertation papers you compile should be your country’s treasure. Why do you think the Asians are a force to reckon with? They stole other people’s ideas and turned them into their own. Look at Japan, China, India, just look at them.
It is true that since independence we have failed to nurture creativity and collective orientations. We as a nation lack a unity of purpose. We now moan ludicrously for the 2.2 million jobs that were promised as part of an elections campaign as though we genuinely thought that it was possible in the first place. Those lucky enough to have formal employment in Zimbabwe or those in the diaspora, erroneously believe that development is generated 8-to-5 behind a desk wearing a tie with our degrees hanging on the wall. Such a working environment does not offer the opportunity for fellowship, the excitement of competition, and the spectacle of innovative rituals.
But the intelligentsia is not solely, or even mainly, to blame. The larger failure is due to political circumstances over which they have had little control. The past and current government failed to create an environment of possibility that fosters camaraderie, rewards innovative ideas and encourages resilience. If change is coming it can only begin with each one of us. Zanu PF is holding this country back from its real potential, we are in the shackles of poverty induced by gross incompetence and grand scale corruption, and there will be no respite or real economic progress under this current government.”