Zimbabwe’s new generation worth banking on

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INVESTMENT buffs commonly operate on a maxim known as the “greater fool theory”. Simplified, this means that buying a share or property, whether it is overvalued or not, almost always guarantees you a return in the future. How? Because, even if you overpay today, not a smart investment move, you will find a buyer who will be happy to pay more than you would have paid.
So, if by overpaying today you are the fool, count on finding a greater fool tomorrow. That is what keeps the markets liquid, fools and greater fools trading stocks.
I found myself wondering whether it would not be a smart thing to be the fool today and invest in Zimbabwe – now while it is in the throes of political uncertainty, a banking crisis and operating at 40 percent of its production capacity.
Attending the Financial Markets Indaba hosted by Emergent Capital in Harare, I saw the face of Zimbabwe that we do not usually see in the media.
This face was young, highly qualified, well-travelled in business, entrepreneurial and focused on building a Zimbabwe that will only surface once the world’s oldest statesman leaves office.
The Indaba featured a keynote by the country’s former finance minister, Tendai Biti. His address was laden with scary facts and humour, the latter being the best cure in distress. He recalled his first day at work, February 16, 2009.
“Welcome, honourable minister, but tomorrow is payday, sir,” said one of the officials who ushered him in.
“How much is our wage bill?” he asked.
“US$30 million, sir.”
“How much do we have? “$4 million, sir.”
“Well, where do we find the rest?”
“We have been waiting for you, sir.”
At that point, Biti realised that he had been set up for failure. This was after about 10 years of a politically and morally justified – yet disastrous – land reform programme. Inflation was estimated at 231 million percent. Goodness knows who still cares to measure inflation at such stratospheric levels, and millions of Zimbabweans were seeking economic refuge elsewhere.
South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, the UK and the US soaked up most of these. Think of people like Strive Masiyiwa, Peter Moyo and Sifiso Dabengwa here in South Africa. They and many others were forced to export their skills and enterprise. Ironically, they were marketable globally, thanks to the foresight of President Robert Mugabe in maintaining good quality education and attaining the highest literacy rate in Africa. Even waiters, builders and other artisans in the thick of our pre-2010 construction boom were mainly Zimbabwean. That was the picture I had in mind of Zimbabwe, until this week.Advertisement

Two speakers at the Indaba stood out for me. Yet, they are a mere sample of a larger population of under-35-year-olds who are returning to their country of birth to fashion a new, dynamic future.
These youngsters are ditching cushy jobs in developed countries to come home. I asked them why, and they gave me different answers, from family responsibility to nostalgia. Being African in Melbourne or New York, they say, continually nags you with a reminder that you are a long way from home. That is the spirit of Africa and that is what makes troubled Zimbabwe a great place to invest in now. These youngsters are developing renewable energy solutions, building financial and logistics solutions for farmers, creating models for impact investing.
They are not merely into hairdressing, nor are they too fazed by Harare politics. Not that they do not care. They rather elect to efficiently invest their talent away from the current zero-sum political game. Still, they are laying the foundation for what is to come in the next five years.
Listening to them, my hope was restored. Admittedly, Zimbabwe does not inspire much confidence now; but I experienced an undercurrent of changing fortunes, driven by youth. Be the fool and move in today; or be the greater fool tomorrow.
* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent. Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica
The Sunday Independent