The change at the top in Zimbabwe has been well received internationally, and as President-designate Emmerson Mnangagwa reported in informal remarks last night, already messages of potential support and co-operation for economic growth are being sent. But Zimbabwe cannot expect vast floods of aid and find large groups wanting to dump cash in the country. Times are tight almost everywhere.
What, however, we can expect is that if we do our homework, if we speed up reform of our systems for doing business, reforms launched by Cde Mnangagwa when he was Vice President, if we listen hard to the requirements of investors and see how far we can meet these, then we will find people who will listen seriously when we talk. And these people will be Zimbabweans at home, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora and foreigners.
If we stand outside these new doors with a begging bowl, we will find everyone is at lunch. If we knock holding a sheaf of sensible policies involving labour, natural resource use, infrastructure, training, taxation, cash flows, financing requirements and the like we will meet serious people looking for serious partners.
The President-designate was very blunt in his remarks about what we needed on the economic front: “Jobs, jobs, jobs”. The only addition we can think of that these must be real jobs, paying what they are worth. Despite flip remarks that we have 90 percent unemployment, almost all adult Zimbabweans are economically active.
The problem is that much of this activity is very unproductive and produces little more than starvation incomes. Women selling tomatoes on the pavement, communal farmers producing bare susbsistence, panners scraping a couple of specks of gold a day. Even the bottom rungs of factory and mining jobs pay better than this.
In some areas self-employment will continue. There is nothing wrong with owning your own farm, but you need a push start so you can start producing crops for sale, food for Zimbabweans in the growing cities and things like tobacco and cotton for world markets.
Many families have had that push start in the last season, in another programme kick-started by our new President; more now need to be included and many of those that have forged ahead now need guidance on how to negotiate fair contracts with private providers of inputs and finance.
When people show interest in opening new mines or factories we should be able to make a deal. We need decent jobs, a bit of tax. We can offer a wide range of resources and a lot of people who have at least enough education to be trained quickly.
Basically, when it comes to industrial jobs pay your modest taxes, ensure that just about everyone on the payroll is Zimbabwean, that wage rates are approved by the relevant employment council, meaning they are roughly in line with the rest of industry, then the rest of the paperwork should not be a problem.
The tourism industry, which has learned that besides decent attractions you need a perception that Zimbabwe is a good, safe place to visit, is already working out how to translate the “feel-good” factor into business. Zimbabwe obtained some priceless publicity absolutely free in the last week by showing the world we can cope with a major political crisis without anyone being threatened, let alone hurt.
We need to understand that the world does not owe us a living, and that no one is going to start smoking to help Zimbabwean tobacco farmers. We have to do our part. We are getting a new President who has a reputation of being pro-business, who has actually met many of those who run businesses, who can strike a sensible balance between employers and employees.
Now we need to push together hard to translate generally agreed concepts into firm policies and then sell these. Doors will now be open and if we have a decent presentation we will get business.