Let’s use DPRK approach to unleash Zim-Asset


DR Gift Mugano
Government in October 2013 unveiled a five-year economic blue print known as the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset).

Zim-Asset is a cluster based plan, reflecting the strong need to fully exploit the internal relationships and linkages that exist between the various facets of the economy. These clusters are as follows:

Food Security and Nutrition;

Social Services and Poverty Eradication;

Infrastructure and Utilities; and

Value Addition and Beneficiation.

During the plan period, the economy is projected to grow by an average of 7,3 percent and was expected to continue on an upward growth trajectory to 9,9 percent by 2018.

Sadly, agriculture and mineral commodity prices, edged lower in the recent months and are projected to continue on the downward trend in 2016. Certainly, prospects for lower mineral commodity prices pose potential risk with regard to our export earnings from such minerals as gold and platinum.

This development is against the background of weak domestic demand, tight liquidity conditions and the appreciation of the US dollar against the South African rand, the currency of our main trading partner. These combined forces have eroded the competitiveness of our economy hence the incessant company closures.

However, the economy grew by 6,2percent, 3,4 percent and 1,5 percent in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively. Basing on depressed global prices on commodities and internal structural rigidities such as reduced agricultural supply due to drought, indications are that this year’s growth rate will be below 2 percent. These rates are far below the planned annual growth rate of 7,3 percent.

Undoubtedly, taking into account the devastating effects of the drought alone and its possible multiplier effects, the economic outlook this year and going into the next year is looking bad. This requires a paradigm shift in our thinking and strategy in fostering national development.

This motivated me to look into the famous South Korean Saemaul Undong (the New Village Movement) approach to development. This is introductory piece which will lay the foundation for subsequent issues which should help us get lessons from other countries than inventing the will.

Saemaul Undong (SU), the New Village Movement (or “SU movement,” as it is often referred to), was a community-driven development (CDD) program pursued during the 1970s in the Republic of Korea. Ultimately, this was the key program in the country’s long-term economic development initiative implemented during the latter half of the20th century.

Saemaul Undong was not the first rural community development initiative in the Republic

of Korea. Non government rural community movements such as the Christian 4-H (Head, Heart, Hand,and Health) Club predated Saemaul Undong, as did the nationalistic Ch’ndogyo agricultural cooperative movement that dated back to the days when the country was under colonial rule.

As for modern government-sponsored rural community development programs, these were first introduced during the 1950s by the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea. Similarly, following the National Reconstruction Movement, which was a government-driven campaign promulgated by the military junta in 1961, the Government of the Republic of Korea began implementing its Six-Year Rural Development Plan (1966–1971) in 1965. This medium-term plan included a series of projects that focused on increasing rural household income.

Then in 1970, the SU movement was launched by President Park Chung Hee during a famous speech that he delivered at a meeting of provincial government leaders in the southeastern city of Pusan. This speech made reference to what might be called a New Village Remodelling Movement based on the“Saemaul spirit,” the three components of which were diligence, self-help, and cooperation.

The major aim of the SU movement was to over come what at the time appeared to be endemic rural poverty in the Republic of Korea. In the early 1970s, 33 267 mauls (traditional villages) participated in the SU movement. In each maul, male and female Saemaul leaders were democratically elected at a village general meeting.

The outward achievements of the movement included rehabilitation of village infrastructure,improvement in the overall rural living environment,and a significant increase in household income. Implementation of the SU movement took place in three successive stages that focused on basic infrastructure(Stage I); development (Stage II); and dissemination (Stage III), by which is meant broadening of the populace who embraced the principles that led to the movement’s success in both the medium and long term.

Thanks to upgrading of the agricultural production infrastructure and introduction of high-yielding Indica and Japonica hybrid rice varieties, by the end of Stage I, rural household incomes had reached parity with those of urban industrial households.

During Stage II, village life was improved through modernisation of rural dwellings with changes such as replacement of thatched roofs with tin, tile, and slate roof coverings; electrification; and introduction of telecommunications on a mass basis in rural villages.

By the end of the 1970s, the Republic of Korea had overcome its chronic shortfall in the domestic supply of food.

Ultimately, the most valuable long-term benefits of the SU movement were not its outward tangible achievements, but rather those that resulted from the sweeping change in the mentality of the people induced by the SU movement itself. In sum, the SU movement built a national confidence infused with a “can-do” spirit that transformed a former national mentality of chronic defeatism into new hope, a long-term shared vision of a better life for all, and an infectious enthusiasm sustained by volunteerism at the community level.

The SU movement built social capital through community networking that took place in Saemaul halls, in village forums, and at village general meetings (VGMs). During the period 1972–1980, more than 37 000 community halls were built, this total number translating into nearly one community hall per village. So great was the SU movement’s impact on community empowerment that the decision-making power of the non government VGMs ultimately exceeded that of the semi governmental village development committees, which in part comprised local government administrative officials.

More importantly, the SU movement shifted the cultural focus of rural communities away from Confucian-oriented biases that rewarded paying deference to men and to those viewed as being senior to oneself. Participation by women in the planning, execution, monitoring, and evaluation of CDD projects was facilitated by election of a female Saemaul leader who functioned as a partner to the male leader in rural villages. Women were further empowered not only through rural associations such as the Saemaul Wives’ Club and Mothers’ Club,but also through their collective role in increasing household income through sideline work as wage earners in Saemaul factories and through spearheading household frugality campaigns that promulgated thrift-oriented behaviours such as abstinence from alcohol and gambling and avoidance of expenditure on lavish ceremonies honouring one’s ancestors.

Another factor that helped propel the SU movement was then-President Park Chung Hee himself. An authoritarian ruler with a rural background, he was determined to implement CDD in rural villages by means of political influence and authoritarian rule. In this task he was assisted by a willing and efficient government bureaucracy, and perhaps more importantly, mass education of the people – and women in particular—during the 1970s.

Saemaul education was likewise an important factor in promoting widespread participation in the SU movement. This was particularly true of the training camp system at the Training Institute for Saemaul Leaders. During the SU movement’s Stage III (dissemination),the ranks from which participants at the training institute were drawn expanded from Saemaul leaders in rural villages and local administrative officers to members of the urban elite, the latter even including high-ranking government officials, chaebol (large industrial conglomerate group) executives,entrepreneurs who had started small and medium sized businesses, university professors, student leaders,lawyers, and medical doctors.

Dissemination of SU success stories by the state-controlled media was likewise an important factor in increasing the popularity of the SU movement.

Lastly, SU participation was facilitated by availability of resources and financing for SU projects. As for funding sources, community investment (including self-support by village residents) and loans from public financial institutions both grew during the late 1970s. Together these formed the mainstay of financial support for the SU movement, with aggregate funding from these two sources ultimately surpassing direct government support from both national and local government budgets.

The SU movement improved both individual and community well-being through:

poverty reduction through its impacts on increasing household income;

access to modern infrastructure and services brought about through mechanised farming,electrification, improvement in the quality of housing and health services, and child care provided by Saemaul nurseries during the planting, cultivation, and harvesting seasons;

empowerment of local communities and amassing of social capital;

revitalisation of community leadership by permitting younger people to assume leadership roles traditionally held by senior members of society and creation of a status free social context within the traditional rural village setting; and

acceptance of modern roles for women in terms of overall social participation,management of household budgets, and part time employment as wage earners.

Lessons learned from the SU movement that may to some degree be successfully replicated elsewhere given appropriate adaptation include the following:

Infusing traditional societies with the attributes of diligence, self-help, and cooperation can facilitate social and economic transformation. In some contexts, training camp education may be of use in this regard;

Introducing male – female paired leadership in rural villages can empower women and facilitate transformation and modernisation of traditionally gender-biased Asian societies.

Provision of micro-finance through institutions such as the Saemaul Bank (Village Bank) can effectively provide low-income communities with credit that can be used to leverage personal resources into investment that ultimately raises rural household incomes;

Traditional cultural values and folk ways can be of use in propelling socioeconomic change, given that they are appropriately revitalised, transformed, and modernised;

The top-down command-and-control approach to government involvement in CDD projects should be avoided at all costs, as this negates empowerment of local communities;

Quantitative monitoring and evaluation of results of CDD programmes by government administrations should be avoided, as it likewise negates empowerment of local communities;

Strong national political leadership with a commitment to sustainable CDD and empowerment of local communities can help facilitate socioeconomic transformation in Asian developing countries;

CDD leaders must be carefully screened if abuse of administrative power that negates local community empowerment is to be avoided; and;

There exists no standardised blueprint for CDD projects, as such an approach can likewise be at odds with empowerment of local communities.

These lessons are critical. The SU has been exported to over 100 countries and has been adopted by the United Nations as a tool for fostering inclusive development. There is no reason why we can’t adopt it.

Ironically, the programme implemented under the SU can be summarised in the same categories as Zim Asset clusters.

Zimbabwe needs the SU approach to build the “we can do it” spirit and to have national consensus and coherence. For example, we need to avoid situations which lead us to demolish houses (built through serious sacrifice) year in year houses which are within Zim Asset cluster. The SU will bring in transparency in all what we are doing and situations like these can be avoided.

  • Dr Mugano is an Economic Advisor, Trade and Competitiveness Expert, Research Associate at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (SA) and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s Graduate School of Management. Feedback: Email: [email protected] cell: +263 772 541 209.

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