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30 - 06 September 2006 
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Zimbabwe: Not that Bad after All!

A nation’s social, economic, political and legal system can be its engine for growth or engine that grinds development to a halt. The situation in the country is comparable to the captive Israelites sitting by the rivers of Babylon and weeping, with harps hung on the willow trees. However, Zimbabweans are ready to sing their song even in this strange “land.”
What keeps almost 12 million Zimbabweans going?

The country has a highly developed infrastructure and natural resource base. Zimbabweans inherited a country with a very high level of infrastructural development. The road network compares well with many developed areas. The human capital which has a 95 percent literacy level allows global networking. Until lately, Zimbabwe has enjoyed good electricity, communication networks and a system of setting up small and large industrial business. This setup has allowed individual Zimbabweans to excel and go around their business initiatives with relative ease, no matter the current hardships.

Additionally, Zimbabwe is endowed with natural resources and reserves, which keeps it going. Its natural reserves like the Victoria Falls continue to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and world class attraction. The strong mineral resource base keeps Zimbabwe an attraction by the business world.

Another factor is personal responsibility, integrity and resilience. Many Zimbabweans have developed a sense of responsibility, integrity and perseverance. They are quite tolerant and patient with their government. The numbers that can withstand the heat as they queue for petrol, bread and any other commodities is a case in point. The silence and acceptance of police “harassment” in the recent operation by the reserve bank and the police to flush-out money laundering and parallel market operations is a realisation by Zimbabweans that nation comes first. As in Asia, Zimbabwean families take care of themselves, and personal responsibility is emphasized. For Asians, the idea of government being involved in family life is culturally unthinkable and horrifying. The whole idea of taking care of the family is why savings in Asia are 30 percent or more at household level. Zimbabweans likewise uphold family values and self-sufficiency. Not only do they eschew the welfare state as a burden but they also bear a ‘pride” that seeks self-actualization and success in their endeavors.

Individuals such as the current Governor of the Central Bank stand as a case in point. His self-commitment to the turn-around programme if multiplied could amount to a team of entrepreneurial Zimbabweans that can catapult the economy. He is an example of how Zimbabweans have sustained a culture of resilience, commitment and endurance. He starved the entire nation of fuel (petrol and diesel) for weeks, to settle Zimbabwe’s debt to the IMF. It requires a Zimbabwean with a high level of commitment to bring Zimbabwe to the global table and renew interaction and business with world-class corporates. He throws 150 percent commitment to turn-around the economy and has become a role model of the entrepreneurial class and self made group of Zimbos who continue to hold-on, with the hope that Zimbabwe will resurface.

Least understood is the role Zimbabweans in the diaspora who remit money back home to family members and spouses hence keeping many a Zimbabwean entrepreneurs in business. The emergence of the informal money markets, parallel fuel deals and many other activities during the temporary collapse of the banking situations in Zimbabwe has made billionaires over-night in Zimbabwe. Before the most recent financial crackdown and removal of the three zeros, money markets and investment models were paying amazing interest rates of as high as 500 percent and this created billionaire Zimbabweans.

Another factor to consider is the informal sector boom. The reduction in investment has come as an opportunity for many Zimbabweans who lost their formal jobs, but maintained a useable skill to start their own informal trade and/or manufacturing business. Many Zimbabweans were caught up in the government crack down on informal business and other nefarious operations during May/June 2005. The zeal and never-say-die attitude, has left some very well established informal industrial operations that continue to sustain families and the economy. The mere fact that there are more than 70 percent of the people “unemployed” formally is enough to suggest that Zimbabweans have come of age in terms of innovating and sustaining themselves. They are all-over the region doing informal business and this has given the nation a much needed economic safety net.

Many more examples can be given as Zimbabweans peruse the markets in the Asia, Dubai, China, Thailand and the western world. Informal sector Zimbabweans have become global entrepreneurs well before the state accepts a global status for itself. While government is busy branding and dividing the world between its western enemies and friendly eastern world, Zimbabweans and civil society are busy penetrating global markets both in the east and west with world-class prudence.

How can Zimbabwe harness the potential from its own citizens?

The country needs to maintain the level and development of the education, to become one of the countries in Southern Africa with a very high literacy rate. With such a high literate population, Zimbabwe has the capacity to attain the Western and Asian models of progress. A successful enterprising and global economy needs values which entertain hard work, learning, honesty, self discipline, and self reliance. The country’s education must engrave societal values that respect order, harmony, accountability of public officials, openness to new ideas, freedom of expression, respect for individual liberty and dignity and open minded thinking.

Zimbabweans should open itself up for intra Africa and global trade, and create a business climate that can see such abundant infrastructure put to good use. Citizens, entrepreneurs and international partners with a positive attitude towards the nation tend to work hard for them to achieve personal glory, which will amount to national glory and goals. Zimbabwe has a population that can be harnessed for personal achievement and growth through entrepreneurial activities.

Zimbabwe already has a nation of highly innovative individuals and should exploit this development by supporting genuine above board informal sector development. The high levels of skills, literacy and enthusiasm exhibited by Zimbabweans under this hyper inflationary environment should be turned into creation of fortunes for enterprising people.

By Phillip Bohwasi
Social Scientist, Civil Society participant
Founder of Zimbabwe Opportunities Industrialisation Centers (ZOIC).

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