By Donovan Chimhandamba
I was asked if I could share some thoughts around the role and opportunities for the diaspora in rebuilding the new Zimbabwe. Here are a few points to remember considering the month of November.
In Zimbabwe, November is a month we say hauroodzi mwanasikana. No girl/woman should get married in November as this month is regarded as highly superstitious.
But the seven days from November 14 leading up to November 21, Zimbabwe started her divorce proceedings with her first husband of 37 years, and quickly remarried a new husband, all in the dreaded month of November.
To be precise, babamukuru vakarambwa, babamunini vakapinda panyanga in seven days (the first husband was rejected and divorced, and the second husband took over, all within seven days).
It is now a reality not a dream. President Robert Mugabe is no longer the President of Zimbabwe. And this, not so long ago, was unthinkable.
This unthinkable end to President Mugabe’s rule has given the majority of Zimbabweans who have suffered, and felt marginalised from economy for a long time, new profound hope.
We have watched agonisingly, the economic hardships of Zimbabweans including those in diaspora escalate to unprecedented levels in a country that is not in a civil war.
Despite the endowment that Zimbabwe enjoys in terms of resources and skills, Zimbabwe has been reduced to a basket case. And if diasporas had not remitted the little they did to friends and family in Zimbabwe, we could have witnessed a far worse Zimbabwe.
As sure as the sun sets, it rises in the morning
As sure as the sun sets, it rises in the morning. So are the pictures of President Mugabe being removed and swapped for our new President Mnagangwa in the government offices.
I have watched with great amusement and laughter how quickly all my whatsapp contacts now have a picture with President Mnangagwa. Amazing.
I was late in putting up mine. In fact it was only a few weeks ago that none of us had the guts to go buy any Lacoste branded merchandise, and let alone put up a picture with Mnangagwa.
How the Crocodile phenomenon took root in Zimbabwe
But today….. Lacoste shops don’t understand whether its just Black Friday, or it’s the Crocodile phenomenon that has taken root in Zimbabwe.
Anyway we have ahead us many more long months of struggle, and of suffering before we feel any changes. However the pain will be felt less due to the euphoria and newly found hope by the Zimbabwean people.
The euphoria and celebrations will continue for a while, but when it dies down we will all be staring at the same challenges we face today.
We are all gathered here in diaspora, and with these recent unfolding of events we are all asking ourselves some basic questions:
1: What does the future of Zimbabwe look like?
2: Should we go back to Zimbabwe?
3: What role do I play in Zimbabwe?
4: Can we trust and place our hope in the new leadership?
Unfortunately there is no crystal ball I can give you, other than to say this to you. The future of Zimbabwe lies in your hands. This is the time to be bold and brave.
It is the time to dream big and stop being the messenger of pessimism and doubt.
But neither should you have blind optimism that fortune favours the brave.
Those who hadn’t taken positions in Zimbabwe, you now need to move in. The competition will be fiercer, and the competitors will arrive with deeper pockets, as everyone now is interested in investing in Zimbabwe.
In the days to come the Chinese, Americans, British and other global investors, including IMF and World Bank who had since left the scene, will be descending into Zimbabwe and re-evaluating their investment plans.
They will provide fierce competition for projects.
There will be more cash flowing to Zimbabwe, but my question to you is what part of the value chain do you control when these investments start flowing?
Do you command the principal project, or you rely on winning tenders to part supply to the project? You need to move away from the peripheries and stop being the burger, but become the principal in the value chain.
Late last year a few of the Brawlers members who are here with us had a dream. They believed that in as much as the sun sets, there would be sunrise. They believed that it would be a matter of time before iron curtain on Zimbabwe would fall, leading to a new political and economic dispensation.
Simple questions, and answers for the Zimbabwe diaspora
The questions they asked themselves that informed their strategy were quite simple:
1: How can diaspora participate in the economic rebuilding of Zimbabwe?
2: What investment strategy should we follow?
3: How do we position ourselves strategically while the sunsets such that when the sunrises we command strategic positions on key infrastructural assets? and
4: Above all how do capitalise our projects while ensuring the broader diaspora participates in the projects?
These are the discussions amongst the few Brawlers that led to the formation of Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group and Brawlers in Business. Its strategy is very simple, and yet bold and ambitious.
DIDG believes that for any country to become competitive, investments should start by recapitalising critical economic infrastructure.
This includes infrastructure for rail, road, energy, water, agriculture and telecommunication. Addressing these infrastructural needs will unlock activities such as mineral beneficiation and manufacturing.
DIDG’s first transaction was its $400m joint bid with Transnet to recapitalise the National Railways of Zimbabwe.
Those who have invested in DIDG through BIB and have been following the transaction would appreciate that pursuing such objectives is never easy, but success is the most emotionally rewarding feat.
With the new dispensation in Zimbabwe, I have no doubt that we will see a lot more transactions of this scale take off the ground.
As DIDG and Brawlers In Business the objective is to simply champion the aggregation of diaspora capital and skills so that we can compete as a unit in projects in Zimbabwe against the other global dominant companies.
Those interested in this fight to usher in diaspora into the mainstream economy please do speak to us.
Our eleven-point plan
Now let me spend some time on the Zimbabwe economy and what needs to be done.
Talk about the tough decisions the new President has to make. I have, like most people out there, selected a few 10 points. I couldn’t just stand up here and say nothing.
1: President needs to be bold and appoint a cabinet that is not based on patronage to please the sycophants whom have quickly changed allegiance in order to further entrench their own self interests.
2: President’s cabinet needs to be meritocratic, providing for a good mix between technocrats, experienced ministers, opposition and people who have been based outside the country such as the diaspora.
3: His Ministers of Finance, Trade and Industry and the Reserve Bank Governor are going to be the most important people he chooses during his first few days. He needs to get those appointments absolutely right, as these are the people who will either give confidence or doubt to the capital markets. No patronage for the sychophants please Mr President.
4: President needs to be brutal and hive off government’s interest or holdings in commercial but non performing parastatals. Government cannot be a player and referee at the same time. Government has to go back to being a government and not operating businesses. In the same way they are saying the Zimbabwe National Army has no place in politics and should go back to the barracks, so should the government. Privatise these parastatals and focus on creating an enabling business environment.
5: Drop the bond notes. Move to the South African Rand or dollarise the economy. Even James Bond doesn’t use bond notes. We can’t be modelling a business that intends to compete on global market, yet has to run parallel currency markets relying on fiats that cannot be used elsewhere in the world.
6: Liberalise the foreign currency markets so that there is very little restriction and control by government on foreign currency movements. Yes it will be brutal for everyone in the short term, but the system will quickly comeback into equilibrium. Let free markets comeback.
7: Loosen up on affirmative action requirements. 51% is steep especially in key national enabling infrastructural assets. There must be some middle ground. Give tax holidays and incentives for fresh investments in key infrastructural assets to attract FDI.
8: Set an example by running corruption busts. What kind of a country are we if even an introducer or facilitator asks for 10% of the investment as commission, and nothing happens to them?
9: Loosen up on import duties. These import duties are just adding up to the cost of doing business. Focus on VAT and income tax growth. If the country’s GDP grows, the tax base will grow, and so will VAT and income tax. Duties have never made any country prosperous.
10: Move away from scary slogans, populist rhetoric and politics of the past. Our country needs to quickly move on and not spend any more resources on politics of the past. The sooner we immerse ourselves into what the future needs the quicker we start building Zimbabwe.
11: And most importantly, let the diaspora be at the heart of your economic planning.
President Mnangagwa has a short window of opportunity to do this and there is no better time to do this as the people want him to prove that he can change the direction of Zimbabwe, and the past won’t repeat itself.
As we celebrate our newly found independence in Zimbabwe today, as we all get drunk from the euphoria and excitement of these developments, we are going to need to quickly sober up start rolling ours sleeves.
Zimbabwe needs its diaspora, if we fail to actively seek ways to rebuild Zimbabwe, then the country will further plunge into the abyss of the new Dark Age.
I would like to close by reminding you of the last famous words from one former President as he parted ways with his people after 37 years.
“Lets put our shoulders to the wheel” “Mvura yakanaya, hendei tinorima” “Iwe neni tine basa”.
Merry Christmas and I wish all the Brawlers a Prosperous 2018.
Goodnight, Asante Sana and thank you.
Chimhandamba is Executive Chairman of the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group. This speech was delivered at the Brawlers Golf Society end of year gala dinner at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club this week.
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