A gleaming convoy of mint Freightliners whooshes past the narrow, well-worn dusty strips of road in one of the country’s busiest highways. Heavily laden, their payload is a century’s gift from sustained gutting of the nearby Mountain’s treasure trove. In the distance, a conical tower bellows and exhales grey smoke from the stone crusher into a cloudless sky with the reckless abandon of a teenage chain smoker. The spectacle creates a thick carpet that envelopes the surrounds in a curtain of dust and gloom, sapping the life out of all the fauna and flora on this busy gateway for kilometres on end.
The scene is ground zero for the biggest and most profitable cement by product extraction facility in Sub Saharan Africa. It’s a similar story in the rest of the country where minerals are spirited away with an alarming urgency that far out paces the economic development of the aboriginal communities whose plight barely registers as a footnote on the country’s economic indicator scale.
From Muzarabani up in North Eastern Zimbabwe down to the bosom of Mberengwa District in the South East, lies one of the world’s richest mineral belts – the Great Dyke escarpment. Economic activity here moves at a frenetic pace that leaves locals behind gasping in awe at the wealth in their own backyards. Their simple, unassuming ways are no match to the fast paced, insulated network of all powerful corporations, contractors, suppliers and expatriates agog in segregated privilege. An army of top notch financial and legal minds ensure virtual carte blanche rights everywhere they go. It’s the curse of resource rich communities where sovereign wealth and eminent domain play no part in advancing the economic interests of locals whose roots in these communities predate the colonial era.
It’s not just in the mining sector, examples of socioeconomic legacy issues hanging over the Government’s head are legion; their sum total affects the sustainability of the whole economy in the long term. This is why any attempt by President Mnangagwa to frame the new dispensation within the myth of an economic liberal republic should be understood alongside the logical axiom of ‘charity begins at home’. It’s not enough to create jobs, Zimbabweans should have equity and beneficial control of the means of production, otherwise all will be eternal slaves suckling at the tit of benevolent ‘investors’ in the service of a renascent petit bourgeoisie. Whilst capital is the oil that galvanizes economic activity and jobs its by-product, these two cannot be the sole arbiters. Granted, without skilled professionals and substantial capital the country’s decline will only continue and make it impossible to deliver the services that will legitimise the new government. However, Government needs to adopt a futuristic outlook that frowns on mortgaging national resources for paper loans to satiate immediate wants as opposed to securing
To wit, the ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ mantra is predicated on inviting ‘investors’ in droves before a policy that puts the nation’s development agenda on a square footing is in place puts the country at a disadvantage. The current deal structuring arrangements from the energy, finance, agricultural sector etc may seem to elicit confidence in the political leadership and legitimize the status quo at face value, they will scarcely stand up to scrutiny in the long term. One notable casualty in this regard is the multibillion dollar Chirundu – Beitbridge highway dualization project whose cost in litigations, severance packages and other small print fees will threaten the viability of this critical national project. To set an example, many heads should roll, dereliction of national duty censured and perpetrators punished to the full extent of the law as a statement that Government really means business.
At this rate, it stands to reason that when the economy picks up, only a handful of Zimbabweans will have control of the means of production as the current dispensation gives unfettered economic access to foreigners with hard currency to spare as opposed to locals with bright ideas and fire in their belly. Moreso, in the mining sector with an exception in the platinum group metals and diamond sectors. In addition, the Government through media is dangling a ‘carrot’ (multibillion dollar deal headlines) to citizens without necessarily revealing the ‘stick’ (costs to the country in real terms). For all the razzmatazz around these deals, Government needs to be transparent about the real beneficiaries of these transactions including the beneficial owners of the entities that are servicing these contracts including the financing models and the whole supply chain, after all, the taxpayer is unwittingly the ultimate benefactor.
In the short to medium term, these deals appear to be the tonic to pacify the ordinary people through unlocking job opportunities. The more discerning electorate would argue against the unsustainable parcelling out of opportunities at the expense of sovereign interests. It goes without saying that citizens in general and locals living in the geographical areas affected by Government’s economic policies in particular will bear the brunt of environmental degradation and loss of habitats should they be asked to make way for projects. On the upside, economic activity will pick up and jobs will become readily available. However, what will really get Zimbabwe ticking again is total mineral beneficiation, agricultural automation,value addition, and access to cheaper lines of credit to fund economic activity with Zimbabweans leading
Again, in a haste to cast Zimbabwe as a neoliberal republic, the country may as well open itself up to opportunists with get rich quick schemes. The safeguard is beyond reproach control measures that ensure maximum dividends to finance a sovereign wealth fund for investing in capital projects. A country that saves creates wealth. Wealth leads to prosperity and enables future generations a comfortable existence in free pursuit of the advancement of humanity.
Lest it becomes a free for all looting spree as of old, checks and balances need to be put in place regarding the calibre of investors our Government enters into agreements with. Of late, the beneficial ownership of most companies remains veiled in secret offshore holdings registered in tax havens where any due diligence on their operations is impossible. Methinks, it should be a requirement to know who exactly the country is dealing with and their background for the obvious reasons of criminal injury which could make officials unwitting co-conspirators in plundering the country’s resources.
Zimbabwe being open for business should not just be about creation of jobs and attracting FDI which together with infrastructure contribute less than 15% to the variable productivity of a country. Beyond political legitimacy, Government ought to address ownership rights and the obligations of investors vis-à-vis our rural communities which are awash with ineffectual share ownership schemes. Most of the communities in whose names these schemes are set up rarely get dividends from this arrangement and the terms of reference have to be reviewed to ensure communities benefit from their resources in as much as an investor gets a return on their investment. Companies that setup shop in the sovereign lands need to go beyond just using locals as casual labourers, but to also ensure that they setup a support structure that enables training and skills development so they become active and beneficial owners of their resources. It is the role of Government from the onset to ensure that such undertakings see the light of day through thoroughgoing regulation. In the absence of clear cut policies, everything falls through the grey area of an investor’s own self-serving devices which are often sold as corporate social responsibility programmes to
The idea that the best of our tomorrows are in front of us regardless of what our todays are saying prolongs the business as usual and cavalier approach towards sustainability in all economic sectors. At face value, President’s Mnangagwa’s clarion call to investors and the diaspora alike is commendable. However, over and critically above this sunshine narrative, one can understand how it could be misconstrued as just another election gimmick. As a country Zimbabwe has many outstanding legacy issues on empowerment and ownership and access to the means of production that need urgent redress.
A balancing act needs to be put in play whilst appreciating that no dividends will yield overnight except to serve as a long term strategy. Moreso, with the wait and see attitude of some corporations already in the country like Anglo American whose CEO Chris Griffith at a Mining conference in South Africa recently took Mines Minister Winston Chitando to task about Zimbabwe’s policy inconsistencies. In the final assessment, the Zimbabwean Government needs to strengthen its social contract with citizens in line with the 17 UN SDGs for every country’s priorities towards uplifting its people’s livelihoods and create an enabling environment to equitably engage with the rest of the world. Over and above the call for FDI, Government needs to put in place rational economic policies, introduce a local currency, incentivise exports, encourage the return of Zimbabweans in the diaspora and secure greater access to fuel and energy for