Cooperation Over Competition Is Africa’s Economic Future.

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn page.

Good economic news has been in short supply for South Africa in recent months. From shocking allegations of state capture to the second cabinet reshuffle in less than two years and stagnant growth. A ratings downgrade proved inevitable in 2017 but there was a glimmer of hope with cautious reports of in September of green shoots emerging.

In continental news Egypt was named Africa’s top investment destination by RMB, knocking South Africa off the top spot for the first time in the seven years of the rating. South Africa and Nigeria continue to tussle for the title of Africa’s biggest economy but with a larger population and better overall growth prospects, the odds are in Nigeria’s favor. The news is not great either when you look at South Africa’s ranking in the 2017-18 WEF Global Competiveness Index (WEFGCI) or the World Bank’s Ease Of Doing Business Index.

This is by no means strictly a South African story, look at any African country and you will find they are struggling with at least one index or another. But what if we looked at things differently? What if instead of focusing on who is the best African country, region or city we looked at how through cooperation, African countries, regions or cities can overcome their individual weaknesses? It makes no sense for the African Union to trumpet African economic integration but in practice intra-regional cooperation has been woefully slow, for example, SADC’s intra-regional visa is still a dream after more than a decade of negotiations despite obvious economic benefits. It also makes no sense that a continent endowed with incredible resources competes for global investment and countries find themselves in a spiral to the bottom trying to attract foreign direct investment by giving up non-renewable resources that could fuel long term growth through beneficiation for immediate gain, the trade in unexploited oil blocks all along the east coast comes to mind.

Intra-Africa trade has only increased to 15% of total African trade in the period 2010-15 after languishing around 8-11% for the prior eight years due to numerous logistical and political bottlenecks. There is, however, hope that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) will usher in ways to circumvent many of these bottlenecks as red tape lags behind technological advancements such as blockchain and industries now possible thanks to increasingly ubiquitous high speed internet. Faster internet speeds, rapidly mushrooming local content across all online platforms, increasing inward as every country has at least one international airport and growing intra-Africa travel is showing we Africans, are all the gateway to Africa. With blockchain cumbersome foreign exchange regulations that have long hindered intra-Africa trade could be a thing of the past. Couple this with high speed internet, one is now able to have cross-continental teams across all sorts of industries working simultaneously on the same project and not having to wait an eternity for payments or juggle exchange rates.

Blockages that have existed for decades are set to be overtaken by a new breed of entrepreneurs who do not see borders and lethargic legislation as they lead Africa’s resurgence. Cooperation, not traditional ideas of competition, is how Africa’s much talked about youth dividend will be realized. Rather than aspiring to be Africa’s top -insert favorite index here-, in the next thirty years national borders will give way to regional economic blocks anchored by mega-cities modeled by unique population growth, migration and urbanization patterns. Governments will focus on facilitating this cross-border entrepreneurial spirit through relevant educational systems, infrastructure development projects and meeting their developmental mandates.

Hyper-inflation, the second coming?

Inflation is defined as too much money chasing too few goods, simple enough right? In recent history Zimbabwe became the textbook case of hyper-inflation in the modern era and just as Venezuela was about to take over this mantle, Africa’s “most educated” country is again in the headlines for all the wrong economic reasons.

In late 2008 Zimbabwe’s inflation peaked in November 2008 before the government stopped releasing figures and subsequently  adopted a multi-currency system of the Zimbabwe dollar in early 2009. Fast forward to September 2017, Zimbabwe has effectively run out of foreign currency to support the multi-currency system and for the last two years the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has been trying to convince citizens to use bond coins and notes at an equivalent rate as the United States dollar with waning success and growing resentment. As a black market for US dollars and a parallel pricing structure have emerged, people have started to ring the alarm bells fearing hyper-inflation has returned. While this may not be the case, the consequences of the current situation are possibly far worse than what we saw in 2008.

Yes, Zimbabwe is in the grips of inflation, however, the primary good in increasingly short supply at this stage is the US dollar. The bad news is this is having a rapid knock-on effect with the latest sector to experience shortages being fuel as there is simply no money to import it. Medicines are already in short supply in hospitals with reports of the lack of basics such as headache tablets and water.

Whereas the previous hyper-inflation cycle took eleven years to peak, this one will be much faster and vicious. It seems the government is aware of this and as usual, has chosen to go after those alerting the nation to the problems instead if fixing them. Just as citizens are all too aware of the indicators of the return of critical shortages, so too is the government. Expect more such arrests and shutting down of any spaces that allow people to lament the state of the country. Expect a raft of legislation designed to stop you finding alternatives to the shortages, including but not limited to:

  • even tighter restrictions on access to money,
  • the private importation of goods,
  • restrictions on access to information and alternative points of view through social media targeting and possibly blackouts.

Also expect conditions to get much worse much quicker, at the current rate Christmas 2017 will be a grim time indeed. With elections in 2018 and the opposition still not able to muster a real challenge, the ruling party has no incentive to act in the interests of Zimbabweans and is more interested in internal succession politics, the real question is, once the next leader of ZANU PF emerges, will they have done so decisively enough to focus on economic recovery in a post-Mugabe era? As has been said by others before, you can’t rig the economy, so despite all the political maneuvering, Zimbabwe’s economic problems and their consequences, may yet still influence the outcome of the elections long before people go to the ballot box.

A Bitter Harvest Of Shattered Dreams And Broken People.

Apartheid, the worst mental experiment ever visited on African people, was in force in South Africa for 46 years between 1948 and 1994. My country, Zimbabwe, has been under the rule of one party and one man, for 37 years going on 38. In those 37 years they have built a formidable system of control that can only be rivaled in its insidiousness, bloodlust and the total devotion of it’s practitioners by apartheid. Much as in South Africa under successive apartheid governments, ZANU PF control almost every facet of Zimbabwean life and that which they do not control, they ban. Next year Zimbabweans go to vote and it is highly unlikely that the ruling party will lose that election or the one that will follow it in 2023, so by the time we get to 2028, ZANU will have been in power for 48 years.

Apartheid was a grand scheme that ensured the management of every aspect of daily life to the benefit of the white minority at the expense of the black majority by whatever means necessary. In the same spirit, ZANU PF has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 for the benefit of a select elite, by whatever means necessary. Like in apartheid South Africa, this has included mass and targeted killings, forced removals, propaganda wars, using the police as the state’s first line of defence against disruptive elements, complete control of traditional media and, inflicting a terrible mental burden on the entire population.

Mthetho Tshemese, a South African clinical psychologist, speaks of that country’s unfinished business, the deep psychological scars that were inflicted on the nation under first colonialism then apartheid which continue to be the cause of much suffering more than 23 years into democracy. For many decades, but particularly since 1980, Zimbabwe has similarly gone through a collective psychological trauma that presents itself in the most horrifying ways. One just has to open a newspaper to the courts section to read of horrendous crimes people commit against one another, nevermind the impunity with which our politicians commit violence against opponents. Has anybody stopped to think of what damage has been wrought on the minds of people who have known nothing but a brutal regime for over 37 years? I use the term brutal for lack of a more accurate one because it is woefully inadequate to describe a state that has presided over the deaths and displacement of millions since coming to power under the pretense of liberating said millions from a colonial state that disenfranchised them only to do the same, and in some cases, worse.

Today I heard on Zimbabwean twitter of a video circulating about children as young as 9 selling themselves for sex so they can feed their younger siblings. I have not seen this video and do not know if it has been verified but you are free to search for it. Just the thought that this may be true, left my heart heavy. What made this worse were the obscene comments by some people who should know better. This brought me to terms with the real possibility that as a nation, the end of ZANU rule may only be the beginning of a new bitter chapter.

Long after ZANU is gone and it’s next to impossible to find anyone who admits to ever having voted for them we will have inherited this society of shattered dreams and broken minds. What fresh hell will Zimbabwe be then? I worry that a new vicious, violent and desensitized Zimbabwe is forming before our very eyes perpetuated by those who aspire to rule us until eternity. These rulers thrive on chaos or at least the threat of it and a dysfunctional society suits their purposes. A society where a father cannot be trusted with his daughters, a son cannot be trusted with his grandmother, sex is a commodity to be traded for survival, cabinet ministers ban a woman from the country for not wearing panties and the state-controlled media praise the “mother of the nation” for viciously assaulting a defenseless woman whilst visiting a foreign country as ten bodyguards watch.

This is the true legacy of ZANU PF’s misrule and anyone who dreams to unseat them needs to know this is the nation they will inherit. Any ideas of national healing will have to go way beyond standard interviews with victims of direct political violence but to the children, by then adults, who were displaced and grew up damaged since 1980. These are the streetkids who have poured into the cities since the mid 1990s. They are the children who have had to end schooling early to sell sweets and airtime or beg with their parents on street corners in foreign lands. They are the children forced to trade their innocence for survival and that of their siblings. They are the husbands and wives who are only together in name because one spouse had to leave Zimbabwe to go work in Canada and hasn’t been back in so long they’re kids only know them from photos not knowing if they will ever return. They are the graduates who spend their days outside the bottle store looking to put coins together so they can stay numbed with liquor and not have to think too much about just how shitty their lives are. They are the grandmother who at 73 ploughs her plot to raise 8 grandchildren after their parents died of AIDS whilst a profligate state spends millions sending delegates to international conferences. They are the doctors and nurses who simply cannot go on with the pretense of a health system and now unemotionally tell patients the horrible truth that there is nothing they can do for them.

Rwanda is hailed around the world for how they prosecuted the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide and associated crimes, to is also one of the continent’s most economically progressive and investor-friendly nations. In 2016 I visited Kigali and the conversation inevitably came up, though I did not participate, I listened. One guy spoke of how seeing people who killed your family now back on the street after serving 20 years in jail was like a secondary trauma despite Rwanda’s efforts at national healing. What more those who were too young in 1994 to understand what was happening and are only now coming to terms with what actually happened? How do they accept this as part of their history and how does this affect them? What does this mean for the national psyche going forward?

We are a nation of millions of broken Zimbabweans who bear the psychological scars of an oppressive system that has robbed us of our humanity so as to easier subjugate us. This is the nation of Zimbabwe today and I fear for what the future will bring, fixing the economy is very possible but if we are a nation of broken people there is not enough money in the world to fix that. This, is Zimbabwe’s unstarted business.

Dollars And Nonsense. A Zimbabwean Tragic-Comedy

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On 01 January 2008 I was arrested in Bulawayo after an undercover policeman bought a beer with R20,00 in a shop I owned yet we did not have a license to sell our wares in foreign currency. The police also found US$120,00 in the till which they took as evidence. I was released the same morning and in about September that year went to court where I pleaded guilty alongside my manager and we were each fined US$200,00. The court called the fine a deterrent. Less than four months later, Zimbabwe legalized the use of multiple foreign currencies making the license requirement redundant. Such is the unpredictable nature of the Zimbabwean economy.

By 2010 and we were predominantly using the USD as our currency of choice in Zimbabwe. However, deflation hit heavily after an initial appreciation slowing down the local economy, this was not helped by a sustained depreciation of regional currencies against the USD, particularly the South African Rand, currency of Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner. In 2015 the government officially demonetized the Zimbabwe dollar, something the economy had already long done. As the USD appreciated much was been made of how Zimbabwe’s exports had become less competitive and local production was dying as imports become increasingly cheaper. This led to the introduction of the import ban that wasn’t really a ban but, according to government, just restrictions in the form of SI64 in 2016. At the same time some analysts even went as far as to say the USD was ruining Zimbabwe’s chances of recovery and pointed to the  China’s Renminbi being recognized by the IMF as a main world currency as reason for Zimbabwe to officially adopt the currency of our erstwhile friend.

Whilst this didn’t quite transpire, flawed arguments against the USD led to the introduction of bond notes in 2016, the currency that’s not really a currency but should be accepted as a currency on par with the US Dollar which is still a real currency, according to the Reserve Bank. This has done little to alleviate cash shortages and the plethora of economic problems that Zimbabwe faces. These problems have, in many cases, worsened due almost completely to policy flip-flopping by the government in general and the Reserve Bank in particular, who at times, have been nothing short of dishonest. A case in point is the actual introduction of bond notes which saw legal challenges and duplicitous statements from none other than the Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya. Mangudya has also consistently ignored government profligacy’s contribution to the downward economic spiral blaming everything from Visa and MasterCard transactions to blaming payment of DStv subscriptions as a form of externalization.

Zimbabwe has also seen a spate of new and increased taxes in the last three years as government tries to mop  up any hard currency out there to feed it’s insatiable appetite for ultimately fruitless expenditure, including the rather dubious 5% Health Levy now charged on airtime and mobile data. Wether this money will benefit the supposed beneficiaries is anybody’s guess.

As we hurtle towards elections in 2018 Zimbabwe’s biggest problem remains what it has been for decades, an untrustworthy government that chops and changes economic policy to suit ruling party politics on a whim. Unfortunately with the opposition in disarray with no clear economic blueprint either, some have said the only real hope is a reformed ZANU PF. As some cry and others laugh out of a need for comic relief, one can only wonder in dread what the future holds for southern Africa’s former bread basket.

Self-care When Far From Home In A Time Of Strife

Last Sunday I made a list of people I have not spoken to in a while. Some of them are people who have been there for me at my lowest others recognized what I was trying to achieve creatively and inspired me when no one else did. They are not blood relatives but have at those times when I needed them, been just as important or even more so. One thing they have in common is they are all in Zimbabwe and living through this crazy time that I am seeing mostly via social media. I left Zimbabwe and settled in South Africa a few years ago seeking a new start and to make a better life for my family.

 

With my friends we went through what we thought was the worst of Zimbabwe in between 2003 and 2008. By the beginning of 2009 we were broke after being wiped out by an unforgiving economy and really wanted to believe that it was over, that we had another chance at a normal life in Zimbabwe like in other developing countries. We all know now this did not happen.

 

Zimbabwe today is going through, as the kids say, the most! My home country is seeing untold upheaval as people from all walks of life increasingly speak out their frustrations at how the government has failed them. The government is finding it increasingly difficult to control a restless population with propaganda and intimidation.

 

For many like me who spend much of our time and get most of our information on the situation from social media, it is easy to slip into an almost constant crisis mode. We can forget that life must go on, that people need to unplug from the outrage to make a living, catch a game, a drink or a moment with friends, take the kids to school or even just change the TV channel. We can forget that before anything else, we are people and as such, seek out emotional support from each other. This is why I made the list on Sunday morning.

 

There were six names on the list, two of them literally saved my life but I had not contacted in over six months. Another has inspired me as she has built a new life for her family after a major personal crisis that would likely have broken just about anybody else. Another I met on social media, he is building a business that’s gained him a lot of attention, some of which I am sure he could do without. He is also a father to a young child and a husband much like me.

 

I asked them how they were, I asked about their families, we gossiped about our spouses and shared stories about how we are secretly terrified of our kids. We did not talk about the politics or the economics. We did not talk of the corruption or the violence. We did not talk of the propaganda or the protests. We laughed together at how we had disappeared on each other but were grateful we could pick up where we left off and promised to stay in better contact going forward. We just reconnected, as people, the next day we went back to adulting as normal.

 

A random call or message from the right person when all life seems chaotic can be incredibly empowering, even if it’s just to talk about absolutely nothing to do with your challenges. Zimbabwe can depress you wether you’re there or far from home. Worrying about what role you can and should play in this fast developing situation can keep you up nights and the self-doubt can have you retreating from engaging with others. Sometimes you feel like you are just fighting air because you don’t know if the little you are doing is even making a difference. That is when you know you need to unplug from the situation, even for a little while.

 

Pick up the phone and call a friend you have not spoken to for a while. Cook a meal and share it with somebody. Go for a long walk around your neighborhood and strike up a conversation with a neighbor. Go on that date you keep postponing because you just need to get those tweets out. Do something good for somebody in your community who totally didn’t expect it and don’t tell anyone.

 

Simply reconnect with people near or far, they will give you life.

 

 

 

We Don’t Need Another Hero.

it’s been a phenomenal two weeks in the country of my birth, Zimbabwe. The events of the last fourteen days across the country have caught everyone unawares. From the initial demonstrations at Beitbridge border post on June 20th when SI 64 was first implemented to the burning of the customs warehouse and closure of the Zimbabwe and South Africa border for the first time in over a century, media and government were at a loss to explain what had changed in the mood of the country. Little did they know more was to come.

Hardly two days after relative order was restored at Beitbridge, Monday saw running battles between police and Kombi drivers across parts of Harare as the latter went on strike in protest against traffic police corruption. Police deployed their standard tactics only to be met by an emboldened resistance that saw reports of them being beaten back by enraged protestors. As the day went on pictures emerged of excessive police force along with increasingly violent resistance.

In response to the burning of the Beitbridge customs warehouse, Minister of State Security Kembo Mohadi, who is from Beitbridge, exclaimed:

“We are very much disturbed. Why should the South African businesspeople try to influence our policy formulation? They have their own laws and we don’t meddle. It is sad that they chose to mobilise our people against the Government. The burning of tyres during demonstrations is foreign to us and we suspect a third hand is involved in the chaos that rocked Beitbridge town on Friday,” 

Mohadi also blamed the police for being unprepared leading to the army having to be called in. The police, for their part, have been consistent in  cracking down viciously at any sign of protest but have at times appeared at a loss when confronted by protestors who are not scared of them anymore. Instead, they have now started to look for the ringleaders of these protests, another old policing tactic.

Now whilst the police and government try to get control of the situation the media have been excitedly keeping the world informed and as is their nature, trying to find that unique angle to differentiate their coverage from that of the competition. The irony is, many are as confused about this new wave of resistance as the state, and like the state, have resorted to classic theories to explain what is going on. In this effort, they have identified an ideal leader who fits the desired profile in a Harare pastor, Evan Mawarire.

Mawarire has risen to prominence over the last few months after a series of Facebook videos of him venting his frustration at the state of the country resonated with fellow Zimbabweans inspiring others to share their stories of frustration. His use of social media to galvanise people has been nothing short of phenomenal and he has attracted other equally talented and frustrated Zimbabweans to his cause under what has come to be known as the #ThisFlag citizens movement. Collectively they called for a stay-away on Wednesday 06 July which saw the country come to a virtual standstill and protestors in running battles with the police in Harare and Bulawayo. Following on this they have published a list of demands and are threatening a second stay-away next week.

#ThisFlag is now the ideal one-stop-shop for publishers looking for a ready-made media package for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and its all here on social media, or so some local and international media would have us believe. It is at this point that I become wary. The last week has seen all sorts of people claiming credit or being assigned blame for what has in reality been a collective effort who’s time has come. The MDC-T’s Obert Gutu was quick off the mark after Wednesday’s stay-away to claim that this was only possible because of them, an act that was roundly condemned across social, digital and print media.

Now that the dust has settled, the state and media alike, are looking for ringleaders of the protests, albeit for different reasons. The state so they can put an end to the protests, the media so they can find new heroes and villains to replace the tired characters of the seemingly eternal Zimbabwean political soap opera. Why shouldn’t they? This formula has worked marvellously for both of them in the past. Only problem is, this time around what’s happening in Zimbabwe does not fit this mould. This is popular resistance against a political system that has failed Zimbabweans for too long and now seeks to starve them. I don’t know where started but it certainly was not on social media and it certainly was not on July 01, Zimbabweans have been frustrated a damn long time and have been using various means to just get by in spite of a state that has continued to make life harder for them.

Recent moves by the state, notably the introduction of bond notes and S I 64 have been the most brazen of a number of unpopular moves going back as far as 2000 or even 1980, depending on who you speak to. All these own goals have seen Zimbabweans from all walks of life saying they have had enough, from advocates to vendors to taxi-drivers to pastors to journalists to students. Every Zimbabwean who is not benefiting directly from the patronage system that is our government today has had enough and are finding means of expression, no matter where they are. In Bulawayo youths who I saw growing up were arrested for demanding Mugabe must go on Wednesday, they are out on $40 bail each. A few weeks ago a woman wrote of how she lost her child to an inept health care system. Two people who have been creating platforms for Zimbabweans to communicate with and develop each other tweeted about how they were interviewed by the police about their activities in the same week. People are sharing their dissatisfaction with the state and they all need to be heard, to position some as heroes this early in the night is to set us all up for failure. We are all important and we all deserve support.

The world wants to tell us social media has become a new frontier in the battle for a normal life in Zimbabwe and in response the state has threatened to control social media, even allegedly disrupting the internet during Wednesday’s stay-away. Barring social media or the internet entirely will not put food in peoples’ bellies or bring back lost children. It won’t restore the tens of thousands of jobs lost annually, let alone the millions ZANU promised during the 2013 elections. Employees are only as loyal as their last paycheque and in Zimbabwe regular paycheques have become increasingly rare. As the state & media look for heroes and villains a country demands a return to normalcy so they don’t have to ever again read in a WhatsApp message about a relative dying in a hospital because there was no water.

We don’t need another hero in Zimbabwe, our history is riddled with them and since 1980 their legacies have been used to control and cajole us. We need all our stories to be told and a responsible government that values the life of every citizen.

Please, Hold The Applause, It’s Father’s Day Every Day

Absent, active, dead-beat, superhero, occasional, abusive, caring, invisible, cold, warm. All are adjectives I’ve read used to describe different types of fathers, sometimes the same father at different times. I am a father to an amazing little girl who has completely turned my life and that of her mother’s around. I’ve been a father to this girl from the moment we found out my wife was pregnant. I’ve been a father throughout my wife’s pregnancy and I was a father the moment the doctor passed our daughter into my hands for a brief moment before they took her to the neonatal ward where she would stay for nearly a month.

I’ve been a father through every sleepless moment of wonder and fear in our daughter’s life. I have been a father still when I’ve stood up to anybody who got in my way because my life is not my own, it’s my family’s and always putting them first is what it means to be a father to me. These are some of the lessons my father taught me and I will pass them on to our daughter. My wife comes from a similar upbringing and I am lucky to be a co-parent with somebody who agrees on what’s best when it comes to our family.

We were both raised by loving, present parents who are still alive today and play a big role in our lives. We married and had a child relatively late and I believe this has been a blessing all on it’s own. We both had full lives in our twenties and thirties, when we met we were ready to settle down so it wasn’t long before we decided to get married and before we knew it, we were having a baby. I think it’s because we don’t have the distraction of trying to enjoy our youth that we are so totally committed to our daughter. It is also for this reason that I feel awkward when people comment about my daughter and I when we are out with or without her mom.

My wife is told she is lucky to have an involved father for our daughter, lucky? I get congratulated for sharing household chores & looks of approval for knowing how to change a nappy or playing with her on the jungle gym, I don’t get it. If I don’t do these things, if I am not there for my family then who is? Is this not how raising a family is supposed be? It bothers me that we get treated like the exception, what is wrong with our society that being an active and present parent is now seen as out of the ordinary? My wife and I made similar choices early on, despite pressure from family and friends  we separately made a conscious choice to live our lives the way we wanted and only have children with somebody we believed shared our ideals. I am grateful we found each other.

To me, Father’s Day is a chance to remember some of the lessons I learned from my father and other male role models growing up. Some have passed on and others I have lost contact with but all have contributed to the person, the father, I am today. My wife let’s me know I’m appreciated as a husband and father constantly and I do my best to reciprocate. Our daughter, in her own ways, let’s us know we are appreciated daily and we love her even more for that. So as you go about Father’s Day and every other day, think about what you want to be the norm in your home.