NO VACANCY HERE! A National Moto. (Part 1)

 

“Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” Jacques Mallet Du Pan 1793 

It has long been known that Zimbabwe’s politicians regardless of party affiliation, are not given to discussions about succession, whilst simultaneously talking about the importance of the country’s youth. The ruling elite continues to introduce laws and measures that not only seek to ensure their privileged status but extend it at the expense of the general population. However, this resistance to succession is not unique to politics.

No Country For Young Folk.

Zimbabwe is a classic case of a country led by people who are stuck on the fact that they liberated the country but at the same time do not recognize that the country is indeed liberated and events of the last twenty years have not helped. To this end, they stay in power purportedly to protect the liberation they ushered in, never letting you forget it. In this spirit of liberation the late eighties and early nineties saw the emergence of a black male business elite buoyed by favorable government policies and generous loans. Whilst there are a number of admirable businessmen who emerged, the not so admirable were never far behind, along with corrupt and corruptible government officials. In 1990 these self-proclaimed economic liberators formed the Indigenous Business Development Centre to “secure” said liberation. Barely four years later the Affirmative Action Group, AAG, was formed in response to the perceived slow pace of progress in IBDC. In reality, it was a collection of the more radical and flamboyant elements in black business who wanted their own platform from which to shine, personified best in the character of one of the founding members, Philip Chiyangwa.  He remains a loud voice in AAG despite no longer being it’s president.

In this spirit of liberation the late eighties and early nineties saw the emergence of a black male business elite buoyed by favorable government policies and generous loans.

One trait in corporate Zimbabwe that emerged in this era and continues today, is a reluctance to let go. Granted, founders and experienced managers have a lot to contribute but you will be hard-pressed to find a Zimbabwean board, public or private that has ever actively groomed new talent and rotated members out at the end of their terms. This is something that was symptomatic before the economic collapse beginning in the late nineties and has only become more entrenched since.

In banking we trusted.

The early nineties saw Zimbabwe welcome a number of black-owned financial services firms most notably banks and insurance companies either newly established or through acquisition of interest in existing businesses.  Jump to late 2003 and the country was gripped by a banking crisis which, if the Reserve Bank is to be believed, was engineered by these very founders. Despite this many of the founders continued to head their institutions, even if it meant attempting to do so from outside the country after evading arrest. Others survived or defied board attempts to remove them or get them to relinquish their shares eventually leaving on their own terms. Some, like William Nyemba of Trust Bank and Mthuli Ncube of Barbican Bank were not so lucky, they had their banks seized and closed respectively by the Reserve Bank. James Mushore who co-founded NMBZ in 1993 fled the country to avoid imminent arrest in 2004 to only return six years later and later left the bank in 2014. In 2015 he joined the board of Meikles Africa in 2015, they have an interesting way of explaining his time away from 2004 to 2010.

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Who’s company is it anyway?

This resistance to succession is so entrenched in Zimbabwe you will find it in just about any sector. John Moxon, Executive Chairman of Meikles is embroiled in a years long battle to topple him having joined in 1970 and been on various Meikles boards since 1980. Anthony Mandiwanza has been Group Chief Executive at Dairibord for almost 20 years and joined the company in 1980, oddly enough none of this information is on the Dairibord site. Retired Justice Leslie Smith has been Chairman of the National Blood Service Zimbabwe, NBSZ, since 1977.  Michael Fowler and Zed Koudounaris are a founding shareholders of Innscor and have featured on the board in various roles, they are currently non-executive directors.

Drill down to management in corporate Zimbabwe and you will likely find this resistance is rife. With limited opportunities for upward mobility and the dire consequences of unemployment in a failing economy, people will do all they can to hold onto their positions for as long as they can. Even with companies struggling to pay salaries on time, sometimes not at all, employees hold onto their jobs regardless.

What’s good for the party is good for the board.

This economic liberation of the eighties and nineties is devouring the children of two generations and eyeing a third. We routinely berate political parties for not having clear succession plans but the best laid plans of politicians will come to nothing if there is no succession in the economy. It is sheer suicide to wait for the current executive to die off in the hope that this will finally present an opportunity for new blood.

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure,” Thomas Jefferson November 13, 1787. 

In Part 2 next week I will look at the economic distortions in Zimbabwe as a consequence of of this culture of holding on as the economy has contracted, what this means for Zimbabwe’s recovery and possible solutions.

***

Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on ricky@remnes.com

 

 

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