Zimbabwe, Mixed Messages and Missed Opportunities.

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This is a series of observations of the performance of President Mnangagwa and his administration so far in certain. Also included are recommendations for how government can improve it’s performance and civil society can pressure them to do so. Though extensive, this is by no means an exhaustive account of the state of Zimbabwe and much will continue to be written about the ascendency of President Mnangagwa, his performance and that of his administration. This is important as it gives us opportunity to discuss, be better informed and hold the executive to account when we get the opportunity to.

The President is gone. Long live the President.

In September 2008, following a drawn out, bloody and acrimonious general election, SADC chairperson and chief mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis announced to the world the conclusion of a Global Political Agreement, GPA, which saw the immediate formation of what became known as the Government of National Unity, GNU. The GNU saw then President Mugabe retain his post but also the appointment of Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister along with members of the opposition to key cabinet positions, most notably finance and industry & trade. The ushering in of the GNU saw immediate positive changes in the lives of Zimbabweans, inflation was brought under control, prices plummeted, goods reappeared on supermarket shelves, fuel was plentiful and people were able to access cash from their bank accounts without hinderance. 2009 saw the first positive GDP growth in many years, what was key to it was the buy-in of everybody involved. From politics, to business, to NGOs, to the international community and ordinary Zimbabweans, everybody was aware of what exactly was happening and why. Unfortunately the recovery was short-lived for reasons I will not go into here, had it not been, Zimbabwe may not be where it finds itself today, fast forward to November 2017.

Despite the fact that Zimbabwe was in the midst of the worst economic turmoil since 2008, in some aspects the worst in history, nobody predicted the events of November 2017. In a matter of days President Mugabe resigned after 37 years power and Emmerson Mnangagwa became the new president. Shortly following his ascendency President Mnangagwa declared “Zimbabwe is now open for business” which quickly became his government’s mantra. It was catchy, punchy and quotable so despite questions about what the mantra actually meant, general consensus in the country and beyond was to give this new administration the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately time and circumstances have not been so kind over the last few months and whilst this administration has made some progress, it has often times been caught flat-footed as will be shown below.

Old brooms with older tricks on broken telephones.

From the start, the Mnangagwa administration, made up almost exclusively of people who had served under Mugabe for much of his 37 year rule, appeared to be caught between the way they were used to running the country and the demands of their new principal. Vice President Kembo Mohadi is on record saying that under former President Mugabe ministers hardly came to work choosing to spend most of their time on their farms but now things are different. As government expends much energy on restoring the image of Zimbabwe through various rebranding efforts and separating itself from the Mugabe era, much of it’s messaging has been focused around the president himself and the Office of the President and Cabinet, OPC.

There is more than a hint of centralisation of power and decision making around the president in this administration, something Mugabe was routinely accused of despite having a bloated cabinet and civil service.

There is more than a hint of centralisation of power and decision making around the president in this administration, something Mugabe was routinely accused of despite having a bloated cabinet and civil service. Under Mnangagwa there have been instances where certain functions that should be the purview of specific ministries being usurped by the OPC on the pretext of multi-stakeholder coordination. The OPC does not have a good history, having been used by then president Mugabe to monitor just about every facet of Zimbabwean life so it is entirely understandable that any moves towards this by President Mnangagwa would be cause for concern.

Key institutions that should be disseminating important information on recovery efforts have websites that have barely been updated since Robert Mugabe was president, if at all, including the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Investment Authority. There is also the duplication of functions with various agencies that report to different principals working sometimes at cross purposes or doing the exact same job. This simultaneous vacuum and proliferation of information makes it difficult to track progress on policy reform and hampers efforts to communicate with key stakeholders across the various functions of state. One has to constantly scour the media for policy announcements and even when these stories are published, it is still a task to get accurate information from those responsible for policy implementation, some department heads do not even have work email addresses.

The lack of communication also leads to instances of contradiction in policy positions as one agency of government does not know what the other is doing, at best this is just embarrassing, at worst it results in the misallocation of scarce resources, failures in service delivery and lost investment. At a recent investment conference in Bulawayo one presentations hailed the airport as a key investment driver that showed how the city is open for business only to be immediately followed by another which highlighted how the same airport is in dire need of investment and is barely fit for purpose. It cannot be overstated that this is a government in dire need of a transparent, accessible and responsive communications strategy.

Where there is policy ambiguity, inefficiency and corruption follow.

Local media coverage, both state and private, of this administration has quickly fallen back on old habits, notably, focusing on the president and the rest of government as secondary. Despite initial noises about no longer doing business as usual, cabinet has fallen back into old habits and in many cases is doing just that. To get anything of significance done in Zimbabwe still requires buy-in, read permission, from the political appointee in charge, in most cases the minister. This often unnecessary layer of red tape allows them the opportunity to claim this as their achievement giving them undue authority and influence over business activity whilst gaining political milage. In the past this was a significant impediment to investment in Zimbabwe as reported by various investors as ministers and officials reportedly demanded bribes. Already there are rumours of individuals selling access to the President and claiming, for the right price, to be able o get his approval on investments, time will tell if this is indeed the case and if so, government’s response will be most telling.

It is imperative for government to employ and empower professional staff to manage investment processes taking this away from politicians, including the president except in matters of national interest. Ministers also need to be empowered to speedily develop and lobby the passing of policy that responds to the country’s recovery needs followed by ensuring it’s implementation. This, rather than speeches, trips and ribbon cuttings, should be their focus.

What could have been a significant win for this administration if properly executed has become an embarrassment and the only winners are going to be the lawyers engaged to sue or defend them.

As mentioned earlier, the focus on the president and the OPC has to an extent disempowered some ministries in the name of expediency and multi-stakeholder coordination. Such is the case with the handling of the externalisation list. From the start the presidency, in partnership with the reserve bank, led the call for the repatriation of funds illicitly exported from Zimbabwe within ninety days. The entire process was, for reasons best known to them, exclusively handled by the RBZ and the OPC resulting in a list that has disappointed many  and been panned across the country and beyond likely opening up government to litigation and with no clear indication as to what happens from here. What could have been a significant win for this administration had it been properly executed has become an embarrassment and the only winners are going to be the lawyers engaged to sue or defend them.

This desire by the presidency to be seen to be active will likely, if it hasn’t already, cause conflict with line ministries as it looks a lot like interference. As early as mid-December 2017 some ministers were reported to be struggling with the demands of their offices. The OPC should ideally be focused on developing and monitoring implementation of an over-arching national recovery strategy that will inform policy and coordinate interaction between ministries without getting into the daily minutia of operationalising this strategy.

Dollars over sense?

In Zimbabwe’s push for investment there have been both overt and covert efforts to change, remove or ignore regulations that have in the past been viewed as a hindrance to business. An overt example is the Indigenisation Bill which from April 2018 will no longer restrict foreign investors from owning more than 49% of a business in almost every economic sector except for platinum and diamonds. This, according to ZIA, has opened Zimbabwe up to a slew of investment enquiries some of which are reportedly at advanced stages of preparation for commencement. However, as unpopular as it was with business, the indigenisation bill served to ensure local ownership and participation in the economy, just like in other countries with similar laws, but it was badly written and applied. Without this protection, what will be the long term effects on local business of unfettered foreign investment?

Mining has been touted as the key to a quick turnaround in Zimbabwe and since November, President Mnangagwa and Mines Minister Winston Chitando, a mining professional, have shown themselves to be extremely pro-business. Since December barely a fortnight has gone by without the announcement of some new “investment commitment” in this sector. However, mining is not just about the businesses and investors, it affects communities, the environment, national economic planning and future resource allocation. To fully take these intersections into account requires inter-ministerial cooperation and coordination but due to the communication limitations highlighted earlier, it is unclear if this is happening or even if there are at least plans to do so.

Throughout all of this the Environmental Management Agency, EMA, has been conspicuously silent which is odd for an agency that is mandated to ensure sustainable resource management, prevention of pollution and environmental degradation, the last two being direct consequences of mining and manufacturing. EMA falls under the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate headed by Oppah Muchinguri who has most prominently been in the news for investigating ivory smuggling, EMA and the ministry’s role in regulating Zimbabwe’s economic recovery have not gotten much attention. There is a possible reason for this, EMA’s more stringent regulations are seen by the new administration as a hinderance to investment.

Talk to artisanal gold miners in and around Bulawayo and you get a sense of this covert business-friendly relaxation, possibly suspension, of regulations. They will tell you they no longer see EMA inspectors or police doing routine visits to their operations, word is both EMA and ZRP have been told to lay off because artisanal miners now account for more than half of Zimbabwe’s gold output. Under Mugabe the police became a bane upon the lives of all Zimbabweans, at the centre of corruption, bribery and human rights abuses but since the “coup that was not a coup” they have gotten a new commissioner and have drastically scaled back their visibility. You can drive around Bulawayo and Harare CBDs for literally days without seeing a single traffic cop.

What will be the cost to the country of this relaxation of regulations? .

A deafening fiscal silence.

In his budget speech last November, Finance and Economic Planning Minister Patrick Chinamasa announced a number of interventions to reduce government expenditure, reduce debt reliance and increase state revenue whilst creating a more functional economic environment for all Zimbabweans. Jump to March and the minister has barely been seen in public leaving most major announcements to the presidency. This does not mean he has not been busy, quite the opposite, however, not exactly busy keeping his budget speech commitments.

For a country with $11,6 billion of public debt as at June 2017, this type of apparent fiscal profligacy is greatly concerning and there is little evidence that this has slowed down.

In January it was announced that the government would seek to pass the Zisco Debt Assumption Bill, currently going through public hearings, which will see treasury taking over $380 million in Ziscosteel debt so the company is more attractive to potential investors. This year treasury also assumed an NRZ debt of $348 million, in 2015 treasury also assumed debts of Air Zimbabwe of $300 million and the Reserve Bank for $1,35 billion.The state broadcaster ZBC has debts of $66 million it has failed to pay and recently the CEO suggested that government take this over through a debt assumption bill. For a country with $11,6 billion of public debt as at June 2017, this type of apparent fiscal profligacy is greatly concerning and there is little evidence that this has slowed down. The finance minister’s silence on the implementation of austerity measures and the reduction of public debt does not inspire confidence and is a red flag for any potential investor with a long term investment horizon.

Another promise made by Mnangagwa is to compensate white farmers who lost their farms during the land reform process. Depending on who you speak to, this compensation amounts to anywhere between five and thirty billion dollars, with government and the farmers at opposite ends of the spectrum. As a show of goodwill some white farmers have been restored to their farms whilst negotiations continue to get more of them to return. Considering Zimbabwe’s already massive debt burden it is anybody’s guess when and how these farmers will be compensated. Judging by past performance, treasury is likely to at some stage finance compensation through the issuing of treasury bills or agricultural bonds. In both cases this will just be kicking the can down the road until these bills, bonds or any other debt instruments must ultimately be honoured.

The optimist may want to assume that Chinamasa is quietly busy engaging with global institutions on resolving these issues and other fiscal matters but the realist will wonder why, knowing the urgency of the situation, the government has not been able to secure the necessary support to resolve the debt crisis by now.

Chinamasa’s promise to cut government’s wage bill in his November budget announcement was not unexpected and since then there have been some, though not significant, cuts. Whilst civil servants have said they understand the pressure government is under their patience has worn thin resulting in teachers, nurses and junior doctors demanding wage and allowance increases with the latter two currently on strike. It is an unenviable task to balance these demands with limited resources whilst dealing with other pressing commitments however, government would do well to be more proactive in their response. It is surprising that after weeks of being on strike the president is yet to engage junior doctors directly.

Quick wins lost, the achievements that should have been.

President Mnangawa set a deadline of 100 days from his inauguration to effect significant change, an offer that quickly came to haunt his administration when at the end of it questions were asked about what really had been achieved. Over the 100 days much was said and much was promised creating a great sense of anticipation which, depending on who you talk to, amounted to very little or was earth shattering progress as never seen before in Zimbabwe. This contrast of views is due in no small part to government’s failure to control the narrative, there is a lack of coordination in government’s messaging and often the situation on the ground has not been what officials intend or would have us believe.

One can be forgiven for having flashbacks to the era of mega-deals, when many of the same people, under President Mugabe, promised the country they were at various stages of negotiating billions in investment from China that never materialised.

After his first 100 Days Mnangagwa released a short video and penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times highlighting his and government’s achievements, unfortunately, it does not take much to show these claims to not be as grand as they are made out to be. One claim that is especially striking is that of “$3 Billion in investment commitments”, this has been repeated ad nauseam by government and state media with no interrogation. There has been little indication as to when these “investment commitments” will transform into actual money, assets or infrastructure being transferred to Zimbabwe and jobs created. One can be forgiven for having flashbacks to the era of mega-deals, when many of the same people, under President Mugabe, promised the country they were at various stages of negotiating billions in investment from China that never materialised. As with the mega-deals then, specific details of the various investment commitments now are hard to come by as the process is shrouded in secrecy.

Earlier this month Sivio Institute released their “The 100 Day Report on the New Government – A Citizen’s Perspective” which has, amongst other things, tracked government’s promises and actions over the first hundred days providing the first independent analysis of it’s kind. Government, despite assurances from various ministries, is yet to provide anything more than soundbites regarding their first hundred days. Instead, promises are already being made for the next hundred and two hundred days.

The problem with Zimbabwe is that the government is focused on marketing what they want to show to the world and the investment community in particular, without taking the time to understand what the world and investment community actually want to see from Zimbabwe. So whilst the Mnangagwa administration focuses on wooing foreign direct investment, FDI, potential international partners are looking to the government’s commitment to good governance, standards of best practice in local business and respect for the rule of law. It comes off as disingenuous to be telling the world that “Zimbabwe is now open for business” yet the vast majority of local businesses are struggling and blame government for many of their problems.

A president who promised to focus on the economy has after more than 100 days, failed to solve the cash crisis and eradicate bank queues but instead celebrates the forced use of plastic money as an achievement.

It is notable that a president who:

  • came in with a promise of “jobs, jobs, jobs” has not given an indication of how many have been created during the life of his administration;
  •  promised to focus on the economy has after more than 100 days, failed to solve the cash crisis and eradicate bank queues but instead celebrates the forced use of plastic money as an achievement;
  • came in promising to uphold freedoms has and done nothing to amend legislation like AIPPA, BSA and POSA that restrict the rights of Zimbabweans to freely access information, congregate and speak in direct conflict with the new constitution. Whilst there is definitely a greater sense of freedom of speech today than possibly any other time in Zimbabwe, these oppressive laws remain and celebrating the national broadcaster covering the rallies of opposition politicians is setting the bar extremely low;
  • has repeatedly invited the international community to come and observe the elections is yet to give a date for said elections and insists the country can’t afford a diaspora vote;
  • has consistently said “the voice of the people is the voice of God” is seemingly deaf to the salary and allowance demands of teachers, nurses and doctors with the latter’s strike now entering it’s fourth week.

These are but a few of the challenges that the Mnangagwa administration were previously party to creating and had the opportunity to correct in their first hundred days but did not. It is unclear why the administration has failed to adequately address any of these issues, what is clear is that these issues are not their area of focus. Instead, the focus is on good news about the president and his cabinet as they fall over each other to officiate at the next factory opening, the next business conference or any international platform that will host them to tell the world that Zimbabwe is open for business.

Fact is, there is nothing that Zimbabwe has which cannot be found elsewhere in the world and this is not the only country to declare itself open for business. At the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year attended by President Mnangagwa, the leaders of South Africa and the United States used the exact same phrase to describe their countries. This is the nature of the global competition for investment. How then does Zimbabwe expect to get investor attention ahead of these global and continental heavyweights?

The only thing that this administration has going for it is it’s credibility and it has expended a great deal of this since November. With so many challenges that can go horribly wrong Mnangagwa and his administration have very little room for any more mistakes. If, for example, the much touted investment commitments do not turn into tangible results within a reasonable period, read before elections, there will not be enough promotional videos, conferences and op-ed pieces in the world to restore the administration’s lost credibility. All is not lost though, government can still turn this around by effecting the legal, political, social and economic reforms they are well aware off which will see immediate positive changes for all Zimbabweans rather than focusing almost exclusively on attracting FDI. Like charity, investment begins at home, fix your domestic environment and they will come.

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

 

NO VACANCY HERE! A National Moto. (Part 2)

In my previous post I looked at how corporate Zimbabwe has consistently replicated certain traits of the government and political parties. I initially meant for this to be a follow-up outlining how those negative traits have impacted the economy and how they can be corrected, however, this idea was overtaken by events. Over the last three weeks I have worked and reworked the article as one event after another changed Zimbabwe’s trajectory leading me to widen the scope of this post. Now that the political dust seems to have settled, albeit temporarily, the time has come to look at the economy and particularly the private sector’s role in it’s recovery.

Zimbabwe’s Real Economic Dependency Ratio.

A country’s dependency ratio is defined as the ratio of economically active workers compared to inactive. In Zimbabwe one has to take into consideration the fact that the unemployment rate has been stubbornly above 90% for years and despite government’s best attempts to rework the numbers, the truth of a failing economy is impossible to hide. Recently I was told about middle management staff at a certain bank, most of them have been there for a number of years and enjoy numerous benefits including access to hard currency and school fees being paid for by the employer. These people are getting on in years but have no intention of leaving their positions to make space for new blood because of the fear of unemployment. This means there is no chance for upward mobility for those lower down the totem pole, and no chance of entry for those applying for jobs at that same bank. Now extrapolate this to the entire economy and you start to get a sense of the difficulties in reducing the country’s stubbornly high unemployment rate.

As we all wait for the announcement of President Mnangagwa’s cabinet, something I expected to have happened within hours of his swearing in, and government’s economic recovery framework, we have to consider some of the potential landmines that can scupper Zimbabwe’s recovery.

A multi-generational time bomb.

I come from a generation that started their adult life with much promise in the mid-nineties and went through the trauma of watching those opportunities wither and die over the last twenty years. In that period, many Zimbabweans who cam of age have been unable to get jobs and those who did, the vast majority were not able to hold onto them. This has led to two failed generations of Zimbabweans with little to no experience who have been forced to make a living in any way they can yet yearn for the security of a regular pay cheque. We now find ourselves looking at potentially a third failed generation if there isn’t a radical transformation of the economy. Assuming that government and business are able to quickly craft and immediately implement policies that see rapid job creation, how will they deal with three generations all simultaneously seeking employment? These jobs will need to be sustainable and contribute to economic recovery, rather than just be window-dressing.

Government’s wage bill conundrum.

Zimbabwe’s public service has long been plagued by ghost workers, an inefficient and bloated workforce, and a hugely excessive wage bill accounting for over 86% of overheads in January 2017. As finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa tried repeatedly to reduce this wage bill but was blocked by then President Mugabe for purely populist reasons. For any economic recovery strategy to be taken seriously, it will need to include not only drastic cuts in the government wage bill, but also a plan for where these people will go to avoid worsening an already terrible unemployment crisis. Government even went as far as changing the legislation to avoid hefty severance packages. This however, may no longer be possible and if government sought to retrench employees to reduce the wage bill, they would likely have to borrow to fund the process which is something that would bring it’s own challenges considering government’s current inability to borrow internationally and illiquidity of the local market. With an unenviably long list of development priorities it will be interesting to see how government handles this.

The diaspora factor.

Much has been said over the years about Zimbabwe and her relationship with her diaspora, you can find my thoughts here, however, this segment of the population is going to be key to the country’s economic recovery. This will require specific policies to attract this resource back to the country even if it is at risk of a local backlash from those who have toughed it out through the worst of the economic decline. The risk of backlash can be mitigated if policies are designed in such a way as to attract diaspora resources without affording undue benefit, as was done in the past by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) under then governor Gideon Gono.

In the past the RBZ’s only way of engaging the diaspora has been through encouraging remittances, this money has almost exclusively gone towards consumptive expenditure. Past efforts to encourage corporate investment have fallen flat due to a well founded lack of trust in the government, despite the positive wave the new administration is riding on, it will take some work to turn this goodwill into investment.

What the future holds.

Some have expressed disappointment that Zimbabwe missed an opportunity for a new democratic dispensation, this view does not take into account the country’s history. Since it’s inception as a nation Zimbabwe has never known the type democratic dispensation that they imagine and this was never going to happen with the cast of characters behind this latest change of the guard. To be frank, Zimbabwe is a quasi-authoritarian state with a strong military influence on governance. Looking at the continent this may actually not be a bad thing for the economy when one considers that Africa’s fastest growing economies are similarly structured, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Egypt, which recently overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest receiver of foreign direct investment (FDI), all fall into the quasi-authoritarian mould. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame who regularly wins elections with more than 90% of the vote has been referred to as a benevolent dictator. Maybe the question Zimbabwe needs to face is, how much democratic space are we willing to give up for economic recovery and subsequently growth? Going by the events of the last two weeks this question may already have been answered for us.

Whilst I do not trust politicians, I do have utmost faith in their instincts of self-preservation and this new administration in the making has shown unique tenacity in coming back from the political brink to force the resignation of Robert Mugabe. If this is anything to go by, the easiest way for them to hold onto power is to facilitate an economic recovery.  The new government has it all to do and is currently riding on a wave of national euphoria that it still has not fully taken advantage of. Everything hinges on the cabinet announcement and policy direction, the sooner that happens the better. It is notable that the British government have been the first to unequivocally pledge their support for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery and their minister for Africa, Rory Stewart, was on the ground as soon as former President Mugabe resigned. Despite some initial misgivings about the British being the first to show up, I believe anyone stepping up to help Zimbabwe at this point should at least be considered, the country has a long  recovery and the sooner this journey begins, the better.

How Do You Say Unicorn In Your Language?

This article first appeared on LinkedIn, follow me there.  

Earlier this week I attended a talk on the 4th Industrial Revolution and as expected, some of the usual buzzwords were thrown around, including “this could be the first African unicorn”. To date, American and Chinese startups have dominated the unicorn rankings with India a distant third, however, there is yet to be a unicorn from Central and South America or Africa. Chances are the world will not see an African unicorn anytime soon and here is why.

A time before unicorns

Before getting to the impossibility of the existence of an African unicorn, nevermind a decacorn or hectacorn, a little history. In 1999 VeriSign bought South African internet certification firm Thawte Consulting for $575 million, at the time some believed VeriSign had grossly overpaid for a company that few outside the tech sector had ever heard of. Turns out Thawte was VeriSign’s biggest and only competitor as a digital internet certificate provider and acquisition made more sense for both companies rather than competition, VeriSign also took into account Thawte’s future revenues in it’s valuation. At the time Thawte founder and then 26 year old Mark Shuttleworthe was quoted as saying the sale was the best way for his company to unlock it’s value. This begs the question, if Shuttleworth had held on for a few more years could Thawte Consulting have been Africa’s first unicorn?

..could Thawte Consulting have been Africa’s first unicorn?

South African founded Dimension Data, or DiData, as it later came to be known, was Africa’s first breakout tech star. Listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in July 1987 for a modest 150 cents a share and raising R7,5 million, DiData went on to list on the London Stock Exchange in 2000 raising over $1,5 billion. The dotcom crash of the early 2000s was not kind to DiData seeing its share fall from R70 in late 2000 to less than R2 in 2003. Though they did ride out the storm and manage to rebuild, DiData were eventually sold to Japan’s NTT Dokomo in 2010 bringing an end to an era in African tech companies. Whilst being founded in Africa, DiData does not qualify as a unicorn, they’re 1987 IPO barely raised $1 million.

Follow the money

Since then, a number of tech startups have emerged across the continent garnering significant interest, notables include Nigeria’s Andela, online retailer Jumia which now spans from West to East Africa and a slew of fintech startups. It is amongst fintech startups that much of the hype around Africa’s first Unicorn is focused. Flutterwave, billed as the next big thing in payment platforms raised $10 million this July in Series A funding led by Silicon Valley venture capital funds Greycroft and Green Visor Capital, to put this in context, between January 2015 and August 2017 African fintech startups raised just over $100 million in funding. Also in July, Andela raised $40 million in Series C funding led by African venture capital firm CRE Venture Capital to bring it’s total funding to date to $80 million. Now, whilst these are not numbers to be sniffed at, they’re not exactly shooting the lights out when compared to what is required to even have a chance of achieving unicorn status.

between January 2015 and August 2017 African fintech startups raised just over $100 million in funding

Much of this startup funding originates outside of Africa which presents entrepreneurs with a number of problems not least of which is competing for the attention of a small investor base. Whilst, as will be explained in the next paragraph, Africa has significant private and public cash reserves, the appetite for tech investment is simply not there. On a continent where spending on telecoms is still seen as a nice to have, spending on basic infrastructure and poverty alleviation takes the bulk of public investment funds and tech is barely a consideration, if at all. This disconnect sees businesses across sectors looking offshore for funding even from inception. Ironically, technological advancement is partly to blame for this as the growth in mobile money in Africa races ahead of traditional banking.

Unlike in the United States, Africa has incredibly limited financial resources to direct towards new industries and with a financial sector dominated by global players who have other priorities besides the continent, talent and foresight are the least of our worries. In a 2017 study funded by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, the University of Johannesburg found that country’s top fifty listed companies were sitting on R1,4 trillion in cash reserves as at 2016 up from R242 billion in 2005. Added to this, in 2012 South Africa allocated R827 billion to the National Infrastructure Planmeant to fund healthcare facilities, schools, water, sanitation, housing, electrification, construction of ports, roads, railway systems and electricity plants. My point, even the continent’s most developed and financially complex economy has basic priorities it has to put ahead of creating unicorns coupled with an incredibly conservative private sector when it comes to investments in general but particularly in Africa. That said, one cannot go without mentioning South African firm Optimal Energy’s attempt to build a commercially viable electric car, a valiant effort that ended in 2012 taking over R300 million of public investment funds with it.

South Africa’s top fifty listed companies were sitting on R1,4 trillion in cash reserves as at 2016 up from R242 billion in 2005. Added to this, in 2012 South Africa allocated R827 billion to the National Infrastructure Plan

Where the founders are

Last but not least, founders are exiting before they realize the full potential of their businesses because, sooner or later they figure out that nobody with the money to do it, is really willing to risk funding a potential African unicorn when they can invest that money in a Silicon Valley firm with much greater chances of success. The thing is, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if nobody is willing to put hundreds of millions into an African business then nobody will put hundreds of millions into an African business and there will be no billion dollar African startup. This has been true of Thawte Consulting, MXit, Jumia, Optimal Energy and Andela to name a few. A common thread amongst founders is that they are serial entrepreneurs who after exiting their startups have gone on to new businesses, never mind that the startups that we know them for are likely not their first businesses but just their best known. No matter where in the world you are, serial entrepreneurs are necessary for progress because economies can only grow through doing, the more we do, the more jobs we create and the more we create, the faster and more inclusive this growth will be.

A common thread amongst founders is that they are serial entrepreneurs

There is always something new out of Africa

Whilst Africa has been a leapfrogging champion, creating unicorns will not be one of those instances, much still needs to be done to deepen African economies before we can even dream of creating a conducive ecosystem. This may very well just be an exclusively American phenomenon but the news is not all bad though, the desire to create Silicon Valley clones across Africa may very well be the impetus to create something completely new that the world didn’t even know we needed.

“ex Africa semper aliquid novi”

Pliny the Elder

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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

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.

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.

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.

Of Carts And Donkeys: Why it is wrong to think exports will restore and sustain Zimbabwe’s economy.

Unlike the chicken and egg riddle, in economics, there is no question that a strong domestic economy is always the basis from which strong exports are built. This is why it remains a wonder to me that every other day there is talk of how Zimbabwe’s exporters need to ramp up production and take advantage of international markets. At the same time the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mike Bimha, is telling any foreigner who will listen that Zimbabwe is open for business with a vibrant domestic market. A few weeks ago Minister Bimha reportedly went as far as to invite a South African business delegation to take advantage of the current jobs bloodbath and set up shop in Zimbabwe because local industry is practically stalled. So local producers must export whilst the domestic market is serviced by foreign firms who come in and produce? How does this work? This is the same thinking with the Look East policy that has seen Chinese firms benefiting from generous investment initiatives going back at least a decade with no reciprocation. It is now clear there was never any incentive for the Chinese to do so to begin with because Zimbabwe did not negotiate a trade deal, they simply gave the family jewels away.

What Zimbabwe needs to do is focus on deepening the local economy, a Marshall Plan, if you will. The first step is to restore trust in the government, nobody puts in a country where those who run it cannot be trusted to honour their commitments unless they themselves are not trustworthy. Next would be to restore local industrial capacity to supply the domestic market by investing in base infrastructure such as roads, rail, electricity, education, telecommunications, health and housing. This can only be done once Zimbabwe becomes a viable investment destination, a factor largely determined by the level of government’s trustworthiness. For too long Zimbabwe has tried to sell itself as primarily a source of raw materials and a conduit to the continent with the domestic economy treated as ancillary to that. The central location of Zimbabwe previously made it ideal for channeling southern and central Africa’s produce to the ports of South Africa and Mozambique and imports up north. Any benefit falling to the local economy was more of mere consequence rather than actual intent. This is Zimbabwe’s colonial legacy, it is still strong and highly evident in the trade language of today’s government. But there is hope.

It is notable that barely days after President Mugabe gave his surprisingly brief State Of The Nation Address parliament is seized with passing a raft of laws aimed at creating a more investment friendly environment. Needless to say, last week’s visit by Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote and the announcement of his intent to invest in Zimbabwe could not be coincidental. This has been borne out in various news stories of the behind the scenes negotiations culminating in last Monday’s whirlwind visit. The local broadcaster had hardly scrambled together their usual analysts and Dangote had already left Harare. Since then cabinet has approved all of Dangote’s projects, though I am not sure what that means as no plans have yet been presented to them, let alone drawn up. Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Investment Authority’s Nigel Chanakira has said they will not be found wanting when the time for issuing all necessary investment permits comes.

Whist I have many questions about what this deal means for how Zimbabwe conducts business I am cautiously optimistic. I am hoping government may just have finally painted themselves into a corner such that they have no room to mess this up as they have done countless times before. Another reason to like this deal is that it is totally about local capacity building to cater for Zimbabweans. The coal will be mined locally for domestic power generation to feed a cement plant that will primarily supply the local market. It is now to wait and see how local businesses are going to compliment these developments and thus deepen the economic multiplier effect.

This is what it means to put the domestic economy first. It is not prone to the whims of export markets and fancies of international commodity brokers. The more integrated the domestic economy, the better it will carry a country through any international crises. It is the donkey that will pull the proverbial cart and it must be fed. If such efforts can be replicated across other industrial sectors over the next ten years there is hope yet to see a Zimbabwe restored to it’s rightful economic status in our lifetime.