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.

Zimbabwe Sees Boost In Regional Exports

Today the world woke up to the news that Zimbabwe has become a regional powerhouse in an unexpected field, load shedding. Whilst it is widely known that Zimbabwe has struggled with power generation for a number of years, it has only recently come to light that Africa’s most literate country has turned this national lemon into the proverbial lemonade.

Following a state visit to South Africa in April this year by President Mugabe, South Africa and Zimbabwe signed a variety of trade pacts. It is believed amongst these was a commitment by South Africa to increase it’s imports of load shedding from Zimbabwe by 500% phased in over 3 years to allow Zimbabwe to ramp up production. South Africa is believed to have wanted an exclusive deal but Zimbabwe resisted this siting her positions as chair of both SADC and the AU. Zimbabwe trade negotiators felt this resource must be shared with all of Africa. Unofficial sources have stated that load shedding exports to South Africa could be the economic panacea that Zimbabwe has been looking for after a similar deal with Nigeria fell through.

Zimbabwe is also a major global exporter of skilled and unskilled labour with South Africa being a major market. It is possibly the runaway success of this trade that swayed the Zuma presidency to conclude the mammoth load shedding deal.

Zimbabwe will also be ramping up exports of specialist financial services to South Africa and the greater SADC community, chief among them, currency devaluation and inflation fuelling. Early gains have already been recorded in South Africa with the ZAR now at near record levels to the currencies of western imperialist states. Inflation however, has proved to be rather stubborn and a specialist team has been seconded to Finance Minister NhlaNhla Nene from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Finance as a matter of urgency.
Other areas where Zimbabwe has provided services to South Africa include:
Service non-delivery
Ghost worker deployment
Legislative bungling
National debt maximisation
Government Accountability reduction measures

As part of a cultural aspect Zimbabwe will also be deploying experts in historical revisionism to ensure the struggle against apartheid is forever remembered as it should be.

Closing Zimbabwe’s Digital Divide

Recently I spent time in Harare Zimbabwe where I had been invited by  TBWA Zimbabwe to speak at the Digital Marketing Conference alongside Zimbabwe’s leading voices in digital marketing and content development cohosted by TECHZiM. One of the highlights for me was participating in a panel discussion on Bottlenecks in Digital Marketing which you can watch here.

Some of the key takeouts from the conference for me are that:

  • Zimbabwe has a wealth of digital minds across all forms of media, from broadcasting to publishing to content creation and so much more.
  • Zimbabwe’s legislators are woefully out of touch with what is happening and this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
  • Our industrialists, the country’s economic engine, are not yet ready to adopt digital marketing and this was exemplified by their absence.

I was surprised that none of the financial services sector, miners, pharmaceuticals, agri-processors, motor industry, farmers, transport sector amongst others were in attendance. This is not bad news at all as it gives a clear indication of the amount of work those in digital media need to do to educate mainstream industry so we bring them onboard. I say “we” because this is an opportunity for all digital minds to capitalise on.

That said, there are a few long established companies that are leading the digital charge and hopefully through their efforts, others will follow. Most notable amongst these is the state-owned publisher, Zimpapers led by their Chief Technology Officer, Darlick Marandure. Just the fact that Zimpapers has a CTO is cause for pause, I don’t know of any other non-telecoms company that has such a post.

Much talk was made of how to monetise your content and whilst Youtube’s content partnerships lead Teju Ajani was extremely popular, it is the local market for digital content that I believe needs to first be harnessed. If digital content developers cannot sell their product to the local market first they then have the uphill task of competing on the international market against literally millions of competitors.

The first Zimbabwean company to pay well for online content will be the one that really defines Zimbabwe’s digital future. Who that will be one can only guess but the more such conferences that are held, the sooner this day will come. In the meantime, the quality of content coming out of Zimbabwe’s digital space keeps getting better and one can only be impressed by this considering the myriad of challenges developers face that are unique to the country.

When Political Wills Trump The Peoples’ Will.

We Zimbabweans like to make much of our high literacy levels as a towering achievement in our development as a nation. Detractors like to remind us that this high literacy is exactly the reason why we are where we are, we Zimbabweans are simply too clever for our own damn good. I have resisted blogging about the events of the last week until the results of the elections had been formally announced and judging by the torrent of news and views out of and about Zimbabwe, I was not missed.

President Mugabe will rule over Zimbabwe for another term whilst Morgan Tsvangirai must now spend probably the next five years in court fighting for that same right. He will not win. If we’ve learnt anything from the Zimbabwean legal system, it is that it is uniquely attuned to the political whims of the ruling party so even if Tsvangirai and others do get a day in court, barring extraordinary circumstances, this case will be dragged out till it’s outcome is irrelevant. If the complainants win, it will be another pyrrhic victory to add to a long and unimpressive list.

That said it is a sad realisation that Zimbabwe’s people have once again been used for political gain by the few who’s only desire in life is to rule over us. This last election was typically Zimbabwean, campaigns of little substance focused on the character flaws of opposing candidates, their family members and their parties, devoid of political or economic substance along with manifestos filled with promises no party has any intentions of fulfilling.

What has become clear to me is that the entire electoral system is broken. The candidate selection criteria and processes in every single political party were fraught with problems from the outset. Claims and counter-claims of imposition of candidates by party leaders abounded leading to an unprecedented number of independent candidates running in the elections having been disillusioned by back-room politics in their respective parties. Some former MDC-T independent candidates even went to court for the right to use Morgan Tsvangirai’s face on their campaign material.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Registrar General’s Office (RG) are the key institutions in Zimbabwe’s electoral process.  The RG is responsible for registering eligible Zimbabweans as voters, producing and maintaining a current, credible voters’ roll. The voters’ roll is probably the single most important document of any election anywhere as it contains vital information for determining the credibility of the election process. Fact is, without it, an election is simply not possible.

ZEC is responsible for carrying out the actual processes of an election, producing ballots, demarcating constituencies, assigning polling stations, accrediting observers, ensuring the security of the entire process, ultimately tabulating and certifying the results of the poll.

Both the RG’s Office and ZEC have acknowledged they failed to meet their mandates citing various logistical and financial constraints. The whole world now knows they failed, what is yet to be proven is just how extensive their failure actually was and what impact it had on the elections, early indications are that it was extensive and severe. Some yet to be adequately substantiated allegations include:

  • Video footage of allegedly under-age voters with registration slips bussed in to cast votes at a Mount Pleasant, Harare, polling station.
  • A million people in urban areas unable to register to vote due to a difficult and short registration process.
  • The bulk of the 750 000 voters turned away were in urban areas.
  • A rural constituency purportedly processed voters at the rate of two per minute over a twelve hour period in 15 polling stations without a single spoilt ballot.
  • The voters roll contained over 6,4 million registered voters in a country of less than 13 million people and a majority population under the age of sixteen. A glaring statistical anomaly.
  • The voters’ roll has more than 350 000 registered voters over the age of 85 and of these 109 000 are over 100  with one former soldier aged 135.
  • Various constitutional requirements for the carrying out of an election were simply ignored making the entire exercise illegal in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Notably the period between proclamation of the election day by the President and the registration period for voters and public inspection of the voters’ roll.
  • The Southern African Development Community (SADC) did not want this election to go ahead but were powerless to do anything when the party principals insisted on going ahead as each was certain of victory.
  • As at today Zimbabwe still does not have an independently verified voters’ roll.

Considering all the mounting evidence of irregularities, how can anyone hide behind the claim that “there is no such thing as a perfect election” as the SADC and African Union observer missions did on Thursday and Friday last week?

I may not be an electoral or constitutional law expert but one does not need such expertise to tell that this election was neither procedural or fair. The politicians failed Zimbabweans by ensuring such a flawed process go ahead. Zimbabwe has been here for over thirty three years and is not going anywhere, so, whose interests are best served by a rushed and flawed election? Certainly not the interests of the entirety of Zimbabwe, this was political expediency at it’s absolute worst.

The politicians wanted to get rid of their competition in parliament after five years of a fractious forced marriage mischievously called the government of national unity. SADC and the AU want to be rid of the Zimbabwean crisis and needed an election to achieve this. Is it a coincidence that the AU’s head of mission, Nigerian former President Olusegun Obasanjo is one of the early architects of attempts to resolve the Zimbabwe problem along with the current AU chair Dr. Dlamini-Zuma who was then South Africa’s foreign affairs Minister?

If as according to today’s City Press SADC tried to convince the MDC-T to not participate in the elections why did they not go public with their reservations? Instead Lindiwe Zulu, a member of the SADC facilitation team to Zimbabwe, was publicly rebuked for airing her reservations about the Zimbabwe election process days before votes were cast. I doubt President Zuma or any other SADC leader would survive if they conducted an election in the same manner that they have allowed it to happen in Zimbabwe

It is my view that anyone who thinks this is in any way a resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis, considering all that has happened is a fool, it has simply prolonged the misery.

My hope is that when Tsvangirai and the MDC-T go to the constitutional court to file their grievances over the election, the whole world will come to know what really happened here and the people of Zimbabwe will never again allow themselves to be used for selfish political purpose. In the meantime the MDC-T would do well to come clean to the nation on their role in this “farce” as they have called it because by participating in the election they accepted there was a certain level of “farce” they were willing to go along with.

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Some useful links: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjDzqU-itgA

http://www.thezimbabwean.co/news/zimbabwe/67465/zim-election-official-resigns-over.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4I1elpcO_4&feature=player_embedded

http://zimbabweelection.com/tag/voter-roll/

http://www.zesn.org.zw/images/statements/ZESN_2013_Harmonised_Election_Preliminary_Statement_01_August_13-1026hrs.pdf

http://www.citypress.co.za/politics/sadc-told-morgan-tsvangirai-to-withdraw/

Done It Again by Eddie Cross. http://www.eddiecross.africanherd.com

 

What Just Happened Africa?

Last week the President of the United States embarked on what some media appointed Africa analysts called an, or is it a historical, visit to our beloved Africa. This is not to say that since his appointment President Obama has not been to our fair, sometimes scary continent, according to the dominant (read Western) press, he has, but those were whistle stops between Europe and the Middle East so we’ll pretend they don’t count. No-one, well not that I’ve noticed, even seems to remember that he spoke in front of that ex-leader Hosni Mubarak’s parliament during his first term but then again, it is generally understood in these parts that to say you are in Africa only counts if you are south of the Sahara no?

Never having been north of the Malawian border-post closest to Zimbabwe I ask you to forgive my possible southern African bias in my analysis.

Last Friday I waited eagerly for the first tweet on my timeline announcing the arrival of Air Force One at the, ummm, now shall we say well known Waterkloof Air Force Base which I’ve been told is north of South Africa’s capital Pretoria. Somehow I got distracted and woke up on Saturday morning to nothing but second by second updates of the movements of America’s first family, most of them dubious. Despite my wife’s best intentions we found ourselves watching President Obama speak at the University of Johannesburg to the youth of Africa. I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of President Obama since he was first nominated as the democratic candidate in 2008 simply because of how much he achieved in such a short period of time since entering American politics but that’s a story for another blog. 

On Saturday afternoon I tuned in curious to hear what he had to say but somewhat expecting to hear the now usual lecture to Africa of how we can and should do for ourselves if we just get ourselves together. I ‘ll admit, it’s been a while since I was so wrong. President Obama spoke to so many things I relate to regarding the development of Africa that I started wondering if the NSA hadn’t passed on my tweets and Facebook posts to POTUS. Most notably:

1. Africa needs to start trading with Africa.

2. Africans need to seriously consider all investment proposals from all comers including and especially from the United States.

3. Africa needs electricity.

Since Saturday afternoon, southern African time, much has been said about President Obama’s speech, depressingly, mostly negative. Much of it has centred around how the US is late to the table and China has effectively locked up the best deals and made good on it’s promises. To an extent this has some bearing. Earlier this year China held it’s fifth China-Africa summit, President Obama announced the US’s first equivalent summit will happen next year in Washington and he is yet to send out invitations to our beloved leaders. However, what has gotten the most attention has been the $7 Billion Africa energy fund which is actually a $16 Billion fund after you throw in the $9 Billion private sector commitment already secured. This initiative is expected to double sub-Saharan Africa’s energy capacity over the next seven years. Considering that it takes South Africa, Africa’s most developed economy, about seven years to build a 4800 megawatt (MW) coal fired power plant, this is a very, very big deal. 

The skeptics and China fans were quick to write countless reams about why this won’t work. They talk of the timing of this initiative, saying President Obama is hoping to secure his legacy with one last big African deal like his two predecessors. I have a different perspective.

What if, just work with me here, the Obama administration has intentionally waited things out regarding Africa, watching the Chinese do what they do? Lest we forget, the Americans invented economic modelling, who in their right mind can assume that they missed the African renaissance? It’s simply not plausible. Consider first America’s experiences in Africa during the Clinton and Bush years, being run out of Somalia, the failure to act on the Rwanda genocide, the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombings. it only makes sense for them to have taken the time to seriously look at their relations with Africa and come up up with an economic plan they could pitch as mutually beneficial and I believe this is it. 

On Saturday afternoon President Obama spoke of how the US is willing to help make trade within the continent easier, he said something like, “why is it easier for Uganda to export to Europe than it is to transport those same goods to somewhere else in Africa?”. I’ve been asking the same of Southern African states for years. Whilst not much more was said on this I believe if the US pitches this properly, China will quickly become just another suitor to Africa’s development.

Think about it, by some estimates it is possible that Africa may already have more people than the Indian sub-Continent or even China, the world’s second biggest economy. One simply has to go into the wonderful world of Google to find that the United Nations projects that whilst developed regions’ populations are in decline, Africa’s population will double within the next 37 years making it the most populous single land mass in addition to having the highest known and estimated concentrations of yet to be exploited on or off-shore minerals, oil and gas. Managed properly, these resources could guarantee that Africa becomes one of the world’s leading economies within the next 30 years or less. If I am able to collate this from freely accessible news feeds and a keen interest in the continent, what more the most equipped government in the world?

I’m inclined to believe that whilst China has been espousing its policy of investment without sovereign interference, the US have been developing their “partnership with Africa” policy which they are now launching. This comes only a few months after BRICS nations announced their intention to create a development bank focused on Africa which will go live in five years. Unfortunately the President of the continent’s leading financial institution, the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, has questioned the establishment of a BRICS bank whilst underfunded African financial institutions exist. On multiple occasions this year, Mr. Kaberuka has challenged African governments to fund the AfDB and focus on the continent’s infrastructure needs but this has only received lip service to the best of my knowledge, possibly a gap the US has identified.

In the meantime the Brits are not sitting still either. Just a few days ago, Afua Hirsch, the west Africa correspondent for a British paper, The Guardian, wrote about how the British government is considering establishing a development bank so as to better allocate resources to developing countries in the form of repayable loans rather than the current development aid model which has had, at best mixed results. This is supposed to relieve the British taxpayer but lets face it, loans come with interest and interest means profit for the lender so in a time of waning developed economies, anything that looks like it can make a buck is probably worth a look. Despite the fact that I have never been a fan of BRICS for Africa, even a devoted advocate will acknowledge that by the time their bank launches the world, especially Africa, will be a highly competitive place. Whoever is President of South Africa by then may have some tough questions to answer.

With all this attention on Africa, I’m willing to put my money on the US having a master-plan that will ensure that China remains, at best, the world’s second biggest economy and a BRICS bank nice dinner conversation for diplomats . Somebody poked the bear and the bear is putting EVERYBODY on notice.