After the dramatic resignation of Zimbabwe ruler President Robert Mugabe, u|Chief asked Dr Tim London (a Senior Lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business) what the future might hold for this beautiful land and its astounding people.
What is needed to rebuild Zimbabwe?
Overall, the most important thing for rebuilding Zimbabwe is that its people need to be empowered to engage with their country’s economy, public life, culture, etc. It will be interesting to see how many of the Zimbabweans who have moved to other countries return, when they come back, and how quickly/effectively they can contribute their skills to building the country’s capacity.
Practically speaking, the first thing Zimbabwe needs to do to achieve this empowerment is to invest heavily in its educational system. The focus should start with primary, then secondary, then tertiary education. This is a long-term play but is necessary to build a sustainable foundation for the country and its people.
The tertiary educational level should then pay attention to the demands arising out of the following points and develop accordingly:
- Have local, national, and international experts and practitioners seriously engage with each other (and the public) around the questions: “What kind of economy does Zimbabwe need now? What kind of economy does Zimbabwe want in the future?”
- Related to this is the question of developing stable and coherent economic policy. There can be swings based on the party/person in power, but internal and external stakeholders in the economy need to know that the broad strokes of policy and planning are going to be consistent over time. Again, the goal here is long-term sustainability, rather than short-term “booms”.
“Zimbabwe needs to… invest heavily in its educational system. This is a long-term play but is necessary to build a sustainable foundation for the country and its people.” – Dr Tim London.
What are the opportunities you know about or can foresee for Zimbabwe and its people?
Due to the depressed nature of Zimbabwe’s economy and infrastructure, it does have an opportunity to “leapfrog” over some of the issues that have plagued more developed economies that have had to make the inevitable mistakes of the “first mover”. That is perhaps the biggest potential opportunity for Zimbabwe in general, and its people in particular: can they be encouraged and supported to build a 4..0 economy (4th industrial revolution) that people talk about, given that there are so few institutions/systems currently in place that would need dismantling to get there? As Peter Diamandis points out in his book, Abundance, exponential technologies can accelerate access to water, food, energy, healthcare and education; a whole new wave of entrepreneurs and innovators in Africa are doing just that.
“It does have an opportunity to “leapfrog” over some of the issues that have plagued more developed economies that have had to make the inevitable mistakes of the “first mover”. That is perhaps the biggest potential opportunity for Zimbabwe.” – Dr Tim London.
How might a reinvigorated Zimbabwe change the fortunes and opportunities of the SADC region?
This is much harder to predict, due to massive uncertainty around the following:
- How many Zimbabweans currently living out of the country will return?
- Will the new government deal with the massive issues of corruption that plagued the former regime?
- Can deals be made with foreign investors and banks in ways that don’t trap the country into an old-style economy?
- How will the society hold when the glow of a new government wears off and the contentious work of establishing new policies, laws, system, and institutions begins in earnest?
If all of these things go “well”, there will be interesting impacts. SADC countries could see a large number of Zimbabweans leave to return to their home country; Zimbabwe could become a more stable trading partner which empowers a more local trading bloc. Also, if the resources available in Zimbabwe can be put to more efficient use, the SADC region will see not just a strengthening of trade, but also a reduction in volatility and drains on state resources.
“If the resources available in Zimbabwe can be put to more efficient use, the SADC region will see not just a strengthening of trade, but also a reduction in volatility and drains on state resources.” – Dr Tim London.
What do you foresee realistically happening in the coming year in Zimbabwe?
There are extremes at both ends of the spectrum:
- The new president/leadership creates a transparent agenda and related processes for maximizing the natural resources of the country to fund a corruption-free economy that reinvests its surplus into quality education and sound international partnerships;
- The new president/leadership fails to address the issues that have plagued the country for the last few generations and Zimbabwe slips even further as the goodwill of a potential change is squandered.
It’s probably better to focus on the most “realistic” options: a return of a good number of Zimbabweans currently living abroad; a surge of positivity about the country leading to a boost in local investment into the economy (jobs, infrastructure, etc.); and the positivity attracting at least some aspects of foreign investment. After a year, of course, all of these stakeholders will have to reassess to see if the investments are worth it or not; it is likely that all three factors will escalate quickly if the first 6-18 months go well, as others will then feel encouraged to join in after the first movers have established that it’s a safer place to live, work, and invest now.
“It is likely that all three factors will escalate quickly if the first 6-18 months go well, as others will then feel encouraged to join in after the first movers have established that it’s a safer place to live, work, and invest now.” – Dr Tim London.
- Dr Tim London is a Senior Lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business. You can follow him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/drtimlondon) and Twitter (@DrTimLondon).