Friday, 19 September 2014

As Zimbabwe re-emerges: It is ideas that build nations


 

By Bernard Bwoni

To be negative is to be contagious and to be contagious is corrosive and if unchecked and not countered with that productive mind-set it spans with no bounds. It is disabling and when it festers the mind is unable to think beyond the paralysing veil of the here and now. It takes over and permanently replaces positivity with pessimism. Under the dark cushion of negativity optimism and positivity are a distant memory. Zimbabwe the country and Zimbabweans her people have gone through trying times of a magnitude unimaginable and rightly so the pessimistic eclipse prevails. It is difficult if not impossible sometimes to think past pain and hunger. The freshness of the wounds inflicted by the economic crisis casts a dark shadow and the optimism is indefinitely tucked away under the misery, the sorrow, the commotion from the growling tummies and the painful outcomes of all combined. It would be insensitive and inhuman to judge those who went through the economic turmoil and casually prescribe positivity and optimism without genuinely acknowledging the devastating individual and collective experiences. The pessimism and negativity is an understandable short term reaction but when it roots itself into a state permanency then paralysis reigns.

The reality is that many in their questionable quest for 'democracy' have wittingly or unwittingly demonised and destabilised their land of birth. The false pessimism unashamedly camouflages the actual positives and prospects silently shaping up Zimbabwe. There are numerous positive developments taking place in Zimbabwe right now but more often than not it is the doom, the gloom and the disastrous that preoccupies the perennial party-poopers. The recently concluded fiscally and ideologically potent trip to China by President Mugabe has been dampened and muffled by the constant choruses of doom. The midget-size argument is that China is 'colonising' Zimbabwe and how convenient from the doomsday prophets. The signing of major investment deals between Zimbabwe and Russia including a $3 billion platinum project have all been negated and relegated to the periphery of economic relevance by the usual naysayers with birth-right credentials.

The $200 million Diamond Technology Centre in Mount Hampden is nearing completion and as per the premises of country's economic blueprint will go a long way in adding value to the country's diamond resource. President Mugabe recently commissioned the $533 million Kariba Power project which will address the power challenges currently facing the country.

The $2.1 billion Gwayi Power Project with potential to generate 600MW is also in the pipeline and preliminary work in progress. President Mugabe recently commissioned the National Defence College and such a critical addition to addressing national security threats.

There is evidence on the ground of dualisation of the country's major highways with Harare-Bulawayo at an advanced stage, the Harare-Beitbridge, Plumtree-Mutare and others.

Zimbabwe has made inroads in information and technology assimilation with a 100% mobile penetration and teledensity according to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz). Zimbabwe has in excess of 13.5 million mobile phone subscribers. With a population of 13.4 million people that translate to every individual in the country having access to mobile phone communication. The agriculture sector has also been on the rebound following the contentious but necessary land reform programme. Tobacco production levels for 2014 are nearing the 236 million kilograms mark attained the 1999/2000 a year before the land reform. Maize output for the 2014 season has gone over 1.45 million metric tonnes which is enough for national self-sufficiency.

The country is also ranked top of the literacy rate on the continent and that points to the progressive policies of the government. The European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT) recently awarded Zimbabwe the 2014 World Best Tourism Destination describing the country as 'a safe, open and perfect tourist destination'. The list of positive things happening in Zimbabwe is endless but these always and often gets buried under that veil of negativity. Ideas build nations and ideas do not stem from negative mind sets. We have a great country, we own it and owe it to ourselves to preserve and protect it from the negative onslaught. To be negative about oneself is an inbuilt fear of own potential. Vultures often prey on that fear to permanently stifle that potential and the possibilities. There are no boundaries to the possibilities that Zimbabwe has to offer her citizens and the opportunities are being presented without limits. Now is not the time for the so-called 'moderates' to champion the vultures' cause but to embrace these endless possibilities.

 

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Vicious circle of balancing social responsibility with economic efficiency

By Bernard Bwoni

Minister Chinamasa’s Mid-Term Fiscal Review was on point and in line with infant industry protection. Now that is a responsive government! The Finance Minister is in line with the premises of ZIMASSET and the cluster of value addition. He addresses domestic production by curbing inessential imports into the country. The idea is to stimulate local production through a period of initial infancy industry protection. There is no way around this, any country at this stage of development is going to require this initial period of protection. The decision to suspend importation of all agricultural produce and cancelling all import permits is a socially responsible and economically efficient strategy if domestic producer’s prices remain as competitive as the imports given up to make way for local produce. Competition is good for the economy as it increases efficiency, better service for consumers and lower prices. Protectionism in the initial stages of economic transformation is equally good for the economy as it offers the domestic producer that cushion to establish themselves and be able to learn to compete in the global market. Domestic producers in Zimbabwe have in the past been insincere and less than honest when government had intervened to offer that initial period of protection and promotion. Some domestic producers have deliberately induced a sense of severe shortages to allow them to inflate prices on basic commodities. Thus the call by local farmers for government to establish local production deficits first instead of directly exposing domestic producers to cheap competition is welcome. The government should be looking at importing only those products that local producers are failing to meet local demand and in return local producers need to offer a quality product at prices that do impact on the welfare of the local consumer and a product that remain competitive for export.

As economic theory dictates, all removal of trade barriers is beneficial to the global economy. The argument is that by increasing trade barriers through tariffs, domestic consumer costs increase, foreign exporters’ sales decline and efficiency gains through comparative advantage are hampered. The developed economies often tell the developing countries of the benefits of free markets with illusory promises of wealth and progress if they opened up their markets. Many developing countries took such advice on board only to find that the markets from the very same developed countries tightly closed for them in return. Protectionist policies for the developing countries are essential and need to create a balance between social responsibility and economic savviness. In as much as the developed countries need to be sincere about free trade, local producers in developing countries also need to be sincere and honest in their conduct when barriers are put in place support them. Protectionism must never be used as a way of creating artificial shortages to inflate prices and maximise profits. The priority must be the creation of a nation that is socially responsible and economically efficient. When it comes to trade liberalisation, the developed countries’ policies have their flaws but developing countries have a responsibility to their own citizens to provide products that remain affordable to fill the gap left by the imports foregone.
There nothing unusual about domestic producers and farmers in Zimbabwe clamouring for protection against dumping from foreign producers. The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) protects EU farmers from foreign competition by deterring imports from outside the European Union by levying import tariffs. The EU also protects producers against price drops by buying up and storing surplus crops or exporting them to developing countries at below market prices which exert unequal competition as has been happening to local Zimbabwean farmers. The EU’s free trade agreements force developing countries to open up their markets for European surplus production. Zimbabwean farmers cannot compete with subsidised EU goods, cheap imports from China and South Africa and in effect face risk of being displaced by unfair competition.

A strong agricultural sector is vital for the highly competitive food industry to remain an important part of the Zimbabwean economy and trade. The marginalisation of local farmers is precisely the risk associated with the ongoing dumping of cheap foreign food imports. For Zimbabwe just like other developing countries to be competitive there is an urgent need to significantly reduce the unsustainable import dependency that characterise the market presently. The country has to immediately switch from being a net importer to a net exporter and the government needs to pursue a policy trajectory that fosters domestic agricultural production and limits import dependency. Facts are stubborn and the fact of the matter is there is no country in this world that has transformed its economy to an advanced economy through import dependency. It is stating the obvious that you have to sell more and buy less to make a profit. There is need for a policy shift that allows Zimbabwe to protect itself from lowly priced imports. In the short term society benefits from cheap imports however the long-term effects on the national economy are devastating. However any government has to remain socially responsible to the plight of its citizens when addressing this issue and looking at policy shift.

 It is a delicate situation developing countries find themselves in, how to balance economic efficiency and social benefit. It is a sad situation that Zimbabwean farmers are being forced out of their own local market because of the cheap foreign dumping that the country is faced with. The cheap subsidised import means that local farmers cannot even compete on a level playing field on their own land. The developed countries such as those in the China, EU and the USA dumps cheap food stuffs in poor developing countries with the help of export subsidies which only further undermines the livelihood of farmers in those developing countries.

 Zimbabwe just like other developing countries find herself in a very difficult position with the IMF and World Bank putting pressure on the country to scrap tariffs and subsidies as part of the free trade rules. In contrast, EU farmers are guaranteed a price for their produce at prices almost three times higher than world prices and there are stringent restrictions on foreign imports into the EU backed up by very high tariffs on imports. Export subsidies allow surplus EU produce to be dumped at bargain prices in developing countries. The EU Common Agricultural Policy uses quotas and very high tariffs to effectively block the importation of foreign food stuffs. It is interesting to note that the EU tariffs vary and rise in proportion to how processed the product is. Partially processed products face an average of 20% higher tariffs than raw resources and finished products face almost 50% higher tariffs (FAO, 2013). To put it simply, developing countries can export the sugar cane but not the sugar made from the sugar cane.

Bernard Bwoni on twitter@bernardbwoni/ www.bernardbwoni.blogspot.com

 

 

The par excellence of resettled farmers in Zimbabwe

By Bernard Bwoni

From the usually dark corners and dead ends of midget-sized notions and negativity the now familiar narrative is that the fast track land reform programme has reduced Zimbabwe from the breadbasket to the basket-case of Africa. Here is a malign untruth and disastrous disinformation that continue to be recklessly peddled by the so-called ‘moderates’ in their unworldly desires and designs to pacify and preserve the historically biased land tenure patterns created by the Rhodesian system. The land reform was an unavoidable necessity to redress the unfair land tenure laws drafted by the unrelenting Rhodesian colonial system. As Gregory Elich puts it ‘temporary economic dislocation is an unavoidable by-product of the land reform in Zimbabwe’. If Oscar Pretorius can get away with manslaughter then the resettled black farmers in Zimbabwe have no case to answer for this aggressive basket-case indictment. Under the prevailing microeconomic and macroeconomic conditions the resettled farmers in Zimbabwe have excelled. It is only 14 years since the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) in Zimbabwe and to start proclaiming failure based on conjecture is reckless and dissonant with national mood. How can one blame black farmers for failure to sell maize to the GMB yet acknowledges that the prices being offered domestically made maize production economically not viable? There are some utterances that need to be savoured in the comforts of your own home to avoid misleading the nation and inviting unnecessary ridicule from the clandestine stakeholders who continue to lay low in anticipation of such careless pronouncements on such a contentious matter.

The question to pose is, was the Fast Track Land Reform the cause of the decline in maize production from 2000? Or were these trends already happening prior to the FTLRP or are they an outcome of the programme? A simple compound annual growth rate calculation tells an otherwise different story of maize and tobacco production trends in Zimbabwe pre and post fast track land reform programme. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) model is the average growth rate over a period of several years. Using compound annual growth rate is useful because over a number of years it is a better indication of trend than a single years’ growth which may be atypically good or bad. The CAGR is the rate at which an investment grows over a period of years taking into account the effect of annual compounding. Thus it is used to measure performance over periods of time and helps describe a long term trend and has the effect of smoothing out period fluctuations. Thus analysing the boon and bane of this agrarian revolution using the CAGR model is relevant.

During the period five years before the FTLRP maize production shows a compound annual growth rate decline of 8.16% and also a decrease of 4.37% during the FTLRP from 2000-2004 and this can be attributed to the droughts of the 1990s and 2002 and 2004/5 respectively, the impact of the economic embargo against Zimbabwe which meant government had limited capacity to provide funding for the new farmers. However the period post the FTLRP from 2005-2010 the compound annual growth rate of maize increased by 4.51% and the trend has continued to show positive growth. Improvement is yield per hectare is an important factor in the increase of production of maize. In Zimbabwe the period five years before the FTLRP showed an 8.74% decline in maize yield, a 5.37% decrease during and interestingly an 8.75% compound annual growth rate the period five years after the FTLRP from 2005-2010. The decline in area planted for maize is attributed to depressed maize prices during that period and newly resettled farmers switching to more lucrative cash crops such as tobacco and cotton. The prices of maize in Zimbabwe increased by 12%, 10% and 4% in 2002, 2003 and 2004 respectively. The factors that affected maize prices during those periods were mainly consumer preferences, drought, and government policy and decreased output. In 2010 the landed price of maize from neighbouring South Africa was US$219/tonne and local farmers in Zimbabwe could only produce at a profit if they sold their maize produce at US$265/tonne. Thus it made sense to import maize than grow owing to the depressed prices. The maize prices have remained less than competitive and many resettled farmers have indicated that growing maize is not economically viable.

It is evident from the comparative analysis that the performance of maize post FTLRP is better in terms of production, yield and area planted. The area under maize cultivation decreased by 3.9% after the FTLRP but both production output and yield increased by 4.51% and 8.75% respectively the period five years after the land reform. The period during the FTLRP from 2000-2004 showed a 1.07% increase in area under maize cultivation but a marked decline in output and yield of 4.37% and 5.37% respectively. The increase in land under maize cultivation following the redistribution of land did not immediately correspond with increased productivity and yield. This can be attributed to a number of factors mainly lack of inputs, inadequate funding from government, and the newly resettled farmers going through an adjustment period on their newly acquired land.

The compound annual growth rate for tobacco on the other hand shows a modest increase of 0.73% from 1994 to 2014 and when aggregated into different time periods from 2003 to 2014 there is a compound annual growth rate increase of 6.7%, from 2004-2014 the compound annual growth rate is 10.4% and from 2006-2014 the compound annual growth rate is 21.5%. It is important to emphasise that with any agrarian revolution there is always going to be a period of decline as all the factors of production interchange and adjust to the new land ownership patterns. Zimbabwe is no exception and the decline witnessed the period after the FTLRP which the so-called ‘moderates are now presenting to the world as the basket-case argument is that adjustment period. Along with the land ownership changes in Zimbabwe there were also changes and variations in land use, crops produced quantities and the neglect of some traditional staple crops which have historically sustained livelihoods. There was a switch from the traditional staple foods to more lucrative cash crops which had a negative impact on food security.

The black resettled farmers in Zimbabwe have not failed anyone. Under the macroeconomic environment they have gone above and beyond. To disparage the resettled farmers is not only criminal but irresponsible.

These compound annual growth rates are calculated using data obtained from the Food and Agricultural Organisation Statistics. The compound annual growth rates for maize and tobacco in Zimbabwe were computed using Excel with production, yield and area data obtained from FAOSTAT.

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Unemployment in Zimbabwe: indeed 90% or 10%?


 

By Bernard Bwoni

In Zimbabwe the actual unemployment rate is in the region of 10.5% contrary to some sensational figures of 85-90% as carelessly proposed and paraded by some economists. The majority of people in the country are economically active and as long as a person does an hour’s work per day or per week they are employed. This is the criteria used by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) when defining employment. The definition means having done some ‘work’ over the past day or week and anyone who has worked at least one hour over the day or week is in fact employed. This is in no way meant to understate the economic challenges impacting on the majority of the people in the country. However an understanding of the country’s informal sector is relevant to addressing some of the economic challenges which continue to burden the country.

According to the ICLS ‘the concept of informal employment is considered to be relevant not only for developing and transition countries, but also for developed countries, for many of which the concept of the informal sector is of limited relevance’. In the developed world the informal employment is synonymous with self-employment. In the developing world there is formal and informal employment and in the UK they use employed and self-employed and is the same in most industrialised countries. So in the context of labour statisticians’ definition any ‘work’ including those engaged in the production of goods and services are in fact employment. In Zimbabwe the distinction between employed and ‘employed’ is not clear. Only formal employment often makes it to the statistics records whilst informal employment is neglected. But it is partly due to the informal sector that the country is still on its feet in the face of the ‘economic’ sanctions against Zimbabwe. A young man who heads cattle in the rural areas on behalf of a family in Harare and at the end of the month earns $140. Is that young man employed or unemployed? A lady who sells her wares at the market every day and at the end of the week takes home $500 and has been doing that for over 15 years. Is that lady unemployed? A gentleman who is rearing chicken in his back garden earns $2000-$3000 a month from his project. Is that gentleman unemployed? What of the newly resettled farmer who suddenly realised $20000 from the tobacco auction floors? The list is endless and most of the proceeds from these informal set up do not make it in the formal monetary system. This is an untapped tax revenue base that is ready for harnessing.

In Zimbabwe you have people who have not known formal employment some by choice others not for a very long time and engaged in a number of informal work activities. Many have excelled as informal sector workers and employers. These individuals are economically active and ‘gainfully’ employed and if we are to measure ‘gainful’ with property ownership and possessions many have acquired properties, cars and other tangible assets. The issue in Zimbabwe is that most people would only consider themselves as employed if they are in a formal work setting and hence the distorted employment and unemployment statistics. There are many people in the country who work in the informal sector who earn more than those who are formally employed and how can we justify saying such persons are unemployed? This is not to downplay the fact that more people in the informal sector or self-employed might point to some weaknesses in the labour market. However it cannot be ignored that those engaged in the informal sector are indeed economically active.

The unemployment rate measures the number of people actively seeking work or for a job as a percentage of the labour force. The statisticians in their definition treat all those who ‘work’ as employed. There is informal and formal work, informal and formal employment, employed and self-employed depending on where you are. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the unemployment rate gives the number of unemployed persons as a percentage of the labour force that is the total number of people employed plus unemployed. The ICLS recognises all economic activity as ‘work’ and thus include people engaged in activities such as farming whether commercial or communal and all those who work in the informal sector. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency 50 percent of the country’s population was employed in the agricultural sector, 42 percent were classified as communal farmers or communal farm workers and the rest of the employed figure was 58 percent. From the data on activity for Zimbabwe from the 2012 population census the economically active population was 67%, the unemployed population was 11% and the figure for those employed was 89%.

In Canada 2.67 million people are self-employed which represents around 15.4% of all employed workers in the country’s economy. In the UK 4.5 million are self-employed which accounts to more than 15% of the entire country’s labour force. In the USA 15.3 million are self-employed, both incorporated and unincorporated and that is 1 in 9 people are self-employed. In many countries throughout the world self-employed figures are incorporated into national statistics. In South Africa 10% of the workforce is self-employed that is a figure of 1.3 million self-employed. In Zimbabwe around 60% of the country’s economy is informal and hence why you often hear of the staggering figures of 80% or 90% unemployment. That is because it does not factor in the self-employed statistics and the informal economy of the country.

The national unemployment and GDP figures in Zimbabwe do not reflect the highly informalised economy in the country. Once the country starts formalising the informal sector and start incorporating the figures into GDP and employment statistics this will reveal a solid economy on a sound backdrop of an economically empowered indigenous majority. The trickledown effect of an economy propped up by indigenous stakeholders is that they have a higher propensity to invest back into the country unlike erstwhile minority investors and multinationals who abandoned Zimbabwe in her most time of need following the necessary and highly successful land reform.
It is imperative that formal studies are carried out to gauge the actual size of the Zimbabwe informal economy and GDP in nominal terms. If you look at trade in the country it happens mostly informally at flea-markets, market traders, in homes, flourishing greenhouses, the chicken rearing in the back gardens, fish-farming in the backyards you name it and these are the figures that are not reflected in the national GDP and national economy. The country currently has a negative trade balance as a whole with more imports than exports as Minister Chinamasa recently lamented. But a closer look would reveal that informally the exports that are happening on a cash basis are also not reflected in national trade figures. All that money is not filtering into the formal banking systems and hence the distorted trade balance figures.
The solution is to carry out that study to find out the exact figures of the informal economy, getting the self-employed to incorporate their activities, registration and means of follow up and action plans. A huge task and ask but it is something that needs to be done. Incorporating the informal sector figures Zimbabwe’s GDP would more than double. This is not to suggest that this is the panacea to all the country’s economic challenges but the informal sector is a major source of revenue that the country is missing out on. The big question is how much is the informal economy worth in Zimbabwe? If we are saying over 60% of the economy is informal, a tax revenue base not realised by government what would be the country’s GDP if the revenue from the informal sector is harnessed? As always these are merely questions being posed and not meant in any way to undermine and antagonise.

 

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Case of the Visionary Zimbabwe Look East Policy


By Bernard Bwoni

China owns US$1.317 trillion of the US Government’s Treasury bonds and you never hear anyone commenting that China is colonising the USA? In the case of Zimbabwe you often hear sensational headlines as ‘Zimbabwe Government ‘sells out’ to China or ‘Zimbabwe mortgaging Zimbabwe’s future to China’. His Excellency President Mugabe is currently in China to negotiate a package to fund the country’s ZIMASSET blue-print and other infrastructural development projects. Just as with the relationship between China and the US, President Mugabe’s trip is purely a business and the key is mutually beneficial engagement. The country is negotiating for a US$4 billion rescue package to steady the economy and start implementing major infrastructure developments. The Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Project Delivery System is a way to finance big projects especially infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships where China will receive a concession from the government to construct big infrastructure development projects in Zimbabwe. This enables China to recover her billions of investment in the project and at the end of the concession period the end project provides that the infrastructure belongs to Zimbabwe and China has her investment back. China will implement the infrastructure projects in the ‘Build’ phase, will get its investment during the agreed period of ‘Operate’ and at the end of the ‘Operate’ phase the project will ‘Transfer’ to the Government of Zimbabwe. This is a mutually beneficial agreement where Zimbabwe will acquire power plants, major highways, huge solar projects, railways, airports, water supply facilities and China will also benefit from her investment and recover the costs of funding the projects. The Chinese will fund new and existing capital projects under the BOT basis and this will ensure that the country pays for the projects over a long period. This allows for tangible development and the tax burden will not fall on the already struggling people of Zimbabwe. Some sceptics have expressed concern that the country is planning to sideline the State Procurement Board and award government infrastructure projects to Chinese state companies without going to tender. But these are government to government initiatives to fund national projects there is no need for them to go through tender. There are many countries world over using or have used BOT initiatives to fund huge infrastructure projects and these include the Saudis with their oil, Abu Dhabi, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and the Channel Tunnel was constructed on the backdrop of a BOT with a 60 year concession period. So when you hear such statements as President Mugabe has gone to China to mortgage the country and that this is a ‘so-called new form of colonialism’ but the point remains that it is just a BOT, purely a commercial deal that is not only unique to Zimbabwe. China’s engagement with Africa has in fact resulted in real and concrete productive assets such as infrastructural development and that engagement with the Chinese is about productivity, economic transformation and real development and not soft surface issues such as a proliferation of NGOs which foster more of dependence as opposed to innovation and self-sustenance. The engagement with China is seems genuinely based on mutual respect and mutually beneficial outcomes. There is concrete, visible and tangible evidence of the roads and other infrastructure that China is building in Africa whereas engagement with traditional development ‘partners’ continues to witness conflict after conflict in any area of resource-abundance.

All eyes seem to be looking to the East side of the continent and final destination China. The vision of one extraordinary African, HE President Mugabe was to look east when all other avenues were locked shut by the country’s traditional engagement partners who always seem to prosper at the misery and suffering of others. Now this vision is equally shared by the same traditional engagement partners and as President Mugabe begins his weeklong visit to China at the invitation of Mr Xi Jinping we explore how this look east is not ‘a new form of colonisation of Africa by China’ as some in Zimbabwe and in the western media have made us to believe. It is only just over six months ago that the British Prime Minister Mr Cameron, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr Osborne and Mayor of London Boris Johnson all led individual high powered business and trade delegations to China. That went to pass without anyone proclaiming that Britain was being colonised by China. It is what it is, purely a business deal. The US and Europe have been tripping over each other seeking economic lifelines from the same Chinese they claim are on a ‘new form of colonising Africa’. It was an honour watching our President being welcomed with such honour from our honourable friends from China. He was welcomed with a full honour guard outside the Great Hall of the People where he received a 21-gun salute. That is the nature of the relationship with our engagement partners from the east, mutual respect. You compare that with our traditional engagement partners who put conditionality after conditionality to the engagement and that was evidenced in the recent EU-Africa Summit and US-Africa Summit. The public ridicule to a Head of State and all the spanners in the works are an indication of engagement that is not based on mutual respect. Zimbabwe is going to triumph and that is thanks to the vision from the country’s look east policy.

bernardbwoni.blogspot.com

 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Achilles heel of Zimbabwe politics

By Bernard Bwoni
The Achilles heel of Zimbabwe politics is the lack of an authentic, relevant and effective opposition. Instead of a policy-orientated response to the current economic challenges facing the country, what we get from the likes of Job Sikhala is the ‘overthrow’ of a democratically elected government in Zimbabwe. In any other part of the world, calling for the ‘overthrow’ of a democratically elected government is at best criminal and at worst treasonous. It would be a different matter if one focuses on adjusting their barebones policies and hope for an electoral victory against the ruling party. But calling for the overthrow of government is not only sloppy and political immaturity. As if that was not enough Tsvangirai came up with his own hastily prepared statement saying "We are drawing a line in the sand and we shall pressurise and mobilise the people….we are going to mobilise. The form and content is left to the MDC to plan and execute," Both Tsvangirai and Sikhala are not putting on the table the alternative policy strategies to any of the reasons they are proposing these calls for the ‘overthrow’ of an elected government and calls for mass action. Now the question to pose to Tsvangirai is where are your shadow policies to the country’s economic challenges? A sober opposition acts as trouble-shooters and not mere meddling spectators or rubble-rousers. He went on to say "Let Mugabe be warned that if we cannot live as free men and women in our country of birth, we will rather die as free people," This is a contradictory statement from these two men who are calling for the ‘overthrow’ of a government freely and yet they make confused and confusing claims that their freedoms are being violated. Tsvangirai and Sikhala are being very dishonest and irresponsible with their calls for these mass demonstrations which have the potential of leading to violence. These two men need reminding that such calls for such unconstitutional means of removing an elected government will not address the economic challenges facing the country. Calling for any action with the potential to lead to chaos and unnecessarily endangering lives is irresponsible leadership, an illness of those with misguided and misplaced loyalties to push champion the interests and agendas of a power-hungry opposition which fronts the agendas of even more powerful external stakeholders. There is no painless side to violence, there is no excuse for acts of violence; there is no better or worse violence and all perpetrators walk the same line in the eyes of the recipients of the vile acts. Violence in politics must never be condoned or downplayed as there are innocent victims and misguided perpetrators. A genuine opposition should be busy challenging the ruling party on matters of policy and not trying to instigate unrest in the country. How is a walk in the streets going to address the country’s economic challenges? The call from these two bares no attempt at restructuring the economy but to cause disruption to the country and potentially harm to others.
It is the resilient Zimbabwean spirit that has sustained this country through this very difficult period and not the ill-advised calls for violence or mass action from an irresponsible opposition. It is this beautiful Zimbabwean spirit that is going to address the country’s economic difficulties and not the thoughtless calls from opposition leaders who are seeking relevance through reckless means. Zimbabweans are one and together are going to pull through. The admission is that the country is facing economic challenges but is the opposition engineered violence the solution the challenges?
The country deserves a genuine opposition built on genuine and deep-rooted values. Any citizen would welcome a strong opposition to the ruling party, an opposition that can carry forward the country’s vision and direction and not parade it carelessly to the highest bidder for political celebrity status. An opposition that can define and direct the country’s vision forwards as opposed to na├»ve fascination with aiding and abetting structures and systems which will never empower the people of Zimbabwe. An opposition that engross itself in calling for the ‘overthrow’ of an elected government is structurally and strategically flawed. A people-centred opposition must go beyond empty proclamations and crafty schemes to cause unrest as an alternative and backdoor to the corridors of power in Zimbabwe. Surely if a mere substance-free call for the ‘overthrow’ of President Mugabe is all it takes to tread the corridors of Zimbabwean power then State House would be heaving with Presidents of all colours and creeds right now.
 
The fact of the matter is that Zimbabwe is not going to have that sort of opposition in the foreseeable future. It takes time and commitment to crotchet the principles, the vision and values that define a country. It takes time and a genuine desire to build a party which embodies, defines, anchors, binds and shapes the nation as a whole. It takes more than following neo-packaged orders from ashore to build a party which offers something tangible to benefit present and pass onto future generations. Any citizen would want an opposition that offers the country reassurances rather than seek to disrupt lives again. These ill-thought out calls from the opposition have not been associated with better outcomes and fortunes where such actions have been encouraged, again by external players with own vested interests. You look at Libya and Egypt today and it is not only disappointing but distressing to watch. The reckless calls for violence and these mass demonstrations will not address our current challenges. The calls from the opposition are careless and ill-advised. The opposition in Zimbabwe does not offer any reassurances that national direction will remain unaltered, the defining foundations of Zimbabwe will remain entrenched and that the nucleus of this country’s vision will remain guarded should they enter into power by some miracle. Zimbabwean opposition politics is in an ideological grey area and vacant space, exist­ing but non-existent, totally unconvincing; bend over backwards and forwards to the whims and commands of stakeholders with agendas that will never in a million years upgrade the lives of the people of Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe only want solutions, not social gatherings to massage Tsvangirai’s politically and personally wounded ego.
 





Death penalty: morality or immorality?


A ruthless and callous criminal chops off the head of a 5 year old girl, harvest all the organs for ritualistic purposes. The criminal is caught and confesses to even more such vile acts and shows no remorse for such. Is there any other justifiable punishment other than death for such a merciless murderer? The proponents of the death penalty will argue that it is morally justified as it serves as an example for others and is the only possible ending of the worst of the worst in our society. Is the death penalty virtually the same as murder? Those for the death penalty will argue that murder is the killing of innocent and defenceless victims and the death penalty is the only fitting punishment for these people who commit such horrendous murders. But then who decides who lives or dies? Those opposed to the death penalty will argue that by killing the murderer that in itself is encouraging crime. Society has a moral obligation to protect human life, not end it. We have come a long way as humans to resort to an eye-for-eye principle. Justice Minister Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa has declined to sign the death warrants of 97 death-row inmates citing the immorality of the practice. But then the country’s new Constitution has provisions for the death penalty under Part 2, Section 48. But does everyone not have the right to life? But then these are the dilemmas that face our morally conscious society and there are no clear-cut answers
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Mr Museveni, are those with Arts Degrees useless thinkers really?


Are those with ‘Arts Degrees’ useless thinkers?

By Bernard Bwoni
“You ask these arts students what they can solve and they tell you, ‘for us we only think.’ Think about what?” he asked. "It is unfortunate that many universities continue teaching very useless courses at degree level rendering their graduates jobless after graduation," he added. These were the widely chastised words from Ugandan President, Mr Yoweri Museveni as he denounced humanity courses at universities as useless, saying graduates from such departments can hardly solve anything to steer national development. Whilst Mr Museveni’s faith in sciences and technical subjects is understandable, is there any place for the arts and humanities in Africa’s quest to join the ranks of the new emerging economies of this world?
The future definitely looks bleak for the African continent should strategic components of nations continue to be manned by incompetent and under-qualified personnel who cannot solve problems. There is a need for honesty that people with technical backgrounds tend to be problem-solvers, highly logical and broad thinkers who tend to think outside the box as opposed to those with arts backgrounds. But then is problem-solving synonymous with competency? The continent does possess practical problem-solvers who are doers and not cheap-talkers yet they are overshadowed by the ‘educated thinkers’. This is not to suggest that people with arts backgrounds are all mouth with no practical outlook. However a technical approach is not just a better option but a necessity for African countries to realise their full developmental potential. Strategic sectors of the country should be manned by ‘’experts’’ in the fields of their respective ministries not career politicians. Of course there would be counter arguments that government and governing are social constructs that serve social functions and the technical fields may be inevitably related to government but they are not inherently related to government. But the question still remains, why is the continent still stagnant even with its rich history, abundant resources, extraordinary manpower? The lack or side-lining of problem-solvers to make way for some self-appointed elites and its off-springs makes for a strong argument.
The ability to understand a situation and deal with it correctly does not have anything to do with popularity but with knowledge of the subject period.  Mr Museveni brings to the forefront an important argument that people with technical backgrounds have the ability to rise above career and party politics and stay focused on problem-solving. They have more of a reputational advantage both in terms of knowledge and technical expertise. That of course can be up for debate but the problem-solving argument still holds water. Those with arts backgrounds tend to focus more on the thinking and talking rather than the doing. But is that such a bad thing? The thing with people with technical backgrounds is that they can practically claim wiser economic and technical stewardship, greater ideological commitment to economic principles and deeper connections with transnational financial networks. The economy is the driving power of any nation and academic and practical awareness of economics is a prerequisite for those intending to be in positions of economic influence. Economics is a discipline above others for its all encompassing nature and the fact that it is intricately linked to the political function of the state. One would be forgiven for feeling uncomfortable with someone who has not studied economics to make heavy economic decisions that will greatly impact the country for decades to come. As such voters need to have a greater awareness of the education and background of the politicians and take that into account in the political arguments and standpoints. But again one can also argue that is why there are advisors.
A seamless fusion of the polity and expert components in any national set-up will enhance economic progress. An Economist will have that eye to see exactly the required fiscal adjustments but deciding how and where to cut spending or taxes will require precise political sense. A political functionary who can make good moral decisions with the public’s interest whilst also having an awareness and ability to comprehend different expert opinions and paradigms is crucial to the country’s economic revival. The country’s leadership might need to be more conversant and appreciative enough to consult with technocrats to help make good decisions and at the same time be well-versed in the humanities and social sciences to consider those aspects of society in governance. It is important that leadership is driven by ethos and a genuine desire to do things right and to do the right thing while considering long-term solutions. This means removing from power those politicians who only value self-benefit over the public good.
Is it possible to exclude facts from political decision-making process? People yearn for a clever, practical problem-solvers and in some countries where people with technical backgrounds have been thrust in the forefront of strategic sectors there has been a marked rise in the standard of living of a people from a third world to a first world in the case of Singapore and China. China’s Politburo Standing Committee eight out of the nine members are engineers and also the current Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has degrees in Economics and Law, a healthy academic combination for governance of function. The Chinese government has a lot of engineers, scientists, economists and mathematicians in the political fold especially at Politburo level instead of useless arty politicians who do more talking than function effectively. It is easy to chide Museveni’s comments but he does bring to the forefront an interesting take on the African situation.
 
Bernard Bwoni can be contacted at bernardbwoni.blogspot.com
 
 
 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Paralysis by politics of positions


By Bernard Bwoni

Across the national political divide the shift towards jostling for political positions has taken over the real purpose of policy and nation building. The national leadership is rightly enraged by the widespread muddle and that is a trend that urgently needs foregoing for the sake of individual party and national trajectory. That politics is not a career but a service to the people is not just a mere statement but exactly why the people vote in elections. The rush for positions is a clear indication of the malfunction of focus on policy which relegates pressing economic challenges to the margins of national discourse whilst elevating politically-predatory tendencies to the forefront. Zimbabwe is currently facing economic challenges of a magnitude that requires those entrusted into positions of influence to have sleepless nights yet the main preoccupation seems to be rank, order, flashy cars and fancy pants. It is a telling sign of misplaced priorities that under the current macroeconomic and microeconomic environment in Zimbabwe that one’s preoccupation is reduced to mere scramble towards the upper echelons of power rather than addressing the immediate concerns of the ordinary man and woman. The hallmarks of extraordinary leadership was shown when President Mugabe had to personally intervene and dipped into his pockets to address the subsistence challenges of the recently concluded youth conference. All this is indicative of a deep-rooted manifestation of the deliberate neglect of the hard-done-by electorate by this politics of positions.

Whilst the difference between those who serve the self and those who serve others is obvious, it requires those aspiring to positions of national influence to have that basic determination to seal the cracks before the fissures emerge. There is an urgent requirement to redefine the construct of politics from being a trade to that tireless readiness to serve the people. It is understandable that all politicians are of flesh and blood and therefore far from perfect. It is true that those who lose their way are not necessarily bad people and therefore it is up to those who remain focused to refocus others to stay grounded. The state of intentionally remaining anonymous and keeping a cool head is a representation of the required inner spirit and strength to prioritise actual action as opposed to empty words to mislead the people in this covetous and egotistical quest for the now over-subscribed political positions. The rumpus over political positions points to unholy lateral linkages of self-obsessed fixation with politics of profession as opposed to that public duty and enduring commitment to carry forward the hopes and expectations of those who entrusted the politicians with their vote. The country is currently facing what seems like an insurmountable mountain and now is the time to drop that self-serving attitude and to embrace the totally altruistic determination to serve the perennially short-changed citizens. It is this individual inward-looking self-absorption which prioritises the narcissistic wants of the few over the genuine needs of the economically-challenged majority.

This needs to be emphasised over and over again that politics is not a vocation but a public duty and with this duty comes responsibilities, accountability and caretaker opportunity to serve those who voted the politicians into power. People look up to politicians who prioritise persistency, consistency and transparency. The political position is mark of respect from the electorate and the respect is earned not asked for or demanded through this covetous quest for political positions. The electorate want the simplest of things, the basics and practical approaches to the country’s debilitating economic challenges. No sane person cast their vote for squabbling and unconcerned aspirants. All aspiring public officials must give weight to a renewed commitment to politics geared towards serving the country’s long suffering citizens and shy away from this extortionate pursuit of positions. There must be a political commitment and a genuine willingness to serve the people.

Politics is not just a gateway to affluence and bounty but requires those who enter into this service for the people to have both reflective and affective emotional intelligence. That simple respectful and genuine acknowledgement to serve is a sure way to endear aspiring officials with the grassroots. Those who are clamouring for political positions have a duty and responsibility to the citizens of this country and they must address those pressing issues which have incapacitated many in Zimbabwe. It is that simple and that is why people vote. President Mugabe has led by example, our heroes led by example and all these new aspirants must learn from the pioneers. These hustle and tumbles for political positions will not endear the electorate. Political harlotry is ‘rubbish’ to say the least and political refuse belongs nowhere else other than the political dustbin of history. Now is not the time to scrummage for political positions but the time to hit the ground running and tackle the basics that drive up the nation. There is an urgent need for national dialogue on practical and sustainable ways of cutting the disproportionate government spending, ways of reviving the country’s industrial base, ways of retooling the country’s in-need-of-repair infrastructure and how to make life better for all the citizens of this country. The scurry for political positions is not in any way associated with that sensitivity to the plight of the downtrodden citizens of this country and those who are rushing for the positions have deliberately put misery-repellent plugs to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe. As President Mugabe rightly put it "You are as, more also, just rubbish as the person who has given you the money; both of you, the giver and the given are alike."

Bernard Bwoni can be contacted at bernardbwoni.blogspot.com
 
 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Embracing the core of the ‘Buy-Zimbabwe Culture’


By Bernard Bwoni

“Can’t you find better ways of making your money than importing water? Can you justifiably boast that you have made it, when you have just made money from importing water?” he asked. “My heart bleeds when I go through national statistics because what we are spending on imports could have been channelled towards the local industry’s recovery process.” “As long as we export raw materials we will never be a rich country. We will forever be a developing country. When you are a net exporter of raw materials all the time, as a country we are specialising in being poor,” These were substance-abundant words from one of the ‘Real Best Ministers’ in government to date, Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa. This is can only be described as progressive and forms the nucleus of the ‘Buy Zimbabwe Culture’ that has the potential to propel this country to its overdue and inevitable economic transformation.

 The competiveness of the local manufacturing sector in Zimbabwe has been diminishing in the face of stiff competition from cheaper imports from much larger manufacturers from South Africa and from the Far East who benefit from economies of scale. What Minister Chinamasa is alluding to is the fact that this unfortunate trend of over-reliance on imports will lead to under-utilisation of local capacity, lead to even more unemployment, fiscal challenges and Zimbabwe will not get the opportunity to realise its full manufacturing potential. It is regrettable that Minister Chinamasa is reluctant to intervene legislatively to stop imports.  Minister Chinamasa let me take you back to 1776 when Adam Smith, in his ‘Wealth of the Nations’, advised the Americans not to “artificially promote manufacturing industry and argued that any attempt to stop the importation of European manufactures would obstruct instead of promoting real wealth and greatness”. The Americans however did not listen to Adam Smith’s advice but rather to their then Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton who argued that American industries were still in their infancy and as such could not be expected to compete against the mature industries in the more advanced economies without an initial period of deliberate government promotion and protection. And the America we see today owes its economic and political glory and dominance to the economic policies of Hamilton.

The value of protecting infant industries has been vigorously defended since the 18th century by economists such as Alexander Hamilton in 1791 for the USA trade policy. Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector is emerging from over decade of a downturn and thus unrealistic to expect it to compete against the mature industries in the more advanced regional and advanced international economies without an initial period of deliberate government promotion and protection. The country’s manufacturing sector is in a dire state due to in-need-of-revamp infrastructure as well as shortage of capital, electricity and water. Most companies are operating at very low capacity due to the effects of the economic sanctions placed against Zimbabwe. The key is for local textile manufacturers to focus on competiveness as the ultimate long-term objective but government needs to initially offer the sector a period infant industry protection as they build up their competiveness. There is no competitiveness build on fragile foundations.

 The Zimbabwe manufacturing sector is emerging from over a decade of a sanctions-induced decline and as such in its infancy. The manufacturing sector in Zimbabwe cannot be expected to compete against the mature industries in the more advanced regional and advanced international economies without an initial period of deliberate government promotion and protection. It is going to take time and more importantly investment in technological capabilities for manufacturing companies in Zimbabwe to absorb advanced technologies. Without this initial period of protection the sector is going to struggle to survive the international competition. The revival of the manufacturing in Zimbabwe requires some level of government protection and subsidies at the initial stages so that we can absorb the technologies and learn to complete in the global market.  Zimbabwe is currently coming from a 14 year economic slump and a period of at least 5 years of strategic protection of the country’s manufacturing sector is necessary to give it that stability to be competitive. It is easy to say that the key to industrialisation is competiveness not protectionism but a baby has to learn to crawl before they can walk. Economic literature considers that import restrictions of any kind create an anti-export bias by raising the price of importable goods relative to exportable goods.

It is important to make a strong argument that premature trade liberalisation has been a failure and characterised by negative economic growth in per-capita terms and collapse of manufacturing with our domestic production swamped by cheap imports as capacity utilisation has dropped to low levels. With very few exceptions, tariff cuts and other measures of trade liberalisation have not brought about the anticipated economic growth and, in a lot of cases, have in fact brought economic collapse. Free trade is one of those theories that is logically consistent with itself but not in the real world as it has not been universally linked to subsequent economic growth. This is evidenced by the economic chaos unleashed by the structural adjustment programmes of the early 1990s in Zimbabwe and other developing countries. Without some sort of infant industry protection the economy will have little hope of diversifying through industrialisation and accelerating growth on a sustainable basis. Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector, in this early stage of revival, would benefit from this critical period of protection to enable it to maintain output and employment and this will subsequently spearhead economic growth. Minister Chinamasa has those keys just like Alexandra Hamilton and it is up to him to unlock this potential by locking away the threat that is liberalisation.

bernardbwoni.blogspot.com

 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Unlocking Zimbabwe's youth potential

 Zimbabwe’s future is inseparable from the future of the young people. Youth is a withering aptitude that requires harnessing; it is not a question of years but a life yet unaffected by lethargy and tragedy, living on hope not just memories of the good old times.
Youth brings with it that zest and thirst for learning, that hunger and drive that has slowly been stagnating with age in a number of officials. The key is to merge experience, education and expertise with that youthful drive. The active participation of young people in government and decision making is critical in ensuring that their raw knowledge, skills and energy are harnessed appropriately for the development of the country. The young ones of today are the future leaders and elders of tomorrow, they need examples not disparagers.
Strengthening youth structures and networks and ensuring that they have the right skills and information needed to be involved in public policy and national planning processes is critical to national development. Empowering the youth of Zimbabwe should not be just about mere talk but tangible action to drive up national processes and make young people of this country valued and productive citizens. It is the simple things that matters to the young people of this country and it is the simple gestures that endears the older generations to this vital national component. Elected officials have a duty to prioritise the youth and a commitment to make things simple for the young people to feel empowered and valued in Zimbabwe. The youth of this country are first class citizens as everyone else and they deserve a chance to realise their full potential, to be heard and to make a difference for the good of the Zimbabwe. The young have the unique and raw ability to be talented and innovative trouble-shooters as opposed to lethargic unproductive. The government owes it to the young people of Zimbabwe to trust them into senior positions in some of the strategic national sectors to drive up national proceedings. This is the time to train the young people of Zimbabwe and engrain the Zimbabwean spirit, the love Zimbabwe psyche for the growth and progress of the country as a whole.
Zimbabwe has an educated population and the young people of Zimbabwe have to feel empowered and able to engage positively with governance structures. That the young people of this country are the future leaders of tomorrow is not just a mere statement because they indeed are the future leaders of this country.  Of course national security and national preservation is paramount and takes priority over all else. The country however has to positively continue mobilising this youthful vibrancy and verve.
The young people of this country do possess the power and potential to address some of the considerable social, political and economic challenges currently facing Zimbabwe. The key to start unlocking the untapped potential of the young people of Zimbabwe is to start acknowledging them as productive citizens of the country and not putting them down at any level. There is huge potential locked up in the youth of this country and the government has a responsibility to harness this yet-to-be-realised possibility. The young people need to be listened to, offered the necessary support to grow, encourage rather than put them down, praise them when they make progress, reprimand when they make mistakes but not chastises permanently and recognise that everyone deserves the chance to succeed. There is a place for wisdom of the elderly and the energy of youth. Sometimes there is no point in recycling the same old tried and tired seniors at the expense of the hungry and expectant youth.
The young people of Zimbabwe deserve the chance to prove their worth in senior positions. Zimbabweans are the most enterprising, hard-working, creative and innovative sons and daughters of Africa and all they want are systems and services that function. Being young is not a crime but a country-defining prospect. The key is to reconcile the wisdom and knowledge of old age with the strength and fearlessness of youth. It is retrogressive to underestimate the true potential of the young.

Bernard Bwoni can be contacted on bernardbwn@aol.com

 

 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Mr Obama, its not African 'excuses' but trauma of colonialism and slavery


By Bernard Bwoni
 
Mr Obama’s recent remarks that Africa should not make ‘excuses’ for the continent’s economic woes based on history of colonialism were not only unfortunate but quite insensitive. Not sure if Mr Obama has deliberately developed selective amnesia to realise that the wealth accumulated by the country he now leads has been through the blood and toil of those from the cradle of mankind. Here is the leader of the free world who has been mum to the unrestrained bombardment and culling of innocent civilians in Gaza yet wants to walk the moral high ground and lecture the historically and perpetually traumatised Africans on morality and righteousness. Africa’s socio-political and economic problems are a direct by-product of slavery and colonialism. The African generation post slavery and post colonisation is a traumatised one with equally affected and arrested prospects for development. The generation pre slavery and pre colonisation was the continent’s most innovative and progressive. This is a generation that did not live on borrowed values, borrowed traditions and borrowed existence, a generation that smelted and forged iron. What we are left with is an educated bunch whose greatest invention is a dusty path towards the nearest Aid Agency assembly point.  The African continent has no choice but to completely divorce itself from the disastrous construct of dependence on aid and firmly root itself into the tangible Mugabe-inspired trajectory of economic emancipation. It is only via total economic emancipation that Africa is going to upgrade the lives of its permanently deprived citizens. Whilst at it Mr Obama should have a look at the contents of ZDERA 2001 and if he is so concerned about resolving the continent’s economic difficulties the first step is to not to slap an African country with sanctions for addressing historical inequalities through redistribution of land and wealth. The continued day-in-day-out struggle for basic survival is just not acceptable in this resource-rich continent. Africa is extraordinarily blessed with abundant natural resources. Africa has a cause, a just cause for that matter and downplaying colonialism and slavery is not going to address the multifaceted problems that bedevil the continent but merely mask them. Mr Obama should know better that forcing the biased neo-colonial model whilst equating slavery and colonialism to ‘excuses’ is not going to develop Africa.

Africa is ready for its re-ignition, its reorganisation and justified and dignified re-emergence following the twin evils of slavery and colonialism. The idea of the African re-ignition and reorganisation has continually been frustrated and countered with colonial coercion and more recently neo-colonial craftiness. It seems Mr Obama’s remarks were aimed at containing the African quest to free itself from the one-sided and overly dependent relationships and move towards mutually favourable and respectful development partnerships.

Africa is not going to benefit from neo-colonial point-men camouflaged in the Dark Continent pigment but from the visionary flame of the Mugabe-inscribed people orientated policies of land reform and economic liberation. The people of Zimbabwe, the people of Africa subscribe to this vision. Africa is on a journey, an African journey and a journey that requires Africans and them alone to carry them forwards and no charitable champion is going to command the survival of the continent with no motive of their own. Not even Mr Obama. No selfless knight in shining armour is going to descend from lands afar and rescue Africa from this permanent predicament that has continued to stall the continent’s long overdue development. Mr Obama, Africa does not make excuses but suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder following years abuse and misuse by the very country you lead today.


bernardbwn@aol.com/  bernardbwoni.blogspot.com