Saturday, 3 October 2015

Zimbabwe: nowhere near the poorest country in the world

By Bernard Bwoni

On the 13th July 2015, news website posted an article entitled “Zimbabwe now poorest country in the world, Survey, “ The article claimed that a ‘Global business magazine had ranked Zimbabwe one of the two poorest countries in the world in a damning verdict of President Robert Mugabe’s 35 year rule”. The report claimed to have used a “Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) analysis, which takes into account the living cost and inflation rates in order to compare living standards between different countries”. The report made some spurious claims that on average people in Zimbabwe earned US$589.25 per year, which is roughly US$49.10 per month on average. Any right thinking Zimbabwean will tell you those are ridiculous claims. Zimbabwe is nowhere near the poorest country in the world.  It makes you wonder why a Zimbabwean would even think of publishing such nonsense from an online Global business magazine probably being run and edited by a young internet hacker in his bedroom and probably still living at home with mum and dad somewhere in suburbia.

PPP is used to compare income levels in different countries and it aims to determine the adjustments needed to be made in the exchange rates of two currencies to make them at par with the purchasing power of each other. What this means is that the expenditure on a similar commodity in Zimbabwe and Botswana for example must be the same in both currencies, for example a bag of fertiliser in Zimbabwe cost roughly US$32 and then it should cost BWP327.93 when the exchange rate is 10.25 between the US$ and the Botswana Pula. It means equalising the purchasing power of the two currencies taking into account the cost of living and inflation differences between Zimbabwe and Botswana in this instance.

The 2014 data from IMF indicate that Zimbabwe’s income per person per year is in fact US$2046 and that is nowhere near the poorest country in Africa claim as indicated by Global business magazine in his mum’s basement. The use of wealth per capita calculations can be misleading and do not necessarily reflect the general state of wealth of the ordinary person. ‘Per capita wealth, which is the means of the people in any economic unit is calculated by taking a measure of all sources of income on the aggregate such as GDP and dividing that by the total population’ Archer, 2008. In Zimbabwe there is a thriving informal economy coexisting alongside a formal economy yet not contributing towards national fiscus and GDP figures. The reason why we have such flawed analyses as this ridiculous Global Business claim rating Zimbabwe as the poorest in the world is that the country has billions in the country but not circulating in the economy. It is either some people have buried their money (Narcos comes into mind) or shipped it out. There is no precise set of economic data indicative of present realities on the ground and an accurate estimate of the size and structure of the Zimbabwe economy. The size of the Zimbabwe economy is not currently correctly measured and hence these inaccurate and mischievous rankings we end up having.

Brand Zimbabwe versus the self-loathing Zimbabwean

By Bernard Bwoni

Brand Zimbabwe is phenomenal and needs patriotic and the right ambassadors to fly that flag all over the world. Every Zimbabwean is a foot soldier with a very important and birth right responsibility to enhance the overall image of brand Zimbabwe and help change the distorted perception the world has been presented with about this extraordinary country. The REAL Zimbabwe is a peaceful, an intriguing, a friendly and an inviting place. It is a country with values and roots that go deeper than the ocean. The warmth and welcoming nature of Zimbabwe, the place and Zimbabweans, the people, has always been admired worldwide. It is the responsibility of every Zimbabwean to take the country’s brand image and culture across our borders and present it in a manner that does not demean, disparage or destroy. Every Zimbabwean has a responsibility to market this beautiful country for the benefits of doing so are immense and country defining. We have a gem of a country, God-given and our only responsibility is to respect it, to honour that name Zimbabwe and sell it and sell it good. There are many takers out there and every Zimbabwean should be brand ambassador with an embodiment of the country’s identity, the values, the culture and the ethics of this brand called Zimbabwe. There is value and relevance in selling and presenting Zimbabwe in a positive light. It cannot be emphasised enough that the responsibility lies with every Zimbabwean citizen wherever they are, be it in Zimbabwe or outside the borders.

However, it is very disappointing that there are some Zimbabweans who find it okay to portray their own country negatively. There is no denying the fact that there are many challenges in Zimbabwe, there are many things that could be better and there is a lot of work that needs to be done to revive the country’s economy and battered image. However consistently painting a negative picture about the country is only going to repel business into the country. It is going to send the wrong message to those who want to come into the country. Zimbabwe has always been one of the top tourist destinations in Africa and still remains so. There are many people who make informal enquiries about travelling to Zimbabwe and the expectation is that they should be presented with the true picture about the warmth and beauty of the place. There are tourists, backpackers, business people or just wanderers who have money to spend making such enquiries. It is unfortunate that there are many who will just not find anything positive to say about this intriguing country. There are those who have become persistent and perennial whingers and many seem to derive pleasure from dishonestly painting Zimbabwe in a negative light. That is just disappointing and will never make things right for the country. That is just substandard patriotism if at all.

To degrade and demonise your own country is to degrade yourself.  Those who publicly and persistently discredit Zimbabwe clearly have no awareness of the profound implications of the negative speculation they constantly present to the world. The world has become way too interconnected and with the advent of the Internet and social media, anything and everything is now available online for immediate perusal. It does not matter whether it is the truth or not, but that is exactly what the world would read about Zimbabwe. The negativity that is being presented about Zimbabwe has far-reaching and damaging effects on the country as a whole. It just boggles the mind why anyone would have such deep-rooted negative views about their own country to the point national defamation.

There is this failure to separate party politics from the politics of national development among some people in Zimbabwe. Whatever some perceive to be the shortcomings of the ruling party must not be used to defame Zimbabwe the country. The problem many is that they have no idea when to draw the line and separate country from party politics.
Zimbabwe has both victors and victims of the trauma triggered by colonialism. The same can be said of many if not all African countries. There are those who have managed to deal with the physical trauma and shackles of colonialism and there are those who have failed to do so. In Zimbabwe there are those who took up arms against the unyielding colonial establishment and dismantled the hurdles the system created. They physically and psychologically deconstructed the colonial construct and enabled all Zimbabweans to be counted as first class citizens in their own country.
However many among us have struggled with pulling down the veil and the psychological scars inflicted by the trauma of colonization and imperialism. These are the victims who still express sympathy and empathy with the Rhodesian system, have publicly expressed positive feelings towards the architects of the system to the point of defending it and identifying with it while putting down the system that liberated them. There are many Zimbabweans, especially in the diaspora who present such negative traits. Some victims have called for the ‘escalation of the economic crisis’ to further that very system which subjugated Zimbabwe and many other African countries.

It is defeatist and unpatriotic to consistently put your own country down. Every citizen has a duty to defend their own country, their own nationhood and their pride as a people instead of devoting energies to trampling on the name of Zimbabwe and its people. Why is it that other nationalities do not always air their dirty laundry in the public and never present their countries in a negative light? There are many countries worldwide that have it much worse than Zimbabwe but you rarely hear their nationals parading it to the world that their country is the definition of disaster. There is no denying that things could be better in Zimbabwe but perennially naysaying your own country is not going to make things any better.

Those who denounce Zimbabwe claim that President Robert Mugabe forced them out and that they did not have a choice in the matter and hence the bitterness. Choice is a very big word that should be used carefully for we all make our choices and we have to live with them. People have migrated and moved around the world since time immemorial and for anyone to blame President Mugabe for their nomadic ways is nothing short of comical and preposterous. People are all over the world for various reasons and Zimbabweans are no exception. Most people had a choice to either leave or stay. Some chose to leave and others chose to stay.

There are many Zimbabweans who decided not to leave the country and they are carrying on with their lives. Many chose to stay and are doing better things than the majority who diced with the diaspora. Nobody is saying that things are easy but life goes on in Zimbabwe. Whatever each individual’s circumstances are, the choice is often theirs to make unless of course if they are children.
It is easy to try and abdicate responsibilities for the consequences of the choices we make to try and blame it all on President Mugabe. In Zimbabwe there is there is land to farm, there are opportunities if you exert yourself, and most importantly there is peace. Most if not all of us have a choice to either stay in our peaceful land called Zimbabwe or move to other parts of the world to face the unknown.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Zimbabwe: looking East and looking everywhere

By Bernard Bwoni

“We shouldn’t be running away from China, lets stick together. Whether the headlines, regardless of the challenges we should work together to make the UK China’s best partner in the West”. British Chancellor George Osbourne said this when he was speaking at the Shanghai Stock Exchange in China. He described China as “a phenomenal part of the world economy” and he was absolutely right. Most countries throughout the world include the EU and USA adopted a Look East policy since the economic boom in China started. The British, EU and USA have dispatched several business delegations to China. The thing about the West is that they understand money and hence why they have it. They respect money more than those in the developing world who do not have that money. The West will do what it takes to ensure that they get the business and they bring in the money to maintain their consistent high standards of life. They know how to separate business from ideology and politics. Mr Osbourne said “we raise human rights, but we do it in the context of also talking about issues like economic development. Of course we’re two completely different political systems and we raise human rights issues, but I don’t think that is inconsistent with also wanting to do more business with one-fifth of the world’s population”. They understand business and they follow it where it is and human rights are just words when it comes to business. They follow it in the mud, the desert, the Muslim backyards or any muddle you can just about imagine. Money is just money even if it comes from the mud, you always clean it up and life goes on. On the other hand there are some from Zimbabwe and other African countries busy at each other’s throats about trivia whilst neglecting the things bring in money into their economies. Whilst George Osbourne is busy molly cuddling the Chinese and looking east some in Zimbabwe are busy dismissing the ruling party’s look east policy as a gimmick. This is what separates those who get ahead in this world and those who lag behind. With China pledging to cancel debts to developing countries how can a look east policy be a bad policy surely?

It is interesting that some are urging the government to look west when the west is looking east. That is a redundant argument and hence why Africa always ends up having to play catch up. A more convincing argument would be a look everywhere policy because there is no point in looking to a west that is looking east. Zimbabwe can look east, west, north and south. It does not matter as long as the benefit is going to be mutual. There is nothing wrong with being economically aggressive to get ahead in this world. Zimbabwe’s economy is on the verge of a major economic take-off and the only tone that should be coming from Harare is ‘business coated’ and economic savvy. As long as no aggressor is physically manhandling the country then business tone should remain business tone. The Conservatives in Britain are Zimbabwe’s best hope of mutually respectful engagement. The tone from Tories has remained largely positive and the reciprocity of delegations suggests a major shift towards full engagement. There has been a number business delegations from Zimbabwe have been to London and other EU capitals as part of a move to improve reengagement strides. The Minister of Industry and Commerce Mr Mike Bimha recently led a delegation to London to woe potential investors. Zimbabwe has a cause (historical inequalities) and that has now been addressed. That can now be put in the background and the prevailing tone has to be business and business alone.

The biggest threat to Zimbabwe’s economic revival now is more internal than external. The continued bickering, backstabbing and confusion is bad for business. A tone that does not offend, frustrate or confuse is crucial. It is about striking the right tone; it is about being diplomatic and understanding the country’s audience can mean the difference between off-putting potential business and building important business relationships. It can mean the difference between getting the desired result and being ignored in place of those who speak the right language of business with the right tone. Politics and economics are interlinked and they both have an equal place in any country. However it is always important to separate the two when communicating for business. Osbourne discussed business with the Chinese and at no point did he focus on the alleged human rights abuses. The talk of human rights abuses does not bring money to Britain’s economy. There is a time and place to talk about human rights for it is morally right to do so. It is quite reassuring to note that in Zimbabwe Minister Chinamasa has been talking the language of finance as per his ministry’s remit. The key to constructing business communication is to consider the audience, the purpose and type of information to be disseminated. There is a certain tone that can be uninviting to others and for sure some will sit on the fence instead of engaging fully.

The tone that the country present can easily become a subject or target of international frustration if mismanaged or the bridge that business crosses over if well managed. The tone should aim at establishing and maintaining positive relationships with all business partners from the east to the west, the north to the south. In some countries business tone is in fact incorporated in national culture. Zimbabwe is a hospitable country and all those who come into the country should get that sense. We may disagree on the politics, but we live off the business and as such business tone should be recognised of one of the country’s official languages. Money should transcend political divisions. The Conservatives in Britain through their Chancellor Osbourne are looking beyond the ideological and political differences with China and putting business ahead of that. Zimbabwe does have ideological and political differences with the West and there is nothing wrong with that for that is what makes each country unique. However these differences should not be allowed to be the obstacles to Zimbabwe’s quest to attract new business into the country. People are shaped by an ideology, but they do not ‘eat ideology’ and Mr Osbourne is clearly aware of that hence his call to “make UK China’s best partner in the west”. The tone of business should be cascaded nationally from top to bottom. There is value and relevance in presenting the right business tone as opposed to what is perceived as an aggressive closed-door style. The right tone should be the natural way of communication throughout the country. If George Osbourne can grovel for Chinese business, Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole have to create the most hospitable conditions for those who are likely to bring money or investment into the country.

All investors, domestic and foreign need to be strongly reassured that Zimbabwe is indeed open for business. Zimbabwe has the right policies in place, but those need to be communicated in a manner that reassures those who want to bring money into the country. Policies can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted and thus the need for clarity beyond any reasonable doubt that Zimbabwe is ready to embrace all business irrespective of country of origin. The ruling party knows that Zimbabwe is open for business and the ruling party is clearly sending the signals that the country is prime for investment. However it is imperative to look at it from outside, the perception and how the country is viewed from the outside and then allay some of the misconceptions in a manner that reassures. The right tone and information would go a long way in doing that.

Zimbabwe like most African countries is rich in mineral and other natural resources. However the country’s capital markets are quite restricted and currently have limited capacity to finance the development, the beneficiation and value addition of the country’s vast resource potential. Foreign investment is essential particularly from the Chinese, the Russians, the EU, Africa, Asia, and the USA. There are potential national threats tacit in some foreign investments and rightly so the need for Zimbabwe to be cautious and vigilant in protecting its national interests. Any investor though, would understand the need for Zimbabwe to protect her national interests but the tone and how this is communicated can be the difference between wooing in and wadding off potential investment.

The challenges to attracting FDI are huge in particular because many developing countries, emerging economies and even the developed countries are all actively seeking to attract the elusive FDI. This is intensifying global competition among governments and this is where it becomes crucial how the country is perceived. Africa as a whole has to buckle up to be able to compete. The propensity to invest in Zimbabwe has been severely affected by internal economic challenges and perceived political risks. This is a distortion that Zimbabwe has to work at correcting. Our tone is important when trying to correct this distortion. Sometimes there is no need to shout, but rather to just provide the right information consistently and at the right time. The effectiveness of the government’s response is key to creating favourable conditions to attract foreign direct investment. The priority should be on improving the environment for investment, the functioning of capital markets and consistencies in business tone and clarity in communicating the terms of legal guarantees for people’s investments. It is one thing to direct them to the Indigenisation and empowerment Act, and it is another thing actually sitting down and allaying their fears. It is the right information presented with the right tone that will allay those fears.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Social media: 2018's electoral battlefront

By Bernard Bwoni

From the indistinct corners of Dotito to Lupane, the Zimbabwe political discourse has increasingly now been condensed into an iPhone or any other smartphone device. The demography of the Zimbabwe electorate is changing with a new shift towards new approaches to information outreach. This is happening fast and political parties in Zimbabwe might have to quickly adapt to this changing reality and be in sync with this trend. Social media has become a crucial platform where anyone and everyone can interact in an unstructured and informal manner. Dialogue on national issues is happening on social media at a pace that even the politicians themselves have to play catch up with what is happening in the country. The Internet is about instant connection and with 2018 just being around the corner this is going to be even more crucial electoral playing field. One Facebook user Sa Muchuwe made an observation on the ruling party official website that “ZANU-PF lives in the past. Their website still has dead people as the VP and fired Joyce Mujuru still in the presidium according to their website”. I checked and he is absolutely right that the site might need updating. It is debatable where he states that ruling party lives in the past because of the potency of its policies meant to empower. The reason why I mention this is that today’s electorate has become more observant, more instant and more critical. I am not a web designer, but I doubt that it takes a lot to update a website. These are the basics that matter and hence why this young Muchuwe observed it and mentioned it and then linked it to a limitation somewhere within the polity. Facebook should not be a platform for the connected to parade fancy cars and sprawling mansions but dialogue on what really matters to the ordinary man and women of Zimbabwe.

Facebook and Twitter are going to be hugely influential and will to a large extent play a decisive role in determining the outcome of the scuffle between the main political parties in the 2018 campaign. Professor Jonathan Moyo is perceptive and his increasing presence on social media is not a taboo but providing potential voters with information and a sound platform where young people can pose questions and discuss national issues. Young people are drawn to social media platforms in which they can engage with politicians and discuss policies at a human level without the pretentions of rehearsed rallies. The young people of today have been exposed to a world that is changing at an alarming pace. The traditional media in Zimbabwe used to mainly be the print media, the radio and TV and this is now being taken over by social media. The numbers of those engaged in Zimbabwe politics online is greater than ever before owing to greater access to Internet.

Technology has taken Zimbabwe by storm and social media is going to become extremely more persuasive than print media in spreading election messages and information. It is unfortunate that most politicians in Zimbabwe are not embracing it and some viewing it as shallow. Social media is an important platform for reaching out to voters. The majority of Zimbabweans now have access mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets and even in the remote rural areas many are beginning to have access. This is in no way meant to suggest that social media is going to determine the outcome of the election, but the fact of the matter it is going to be very important. It is a useful tool for assessing public opinion and also for disseminating information. As we slowly approach 2018, party websites, twitter, Facebook pages and YouTube videos are going to be critical in rallying party supporters, canvassing for the support and spreading party news and messages. Facebook in particular is going to be a fiercely competitive virtual battleground of ideology for the main political parties. Social media is a vital platform for national debate during elections and ignoring it would be short sighted for any political party. It is currently leading the discourse in Zimbabwe politics, it breaks the news as it happens and you do not need to even walk to the shops or wait for the bus from town to get a newspaper. Everything is right there on the smartphone. The social media gives politicians and their parties a stage to engage and lay out their visions. In the case of Zimbabwe social media compliments traditional media sources such as print, radio and television.

Facebook and Twitter in Zimbabwe are vibrant virtual forums for dialogue and discussions. Young people in Zimbabwe as anywhere else in the world are creating the content on social media that is playing an increasingly significant role in the public sphere and for political agenda setting. It is clearly interconnected with the mainstream media. It is providing an opportunity to connect Zimbabwe’s electorate, especially the young. The difficult with social media is always about sifting the wheat from the chaff, the purely propaganda from the candour. Zimbabwe is thrust in a world of social media and it would be disastrous for politicians not to fully embrace this important information platform. Election battles are going to be on social media and less at the big rally fronts. It is those politicians who familiarise themselves with social media, make their presence felt and state engaging positively with the electorate who are going to dominate, inform and get their party message heard.

The trend in Zimbabwe has seen the power of social media in electoral politics and diminishing relevance of traditional media sources who have been playing catch up with online sources. Politicians cannot afford to ignore the power of social media and the Internet as a platform for spreading their party message and convincing the electorate to vote for them. The point by Sa Muchuwe that the ruling party is “living in the past yet we expect them to plan a futuristic economy” can be challenged if the ruling party starts to fully embrace social media to engage these young people. The ruling party has a solid base, has history and sound policies that are meant to empower the youth of Zimbabwe. There is need to present a savvy image on social media to be able to broadly relate to these young people and in so doing present the party vision to them.

Household access and individual usage of the Internet has been on the rise in Zimbabwe. In 2018, those born after 1980 will account a significant chunk of the voters and this group happens to be the main consumers of social media and the Internet. There is need to begin the preparations by recruiting young, savvy and dynamic people to support them better manage their social media engagement. Social media has the potential to be an asset if managed effectively or weapon against if mismanaged. The best way to influence social discussions is not necessarily to provide facts but to provoke. Provocation triggers debate and dialogue. Zimbabwe is in this new media zone that has transformed media space and is going to play pivotal role in transforming elections. There has been a technological transformation of news and information. Today it is a lot easier to just look at your smartphone for the latest news rather than a newspaper or television. This shift is changing the way politicians communicate and reach out to the electorate. It is changing the tone and content of the Zimbabwe political narrative. The electorate is now presented with instant information than before. Social media is going to be the ultimate battlefront in the 2018 election campaign. This is a platform that is going to favour sentiment over logic. That is how the 2018 election campaign going to play.