Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Robert Mugabe: A vision deliberately distorted

By Bernard Bwoni

Twisting the term visionary to suit

It is leaders like Robert Mugabe who are often carelessly undermined, under-valued and under-appreciated, recklessly misrepresented and misunderstood in their own time and their vision deliberately downplayed and ridiculed for fear of the results to be achieved. It is only history that will judge them fairly and then only then are they appreciated and their long -term vision realised and respected, long after they are gone. Robert Mugabe has risked his personal and political stature to push past and see through the vision of an empowered black majority in Zimbabwe and the non-negotiable notion of entrusting ownership of Zimbabwe’s resources and future in the hands of the previously marginalised majority. His long-term predictive instincts of lasting prosperity and genuine ownership are the hallmarks of his visionary leadership. It is because of this perceptive leadership that Zimbabwe will inevitably get over the current challenges to turn around the economy and if that is to be simplified to “activism” then so be it. The term ‘visionary’ entails ‘original ideas’ and the idea of a future, about what the future will be or could be like and not some empty proclamations meant only to prop up big business, the bankers and the big multinationals of this world who pull the strings and decide statuses of world economies.

Much ado about nothing if you ask me

A simple grasp of the mechanics and economics of this world order will tell you that control over the world monetary system falls into very few hands and none of them come from Africa and understandably, they do not have any obligations to serve African interests. There is a very good reason why no African country has ever emerged from the darkness of colonialism and most likely none will do in a very long time. When you have learned scholars parading Rwanda as a centre of African ‘economic’ excellence then you know the continent’s edge is blunt. With all due respect to Mr Kagame and Rwanda, but that is just small change being dangled to keep Africa in check. You often hear that such and such an African country is going to post significant economic growth rates next year and that following year the growths will be downgraded and that has been going on since the first African country attained independence. It is a never-ending cycle and one of the many reasons given is that Africans often and always mismanage their affairs. In Mugabe however, Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole has a leader who dreams of an economically unrestricted future for the indigenes who have remained largely disenfranchised from the aftermath an unfair past.  If attempting to correct a “racially-perpetrated historical wrong” is benightedly branded “activism”, I can bet my last dime that the majority of Zimbabweans and Africans are prepared to proudly wear that badge with their dignity intact. It makes you wonder, would it make President Mugabe much more of a far-sighted leader if he were clothed in Chinese-style or Japanese-style suit instead of a Western-style one? What really is in a garment really? Much ado about nothing if you ask me.

 Forget the Holocaust, lest we upset the Germans

Slavery, colonization and racial segregation are part and parcel of the Zimbabwe and African history and there should never be any shame in victims narrating their own and the ordeals of their forebears. The only people who should feel contrition when it comes to these narratives are the authors and architects of the deeds, not the real victims themselves and their equally affected and disaffected offsprings. It’s like urging the victim of a traumatic rape to keep the baby of her rapist and forget that the ordeal ever happened for fear of hurting the feelings of the rapist. The excessively submissive, substandard and subservient arguments from those who want people to remain quiet about colonization, apartheid and slavery for fear of inconveniencing the doers of the deed who now ‘leverage power around us’ is disturbingly na├»ve. We have scholars coaxing the victims to grovel, submit and admit, “we know that slavery, racial segregation and colonization happened, let us all forget about it and kowtow before the former masters for us to get ahead in this world”. Well if that is what it takes to build harmony to see Africans moving forward then it will be on very shaky foundations. It’s a case of trying to convince survivors of the Holocaust that because it happened a long time ago, let us forget about it just in case we might upset the Germans in so remembering about it.
Colonization happened, slavery happened, segregation was until very recently a reality and we will talk and shout about it, mbira, rap and hip-hop artists will sell platinum millions records about it and that is something the world will have to deal with. There is no one who can provide guarantees that not talking about slavery, racial segregation or colonization is going to bring economic fortunes to Africa and there is no evidence to suggest so either. In fact there is evidence to suggest that those who suffered the ravages of slavery and colonization remain largely marginalized the world over and their prospects for the future do not look very promising either. I have never been to America but news headlines often portray evident cases of disadvantaged and disenchanted black Americans whose prospects do not exactly point to positive. In the Caribbean countries, the situation is no better. The convenient narrative is that every black-run country is failing because blacks cannot run efficient societies and only the simple-minded will buy into that. The major problems Zimbabwe and many other African countries face today are a direct result of the after-effects of colonization, racial segregation and slavery and hence the evidently arrested prospects for development. That is the real black man’s burden and only the uninformed will brand this continued struggle for recognition as activism. It is not a victims’ mentality because the victims do have the evidence of their trauma. If these past wrongs did not have such a direct bearing on those directly and indirectly affected then why have the issues remained contentious?

"1950s, 1960s or 1970s activism", at least we have a vision to talk about

Whichever way you decide to look at it, the Robert Mugabe policies as unpopular to the outsider as they seem today, have in fact positively impacted on the future of the black indigenous people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe like most African countries suffered a traumatic history of colonisation, segregation and apartheid and this I utter without fear or favour, for if we fall into the trap of labelling our historical struggles as mere ‘Activism’ it will all be consigned to the back pages of history if at all and with it our future. It is because of this “1950s, 1960s and 1970s activism” that we even have a vision to talk about today! The reason why Robert Mugabe intrigues the world, scholar or layman alike, is because he is a shrewd strategist, an uncompromising risk-taker, an excellent communicator with insight, foresight and the grit required, all pre-requisites for a visionary. Here is a man who risked it all with the Land Reform to economically empower some people of Zimbabwe amid adverse offensives from all angles and now the gamble is slowly but surely paying off and that is what visionaries do. His passion for the economic empowerment of the previously deprived is the fuel that ignites national engagement and international intrigue with the policies. Mugabe has been upfront and pragmatic in creating a positive and inspirational vision for the future of Zimbabwe and the manner he has conveyed his message is what separates him from the chuff and those who brand this tangible vision as activism. Visionary is not about instant gratification, but the long-term, today’s trauma and tribulations’ translating into future fulfilment is what it is all about. How can it be a vision if it is seeded today and bears fruits tomorrow? The Japanese, the British, the Germans, the Americans and many other developed nations of today did not start by harvesting and then planting latter. The seed has to be nurtured from planting, germinating and all the way through to harvesting.

"Self-made, self-assured and self-sustaining", that is the minimum for Africa

A self-empowered, self-sustaining, self-assured and self-made majority is a minimum requirement of the Robert Mugabe vision and you can argue with that all you want but it is happening even under very disabling micro and macro-economic conditions. You can only judge a visionary by the outcomes of his vision and to judge it before its time only serve as dishonest and disconnected ramblings of the purblind. The land reform in Zimbabwe has to be one of the most rudimentary lands redistributive processes ever witnessed the world over and this is a long-term vision, not about words but deeds. The land redistribution process has not endeared President Mugabe with some sections of the ‘international community’ as expected, but it was necessary, the right thing to do and he did it amid the unpopular sentiments from those who sought to maintain an unfair status quo. As I see it, as a Zimbabwean, Robert Mugabe addressed a profoundly structural problem by establishing a new foundation of political, social and economic values. Most Zimbabweans and many Africans embraced this positively and those are the hallmarks of visionary leadership. What Mugabe has been pushing through is a long-term agenda with long-term future value. The real resistance comes from the real brokers who actually understand and want to undermine the future impact this vision is going to have. Through their bland instruments and minions, Robert Mugabe’s vision is erroneously portrayed as mere rhetoric or madness or 1960s and 1970s mind-set and all sorts of negative connotations meant to undermine and suppress it. This is a grand idea of improving lives, make things equal, more righteous and fair, a tough ask when you have your own people at your throat for trying to empower them.

At the nucleus of economic activity, that is home of the vision

Land is important to any country in this world from a social, political and economic point of view. In Zimbabwe agriculture contributes roughly 20% towards the country’s GDP and of that tobacco farming is the country’s biggest revenue generator. Let me give an example, before the year 2000 tobacco production figures were in excess of the 200 million kilograms mark. The majority of that production was from large-scale commercial farms that were predominantly owned by a handful of mostly white commercial farmers. The Fast Track Land Reform started from around 2000 and following that in the 2008/2009 season tobacco figures fell drastically to below the 50 million kilograms mark. Many were quick to label the land reform a dismal failure and fast-forward to the 2014 season tobacco figures were over the 200 million kilograms mark again and revenue generated in excess of US$600 million. Today in excess of 60,000 indigenous black farmers have had their chance and are participating in the lucrative tobacco sector whereas before these profits would silently have been shared among less than 2000 white large-scale farmers. This is the Robert Mugabe vision of collective gain as opposed minority acquisition and it is quite interesting to note that the waiting list for land in Zimbabwe is well over 500,000 people. That tells you something about the vision.

A just cause, not excuses
A country like Zimbabwe has a just cause just like Africa has a cause, and trying to downplay colonialism and slavery to enlist favors from the architects of the deed itself is not going to address the assorted and multiplex problems but will merely mask them for future generations to repeatedly try and deal with. Any right thinking person, lay person or scholar, should know better that Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe or Africa makes no excuses, we all have shortcomings but equating colonialism to excuses and accusing those talking about it and about redressing inequalities as being stuck in a time warp is just downright malleable and low-down.

Friday, 17 July 2015

MDC-T 'Prayers' and the shambolic podiums of desperation

By Bernard Bwoni

Morgan Tsvangirai sharing a podium with former ruling party ‘debris’ in the form of Temba Mliswa and Jabulani Sibanda for the common cause ‘to force Mugabe’s hand out of power’ was probably one of the most sardonic moments in the political history of Zimbabwe. The event was supposedly meant to be a ‘prayer meeting’ about a Zimbabwean citizen whose whereabouts are unknown and to say the event was hijacked by many elements with different and misleading agendas is an understatement. Many, if not all, were trying to outdo each for individualistic political self-reinvention. It was a mish-mash of former ruling party rejects relishing among the opposition ranks, many political lightweights clamoring for attention, Mr Tsvangirai himself in awe at the prospect of working with discarded former ruling party members. What a palaver! The message from all those who took to the podium was a misguided call urging people of Zimbabwe to rise up against the so-called tyranny of Robert Mugabe. This was a prayer meeting meant to comfort and sooth the soul of the family of the man who allegedly disappeared and not a platform to revive ailing political careers of the many who ‘graced’ the podium. Some of those who took to the podium were until recently profusely punching their fists in the air with unmoving resolve in support of the ruling party, which they were now chastising alongside Mr Tsvangirai. The picture of Mr and Mrs Tsvangirai holding the children of the missing man is a picture that tells a thousand inexactitudes.

The trouble with all those who attended this ‘prayer meeting’ was their inability to be open about the outcomes they expected as a result of them being present. The gathering suffered an infusion of individuals with an inability to stand for any real principle or direction and the result was an ill-conceived chorus of insinuation which appear to urge citizens to use unconstitutional means to whatever end most seemed to be advocating. The former ruling party ‘relics’ who attended spoke with a misleading desperation to enlist recognition within opposition ranks. Jabulani Sibanda made this wretched claim that “when leaders are elected into power, they forget where they came from. They forget that power came from the people”.  He appeared to have been targeting President Mugabe as he went on to say, “For 35 years we never knew we were Zimbabweans”. This is a ridiculous statement build around a forlorn core of defeatism and desperation. The fact of the matter is that for the past 35 years Zimbabweans have in fact got the opportunity to be Zimbabweans and the irony is that many do not even realize it. These futile attempts at jumping on the back of an allegedly missing person to score political points are self-serving in nature and urging any form of unconstitutional usurpation of power is a lost cause.

The way that many political has-beens and novices are trying to hijack this alleged disappearance is opportunistic and totally unrelated to the supposed disappearance itself. Simba Makoni in a disconnected rambling that sought to appeal to and whip up national emotions, claimed categorically that President Mugabe knew where this missing man was. Makoni had this to say “How can he just say Mugabe, as president of this country, is unmoved by the missing of one of his citizens yet he is obliged to protect all citizens living in the country? It shows that the state knows where Dzvamara is hence they would want to act as if it is a forced disappearance which the state had no hand in”. This supposed ‘disappearance’ is being used as a bargaining chip by the equally cheap and dysfunctional opposition in Zimbabwe to prop up lacklustre and uninspiring political careers. So Makoni wants President Mugabe to put everything aside and go in search of this allegedly missing man? In Nkulumane and Emganwini residential areas of Bulawayo, five children recently went missing and the families of these missing children have been going through hell. We have not heard Makoni or Tsvangirai mention the plight of these missing children, yet they hyper-sensationalize the case of one man whose whereabouts remain unknown. This man is a citizen of Zimbabwe and it is important that all citizens of the country are safe and as Charamba puts it, the matter is in the hands of the police. The hope is that he is well and as the police updates to the High Court reveal, something is being done.
If true, the recent report that the French Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Laurent Delahousse proposed a toast to this allegedly missing man, paraded his wife and children at the French National Day celebrations and then called him a ‘symbol and that he would not let him down’, is a worrying statement. How on earth did this man suddenly become a ‘symbol’ and for his family to be paraded at France National Day celebrations?

The claims that this man was allegedly ‘abducted’ in broad daylight in a barbershop, by ‘three’ or ‘five’ armed men in a residential area was because of his criticism of President Mugabe is ludicrous. If that is the case then the likes of Job Sikhala and many others who publicly tear into President Mugabe the person and the politician would have disappeared many moons ago. But they walk freely and talk freely. Something does not add up one bit about this ‘disappearance’ but what is clear is that either way it is never going to end well. If it was indeed a forged disappearance, it is going to be very difficult to bring this man back and definitely sacrifices are going to be made. The question to pose is, what would stop the opposition and their handlers from sacrificing him for their own political survival and better electoral fortunes come 2018? That is totally plausible, unless people come up with hard evidence that the state was behind this man’s ‘supposed disappearance’. The police have done their investigations from the day the matter was reported to them and hence why Makoni’s assertion that President Mugabe is not concerned about this allegedly missing man is part and parcel of a more comprehensive plan to whip up emotions.

This man is not the first person to go missing in Zimbabwe, let alone the world, and he is not the last. The local opposition has created a rallying point to reinvent and reposition itself, and they are using this alleged disappearance for their own political gains. The local opposition and the allegedly abducted are all mere tools in the grand scheme of things. Time however has the stubborn habit of revealing falsehoods and truths that always puts the deceitful to shame. Only time will tell and time is exactly what we have in abundance. The available evidence is pointing to more falsehoods than truths.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Dr Grace Mugabe: a pragmatic First Lady

By Bernard Bwoni

The realm of politics and policy-making, just like any society, is intricate and unpredictable. It has its fair share of those who exist just for the sake of protraction (just to breath air, but make no difference to society) and on the other end of the scale those people who make things happen and make noticeable differences to the lives of others. The latter group possess that cutting edge trademark and those pacesetter attributes that the former group is clearly deprived of. These are the movers and shakers who have the undeniable gift of pragmatic influence and a people-centred genetic make-up. These are the individuals who walk the ground and at the same time listen to the sounds the ground they walk on makes. They hear and feel the grassroots, they get the basics and they speak the dialect of their environment and duet with the soul and systems that surrounds them. They seek no glory or reputation but rather that commitment for the greater good of society. In Zimbabwe, men of mettle and women of weight are among us, those who inspire and constantly remind us of the higher purpose of society. They seek no praise or worship but only to refocus society’s thrust on pertinent issues that affect the grassroots. Dr Grace Mugabe easily falls within the ranks of the non-theoretical craftswoman of action, a charming, confident, charitable and very normal First Lady of meaning.

The First Lady, Dr Grace Mugabe by virtue of being the wife of President Mugabe (an African Icon) has had to blaze trails, suffer trials and tribulations. She has been labelled all manner of despicable names but she has remained true to her core values and beliefs. She has dedicated her life to things that gives meaning and purpose to others, possess attributes strikingly similar to her husband and hence the negative onslaught to stifle her progressive national pursuits. The Zimbabwe First Lady is driven, focused, committed, not easily deterred or distracted just like President Mugabe himself and those are the hallmarks of nation builders. She lays it on the table as it is and that is refreshingly different and endears her even to those opposed to her. The issues she brings to the forefront, most people certainly agree with her, but many are constrained and restricted by their misinformed perception of the woman behind the words. There are heated debates going on Social Media sites on certain issues Dr Mugabe has raised recently and you often hear statements like “I don’t like the woman but I completely agree with what she has said about the girl child and marriage” or “I know I don’t often agree with Grace Mugabe but it is refreshing the way she has exposed corruption”. The fact of the matter is that any statement she makes triggers debate that cut across political divides. You have those in the opposition ranks privately agreeing with her and publicly slaying her for political mileage. The bottom line though is that people do listen when the First Lady speaks and it gets them thinking and hence the many news headlines that follow after every address she makes. It is this sense of meaning and purpose in the First Lady’s presence that intrigues the nation and the world.

Dr Grace Mugabe has never made any claims to perfection and true to fact no one in this world can claim stewardship to such. In one of her addresses Dr Mugabe said this with her usual honesty and refreshing honesty “I am not a person who is afraid to ask, I always ask the President when I am not sure about anything”. People who shape the world have a compassionate heart, and they see and learn to better equip themselves to serve. She has been right down on the ground and taking time to support and care for disadvantaged children. In one of her addresses Dr Mugabe highlighted that she has over 88 children at the children’s home she runs and when you read newspaper news article that paint the picture of self-absorption it just does not make any sense. The Grace Mugabe Foundation does a lot of charity work in Zimbabwe and it is unfortunate that international media sources are awash with falsehoods and misleading narratives about the First Lady. One of the many reasons why the First Lady’s addresses and statements engross the nation is because of the potent content and the fact that they focus on issues that are dear to most people’s hearts. Those are the issues that affect people in their day-to-day lives. She has a practical awareness of the links with the grassroots and how to connect with people right down to the basics of life and living in society. She is not restricted by the pretentions of politics hence why she is not afraid to be who she really is. She is authentic, she holds views that resonate with many and she does not settle for conformity just for the sake of it. The First Lady is passionate about her charity work and about the country, her actions and words are from the heart and there is a level of respect she accords the people of Zimbabwe.

The First Lady, in her addresses, is uniquely blunt to the point of being miles away from all correctness yet she leaves no stone unturned. She does not seek to preserve reputations nor does she seek to garner a reputation but rather displays an unparalleled commitment to ‘serve the people’. If one listens to most of her addresses, her key words are often about the people ahead of all else. In her recent address in Kadoma, she was talking about “the leadership we want, leaders who know they are servants of the people”.

Many speak about ZimAsset the document, but few focus on the actual technicalities of implementation. Dr Mugabe recently pointed out “For ZimAsset to work, we must work, we are the foot soldiers”. The key to the implementation of ZimAsset is to break the programme down to its bare basics and then roll it top down to the people. The economic blueprint is an excellent but complex document that needs to be simplified at the implementation phase. Zimbabwe has an educated population and possibly the best-educated people on the African continent and that is a crucial resource for national development. The First Lady complemented that by stating, “We are educated enough, but we have to deliver, we have to work, we have to grab the opportunities and run-off with these opportunities”.

ZimAsset is not going to miraculously register successes without the collective strength of the people of Zimbabwe that will see the economic blueprint through. The collective strength of a unit is far much stronger than the individualistic spirit that has of recent pervaded our society. As Dr Grace Mugabe rightly put it, “there are elements in the country who are retrogressive, as Zimbabweans we have to be positive, progressive and we have to put emphasis on working”. The number of times the First Lady mentions the word ‘work’ in her addresses clearly shows a woman who is committed to seeing Zimbabwe moving and moving forward. What Zimbabwe is presenting to her citizens are opportunities currently camouflaged by challenges and as Dr Grace Mugabe rightly said, now is the time to seize those opportunities and run away with them.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Protectionism: lets be specific then

By Bernard bwoni

In Africa, if you mention the word ‘protectionism’ you are immediately branded ‘anti-progress’, you will have statements like ‘build up competitiveness’ hurled at you and end of story. Well, the more I look into the history of Africa’s economic development or lack of, the more I am convinced that a period of infant industry protection and promotion is exactly what is required to get to that stage where domestic industry can effectively compete on the global stage. Zimbabwe is my point of focus and when protectionism is used in this article this is not to suggest that the country should seal off all its borders to all foreign imports, but rather adopt strategies for imports and exports that facilitates domestic production to build up capacity. The government has to continue considering protectionist policies in specific sectors where the country has the greatest potential to develop comparative advantage and eventually economies of scale. The key terms are strategic and selective protection and promotion. Our neighbours in South Africa have similar protectionist provisions on their key strategic industries and these industries are heavily protected by the country’s domestic procurement threshold policy. There is absolutely no reason why Zimbabwe should not provide this initial period of systematic protection of domestic industry and allow them time to absorb new technologies, build on capacity and thus be able to compete on the global stage.

The infant industry protection debate in Zimbabwe is often limited to the competitiveness argument without further exploration and in-depth analysis of the many crippling constraints domestic producers and industry face. Zimbabwean industries are currently operating at below 40% capacity utilization and it is unrealistic to expect domestic manufacturing to build capacity amid unrestrained competition from cheap foreign imports in sectors where products could easily be produced locally. This then begs the question, where is the sense in exposing fledgling domestic industries to competition from more established external producers who already benefit from greater economies of scale? A good example is the Zimbabwe tea blenders and packers who have been facing stiff competition from cheap imports, which constitutes 25% of the domestic market share. Tanganda Tea Company and Arda Katiyo Tea produces 15000 tonnes of tea against local consumption of 4000 tonnes and about 3000 tonnes are supplied to the local market whilst the rest is exported. Local tea blenders and packers have however lost 25% of this market share to imported teas that have flooded the market. The irony is that the imported tea, which constitutes this 25%, is originally Zimbabwe, which is, exported as bulk tea. What this basically means is that the country exports raw tea and then imports that very same tea packaged and more expensive. Now here is an opportunity for the country to protect such a specific sector to allow them time to build capacity and competiveness. Zimbabwe currently has no tariffs on imported packaged tea products from South Africa yet the South Africans have a number of heavy duties, local content provisions and government procurement provisions all that makes it very expensive for Zimbabwe to put her tea products on South African shelves. These are concerns that have been repeatedly raised by relevant stakeholders in these sectors and such concerns have to be taken seriously.

The case for strategic, selective and systematic infant industry protection remains very relevant in the context of Zimbabwe. The South African auto assembling industry is heavily protected and industries such as clothing and textiles are also strategically protected and have been designated under the country’s local content protectionist policies. In Zimbabwe the local car assemblers such as Willowvale and Quest do not appear to benefit from the same South African-style protection and promotion strategies, which is unfortunate.  In 2011, President Mugabe gave a clear directive that all government institutions should buy their vehicles locally in order to support the local industry and preserve the country’s limited foreign reserves. The recent case of the State Procurement Board (SPB) awarding the tender for the purchase of 139 pick-up trucks at a cost in excess of US$3 million for the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) to Croco Motors and Paza Buster (PVT) Ltd certainly goes against infant industry protection. This is a clear case for domestic industry promotion where Willowvale or Quest would have been given the tender to assemble these vehicles and the knock-on effect on employment creation and on GDP would have been significant. The idea of awarding the tender to a car import company at the expense of local assemblers goes directly against infant industry protection.

In 2014 Zimbabwe imported close to US$500 million worth of cars mainly from Japan, South Africa and UK at a time when Willowvale and Quest local assemblers are operating at below 10% capacity utilization. Of that US$500 million, how much goes towards the national GDP and how many jobs are created from that? If strategic protectionist policies are implemented and assemblers such as Willowvale and Quest are cushioned from competition to enable them to increase their capacity utilization the gains in GDP terms and employment creation would be significant. Sometimes policy makers have to bite the bullet to forge ahead with certain policies for society to realize the gains of such policies.

Zimbabwe’s borders are way too wide open to facilitate domestic industry revival and growth. There are a number of key sectors that require strategic protection and promotion to enable them to build their capacity. Protection and promotion will have the long-term effects of increased employment creation in local industry and tariffs can help offset foreign dumping and help industries like the clothing and textiles and car assembly industry. Protection in the right sectors will boost domestic industry rather stifle it as many have argued otherwise.

During the Ministry of Finance’s First Quarter Treasury Bulletin of 2015, exports for January 2015 alone amounted to US$276 million and imports amounted to US$538.1 million creating a trade gap of US$262.1 million. Merchandise imports, excluding fuel and electricity and services account for 60% of the country’s import bill, indicating the country’s over-reliance on imported goods and services that can easily be produced locally. There is a highly unbalanced relationship between the country’s exports and imports hence the huge trade deficit. The First Quarter Treasury Bulletin of 2014 from January to June the country’s total exports stood at US$1.2 billion down from US$1.5 billion in the same period in 2013. During the same quarter of January to June 2014 the total import bill stood at US$3 billion, down from US$3.9 billion during the same period in 2013. The major imports for the period January to June 2014 were fuel, food, machinery and equipment, wood, paper and plastic and motor vehicles. Fuel accounted for 25.2% of total imports, machinery and equipment 16.5%, food and beverages 16%, wood, paper and plastic products 12%, motor vehicles 8.2%, metal products 6%, fertilizers and chemicals 4.6%, other manufactured goods 2.7%, clothing and fabrics 2.4%, building materials 1% and transport equipment 0.3%. The 16% share of food and beverages in total imports for this First Quarter of 2014 clearly indicates that the country is importing items that can be made locally and in so doing promote the revival and growth of domestic industry. This is where the infant industry protection argument continues to be relevant and this is not just about protecting everything but rather gradual and strategic opening of the economy.

The First Quarter Treasury Bulletin from January to March 2015 clearly highlights the issue of constraints that impact on competitiveness of domestic industry and hence the urgent need for strategic infant industry protection and promotion. Domestic manufacturing remains severely depressed due to infrastructure and financial constraints. The period from January to March 2015, exports amounted to US$716 million compared to US$627 million in the same quarter in 2014. The import bill for the quarter January to March 2015 stood at US$1.5 billion and the major imports were fuel, food, clothes and textiles and motor accessories. The export of textiles and clothing from Zimbabwe has remained constant at around US$25 million over the period from 2005-2015. Zimbabwe has exported over 74000 tonnes of cotton lint on average over the last 25 years, which is reflective of a lack of value addition and transformation domestically. Fabric exports from Zimbabwe represented total earnings of US$24.4 million between 2009 and 2013.  In 2013 alone the fabric export value reached about US$4.2 million. The value of import of fabrics into Zimbabwe between 2009 and 2013 was US$221 million. This trade deficit of US$196.6 million is unsustainable and makes a very strong case for infant industry protection and promotion. The export of clothing from Zimbabwe amounted to US$42.6 million between 2009 and 2013 and during the same period imports of clothes amounted to a total value of US$98.5 million.

There are many examples in Zimbabwe where protectionism would facilitate growth if guided by specific indicators and guidelines. Domestic industry protection has to be combined with a robust export strategy. There is however the counter argument against protectionism.

Bernard Bwoni