The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
THE vision to drive development and fight marginalisation in the socio-economic sectors of Matabeleland region found expression in the formation of the Matabeleland Development Initiative (MDI). The initiative seeks to improve livelihoods in the communities’ education, economic and social platforms through broad based sectoral engagement and investment promotion with willing regional and international partners.
Sunday News Features Editor, Vincent Gono engaged MDI Executive Director Mr Vusani Khumalo to get an update on the progress so far in achieving the objective of the initiative whose aim has been complemented by the Government’s Zimbabwe is open for business mantra and the Constitutional mandate of devolution that is being implemented.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
VG: I understand the Matabeleland Development Initiative was formed with the objective of assisting in developing various economic and social sectors of the region (Matabeleland). How far have you gone in realising that goal?
VK: Following the successful hosting of the Education Indaba and the Business Dinner Gala in 2018, MDI has continued to make strides in its quest to contribute progressively to the sustainable development of the region. In 2018, MDI committed its energies towards ensuring that the ideology of a common and shared vision becomes a reality and this remains an ongoing process. In this regard, there has been robust and progressive dialogue in its interpersonal forums as well as on Facebook and WhatsApp platforms with a sum membership in excess of 1600.
This process is in particular significant in that it is consistent with the primary objective of MDI as the hub of development partnership through creating platforms of engagement and dialogue amongst the citizens of the region. Out of these engagements, we have witnessed the establishment of support mechanism for the disadvantaged of our societies, most importantly at a social level such as collective contributions towards member funeral expenses and school fees as well as expert ideas that seek to transform the state of education in the region.
For example, recently a member of the MDI solicited for financial support for a student who had passed his A’ Levels and MDI members are already contributing towards ensuring this young man realises his dreams. MDI is also working with its members in setting up a Football and Netball Academy which would not only promote talent but be a proactive measure in dealing with issues of Alcohol and Drug Abuse as well as teenage pregnancies, issues that are becoming rampant in the region. Thus MDI is not an organisation, it is a FAMILY.
What was also most profound in 2018 was the setting up of the Brooklyn Bus Disaster Fund and the subsequent identification of the beneficiary family to this fund. This to MDI, was a test-drive towards a broad goal of establishing a regional development fund, which will also host the Education Fund, a key proposal emerging from the Education Indaba.
Furthermore, social media dialogue triggered debate around agriculture value chains and how local farmers can not only contribute to the value chain, but also benefit sustainably through ownership of strategic entities within the value chain. Resultantly, MDI launched its pilot sectoral project later in 2018, the Matabeleland Development Initiative Agricultural Association MDIAG, headed independently by individuals within the sector. Legal and governance aspects of the Association are being dealt with by the Interim Committee.
It is our hope that once the Agricultural Sector programme has gained momentum with support from National Farming Associations, the Government and corporate sector, we would move on to the another sector. MDI is also in the process of completing strategic MoUs with various partners in the region through which new programmes, both of a social and economic nature would ensue. We are also pursuing a partnership that will result in the establishment of a regional cultural centre whose purpose would be to preserve local culture and promote eco-tourism. These would be unveiled in due course.
VG:There was mention of trying to lure investment into the region from either diasporans or other investors. Has there been movement towards achieving that as well?
VK: It is our firm belief that the MDI’s thrust into economic development must be informed by research and guided by policy. While it is clear that investment to the region must be prioritised as highlighted by the dinner gala engagements, in order to bring the region to be at par with other regions with regards to economic development, such investment must be guided by research, a clear vision and policy in order to guarantee maximum output. In this regard, MDI’s Economic and Investment portfolios committed the last quarter of 2018 in developing its investment policy and carrying out research on investment opportunities in the region.
In developing these instruments, MDI worked in partnership with an Economist from the National University of Science and Technology, Dr Nqobizitha Dube as well as a Bulawayo-born banker currently with JPMORGAN and CHASE in the United States of America, Dr Percy Z Salamba.
In 2019, these instruments would not only direct MDI Approach to Economic Development but would also trigger and guide dialogue around the economics of the region within the public and private sectors and in the diaspora.
MDI would be soliciting for financial support from both local and international philanthropists in hosting the Regional Economic Dialogue where both the MDI Economic Vision for Matabeleland and Investment Policy would be unveiled. It is important to note that the sectoral approaches as well as the MoUs being pursued are an integral part of the broad strategic approach to regional and indeed national economic development.
Again, to complement the economic approach, MDI would be building diaspora hubs where many citizens from the region are based in order to properly coordinate direct foreign investment.
These form part of the long term economic goals of the MDI.
VG: What challenges have you been facing and how best do you think they can be resolved?
VK: Most challenges are external, that is, of an economic and political nature which not only limit access to the necessary financially support but also dampens the spirit to invest in local initiatives.
However, there is renewed pessimism amongst many in the diaspora who feel that Zimbabwe and the region still provides lucrative investment opportunities and MDI is continually being tasked with the responsibility of identifying and coordinating these opportunities.
Internally, it is prudent to note that MDI is a growing initiative, dynamic and thus continue to build its capacity especially in terms of personnel.
We thus invite experts and young graduates from the region who wish to volunteer their expertise to visit our offices. Those who also wish to make donation in cash or kind especially office equipment can also contact our projects manager.
VG: A lot of people are excited about devolution of power especially in the Matabeleland region. How is it going to assist in the development of previously marginalised communities and how do you see the idea as an initiative?
VK: Devolution is a Constitutional imperative and consequently, the empowering statutes must not be interpreted narrowly.
Not only would the broader approach to devolution trigger regional development but this would also translate to national economic development, a critical narrative at this juncture.
Communities must not only have access to their resources, however, there must be unfettered and sustainable management of such resources in order to support local economies.
Economic development would be meaningless unless communities become a significant part of the value-chains and control the means of production while at the same time holding their leaders accountable.
Devolution must therefore essentially deal with three aspects: ownership, control and management. MDI Economic Vision for Matabeleland deals extensively with the key tenants of devolution from an economic point of view.
It is our firm belief that there is need for deepened dialogue around devolution at community and leadership level in order to dispel any myths and misconceptions.
In conclusion, MDI continues to connect people and build whole communities through dialogue as a precursor to sustainable development.
Our 2019 programmes would be more transformative and inclusive.