The Sunday News
HE Emmerson D Mnangagwa, Economic Dialogue
One exciting headache we in Government grapple with daily is the demand for foreign currency which has now more than doubled.
Exciting because this unprecedented rise in demand for currency speaks to growing business activity in the economy.
There is a demand for more raw materials and more machinery, both in the wake of greater capacity utilisation, and as more and more factories begin to retool, expand and/ or modernise.
The pressure on our foreign exchange thus comes from this double need and thrust whose positive outcome is greater productivity, rising exports and more jobs. Many factors account for this good turn. There is the positive business sentiment which continues to improve in the country, even against recent currency shocks. Much of this optimism is occasioned by policy reforms, policy predictability and policy consistency. There are also a slew of export incentives which we have put in place to encourage businesses in general, and to stimulate exports in particular.
Besides, the acquisition of non-performing loans worth about US$1,13 billion by the Zimbabwe Asset Management Corporation (Zamco) has given a second chance to companies which had either shut down, or were on the verge of doing so.
This is far removed from misperceptions of Zamco as a vehicle for unethical patronage. And positive outcomes are now showing in the economy.
Figures from our National Social Security Authority indicate more than a million-strong registered workforce. This is the highest employment level ever in our country, with strong prospects of more jobs coming in the future. At a recent meeting I had with the business community, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries corroborated this by reporting that 800 000 jobs had been created so far.
On the ground, leading exporters like Zimasco, Bindura Nickel Corporation, Paramount Garments, Treger Holdings, Tanganda Tea Company, Suzan General Trading, have been reporting quantum gains in exports. The central bank has the facts and figures which attest to all this. More broadly, the economy is projected to grow at more than four percent this year, and is expected to scale up to above five percent next year. Growth in the gold sector has been phenomenal, rising from the 24 tonnes we managed the whole of last year, to over 30 tonnes recorded so far. The target of 34 tonnes is now within our sights.
Tobacco, too, made impressive gains. A record of 252,3 million kilogrammes was delivered to our auction floors, up from 190 million kilogrammes delivered in 2017. By September this year, the value of our exports stood at US$3,01 billion, itself an 18,1 percent increase from the US$2,55 billion realised between January and September last year.
This positive trend shows we will soon break the cyclical shortage of foreign exchange which affects the economy every year this time until the next tobacco crop. More export streams will soon kick in to help break this negative currency shortage cycle. Above all, we have fortified our position as a food-secure nation, with over a million tonnes of maize delivered this last season. Grain is a key area for import substitution.
This is the story of our economy, which is also the story of our nation at this stage. Everything points to recovery and then buoyancy.
Yet the same story reads differently in some sections of our media. There everything is recast as gloom and doom as if there are no positive developments. Daily I meet delegations and visitors from different parts of the world. To the number, they express surprise that the country they read about before they visit is hardly the same country they find and live in when they arrive. They confess to a marked positive discrepancy. Further, they remark and ask: “Mr President, it is your people and Press here, not foreigners or foreign Press, responsible for writing down your country. Why?”
Presently, Zimbabwe is like a bright flame to a moth. Businesspeople from all corners of the globe head here to scout for opportunities which our country offers. They are unanimous that Zimbabwe has some of the best opportunities found in emerging markets. Foreign companies doing business here post very good results. Further, these visitors commend the peace and security which abide here. They remind me that the challenges we face are common to most nations, and are teething and certainly surmountable.
They admire the spirited way we tackle them. Not so for some of us and some sections of our media. For them mundane problems here are made to read like rare monstrosities, indeed like unheard of aberrations!
Much worse, these problems are made to define and summarise us as a people and as a nation. And even in the face of clear breakthroughs, problems have to be imported or invented.
It is as if nothing flies here except problems, failure and catastrophes. Yet our nation still stands, and hopefully counts every day in the year. And in view of the above facts, does so with well-founded hope and deserved expectations. I concede that pessimism is a human mood, and one often understandable in a given set of circumstances or against a certain history.
I concede, too, that the role of the opposition is to criticise. But not just to criticise and to be negative for the sake of it. Not with so many recovery “shoots” sprouting, some of which are fast maturing into sprite and promising saplings. All this has left me wondering why all this negativity, more so when most of those who bad mouth and “write down” the country do so from here, are educated enough to read our hopeful and ever improving circumstances, and live and belong here as nationals and citizens.
They know and see the above facts and figures, all of which are in the public domain, and which continue to motivate many foreign investors who now patronise our country. Surely these facts and figures cannot be invisible to the opposition, to our newsmen and women, and in our newsrooms? So why this unremitting negativism? There is more to this negativism than just opposition politics and sceptical journalism.
Here is how. Far from always being scientific, the notion of country risks is largely worked out on intuition and attitudes. Our politics and our media are key in shaping intuitions and attitudes, both here and abroad. And herein lies the dollar cost to our economy arising from toxic politics and unbalanced negative reporting. Both ills come back to bite the economy, and therefore all of us, when the country goes abroad to engage and re-engage, and to negotiate for credit lines. In those negotiating for a bad talk and writing confront us as fears and apprehensions that discourage and turn away would-be investors, or as country risks which we pay for dearly through high interest on credit facilities. It is a well-known fact that capital is a coward. Or both ills became false and unwarranted questions we have to answer to out there, protractedly; false benchmarks by which we get judged and even condemned. The bad talk turns into a premium the country has to pay to compensate for falsely invented country risks. And when we haplessly protest against exaggerated country risk claims, our would-be benefactors draw our attention to “reports from Zimbabwe”, from “home”.
They will refer us to negative media reports and uninformed opinions which even though penned in ignorance or playfulness, suddenly assume a seriousness out there which decides our fate as an economy and as a nation. As a consequence we get rated down, and thus forfeit deserved opportunities. Such is the dollar cost of the negativity we churn out here, often if not always in the face of clear positives we strangely seem unwilling to write home about.
This is a terrible complex we have bred in our politics and our journalism: that of proclaiming home is worst. It is as if we do not know that perceptions do matter, and often develop stronger wings and faster feet than hard facts.
That is why perception indices nowadays matter more in global investor estimates than numerical ones. Indeed why the fate of a country can easily be decided around nebulous and non-scientific notions of political and social risks, many of which are mere constructs. Often, these arbitrary or unilateral notions of country risks have become respectable excuses for privileging prejudices and dissenting views above hard facts. Indeed they have become defensible foreign policy tools and avenues for exerting political pressure and exacting undue concessions from vulnerable states while those doing so all the time appear business-like and driven by blind norms of the market.
When you add the fact of continued sanctions, and also our bad history of debt servicing and defaulting, which we are now tackling, it just gets you to wonder why we compound our already negative country risk.
Two instances suffice to convey my growing concern at this gratuitous negativity which now seem a national pastime.
Recently an oil and gas prospecting company which over the years has been active in the Zambezi basin, reported preliminary indications which strongly point to a good find.
Elsewhere, indications half as bright as ours here would have been met with spontaneous outbursts of sustained national euphoria. Not here where they are met with cynicism and derisive disbelief.
We witnessed a determined effort to rubbish the findings; not on any given scientific grounds, but merely from visceral scepticism and an inexplicable propensity for negativity. After more scientific evidence was proffered, the attack shifted to rubbishing the company delivering the news! On the basis of what scientific or business authority, we all wondered.
It is as if negativity and cynicism have become a new science and a powerful reflex in our country. Is that what opposition and journalism are all about? I don’t think so. As I write, we are about to commemorate the first anniversary of dramatic events of November last year which positively changed the course of our national history, and even setting new precedent in world politics.
I am referring here to Operation Restore Legacy in which Zimbabweans of all colour, creed and politics participated to usher in a new political and economic dispensation we now live in and enjoy today.
What distinguished this revolution from all others which have happened on our African continent and elsewhere in the world is the sheer peace which accompanied it.
Yet reading through review articles in newspaper columns today, the focus is on “guns”, and not on “roses” which made the whole episode such a unique and an enchanting model in social change, unexampled anywhere in the world.
Indeed these negative pieces seem to suggest a sense of national regret. I could summon many more examples, including reading of selective portions from observer mission reports on the recent July 30 harmonised elections in order to rubbish our engagement and re-engagement efforts, both of which have made remarkable advances.
Not to mention major investment projects which are at various stages of implementation and processing, principally in the energy and mining sectors.
The Chinese-funded Hwange power project is just one of them, but remains typically invisible. There is a tile project taking shape near Norton, which again grows invisible, while small problems at a quarry project in the same neighbourhood are highly photogenic and writable!
Just how do we forge ahead economically with such an entrenched and aggressive negative portion in the national mindset?
With such frightening levels of lack of self-belief and self-pride? With such a fascination with problems only, even against overbearing positives? Things have got to change, principally our attitude and our whole sense of responsibility to our country and its prospects. It is, after all, our only country, meaning our fortunes or misfortunes ebb and flow with how well it is perceived by and in the wider world. We cannot recover, let alone grow, this economy and prosper this nation on the staple of gratuitous negativity and pessimism. Recovery starts with self-belief, the “yes-we-can” chant.
Lest I am misunderstood, no one is suggesting Zimbabwe is problem-free; that it is all glee as to deserve “sunshine” politics and journalism.
We have our own share of challenges and problems — as do all countries of the world — and which should never be romanced or romanticised.
But I doubt if ours are the worst problems in the world; I doubt if ours is the worst country in the same world. It is simply untrue and insincere to claim that our problems are the worst; that these are insurmountable, or that they are not being tackled head-on and resolved; that we are failures!
Equally, it is simply untrue that we are the most corrupt nation, let alone the most tolerant of corruption. We have declared zero tolerance on corruption and have acted on cases that are founded, but within the confines of due process to ensure rights are respected, and the rule of law respected.
The motions of justice can be frustratingly slow, yet that is the way it works. There is no culture of impunity here. Under the New Dispensation, democracy has “broken out” and continues to blossom. Civil liberties are at their most secure since our Independence. More continues to be done to deepen and secure them.
The recent, unfortunate outbreak of cholera and typhoid roused national ardour, and triggered far-reaching interventions which continue and are likely to change our urban landscape forever.
National peace, stability and unity are secure and assured. There is no famine here. The economy is on the rebound. All these are great positives which deserve celebrating, but without glossing over or minimising our challenges. The march to 2030 is on and unstoppable.
Zimbabwe must be reported on, warts and all. But it is neither accurate nor fair to suggest her only face is all warts and nothing else.