HomeBusiness DigestMarketplace of ideas: a year of contributions

Marketplace of ideas: a year of contributions

By Alex Tawanda Magaisa

IT was the worst of times, it was the best of times”. I borrow these words from that great storywriter Charles Dickens.

“Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>It was in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. But if he were with us today, he could have been describing the situation obtaining in our own country. Times are hard for many but equally so good for a small minority.

For 12 months now I have “colonised” this space to offer ideas and analyses of our situation. I have spent much effort on matters of corporate governance, a subject that has attracted great interest in Zimbabwe in the wake of Governor Gideon Gono’s maiden monetary policy statement and the unfolding crisis in the financial sector.

That crisis has provided a context within which we have been able to discuss key issues of corporate governance and offer ideas on how our situation might be enhanced.

After securing a platform, writing these weekly articles has been both exciting and hard – exciting because it is my area of research and the column provided me with an outlet to share ideas with my fellow countrymen but hard because this is not a discussion about a hypothetical scenario but an analysis about the reality of my own people.

It is a matter of immediate importance but it is one that also requires a sober approach. It has been both a humbling and fulfilling experience — thanks to cyberspace. I have through email met many people whose faces I will never recognise when I walk the streets of Harare or Bulawayo nor will they recognise mine. Through those articles my name has met many people than I have ever met in my life-time. It’s been a pleasure to interact with Zimbabweans from business, education and social ranks in response to the contributions.

The response kept my motivation to make more contributions because I knew then that my efforts were not in vain – at least some people took time to read. We did not always agree but the comments and questions provide useful starting points for the development of future articles.

My primary motivation has been to place ideas in the public domain — to share that which I have learnt with a people whose wealth and effort helped me to get to this point. I have profound belief in the power of ideas. As John F Kennedy stated: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

The generation of ideas, debate and action upon ideas has been my greatest inspiration. It is often argued that academics do nothing but Victor Hugo reminds us that: “A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labour and there is an invisible labour.”

It is for us to think, research and generate ideas and it is for others to act upon those ideas for the value of the idea lies in applying it. When I started, I never intended to write lectures but I have been overwhelmed by the response from the higher education constituency.

It has led me to think that either the candidates genuinely find the articles useful or there is nothing else for them to draw upon — which may be a sign of the dearth of academic platforms for rational debate. We are exploring possibilities of producing a collection of key articles to make them more accessible and for this sponsors are obviously welcome.

The importance of sharing ideas can never be overstated and I draw a lesson from George Bernard Shaw’s wise counsel that: “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

I hope that those who have read the articles can claim to have added an idea to their store of knowledge. My regret however, is the lack of rational debate over issues that arise. Even our ancestors counselled that “rume rimwe harikombi churu” (one cannot go it alone).

It would be more useful and indeed interesting if we could have more rational debate. I have no doubt that other people have different views. I have no claim to a monopoly to the truth in ideas. There is nothing wrong with healthy and rational debate over ideas. Unfortunately most debates are plagued by the tendency to reduce arguments to personal attacks.

Therefore, once one takes a particular position he/she is labelled as either belonging to this or that political party.

I think we must rise above such general characterisations and take ideas for what they are and use them if they contribute to the collective benefit.

To quote Hyman Rickover: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

We need to start engaging in and acting upon ideas and less about personalities or their stations in life.

During the course of the year two particular emails on one Friday morning caught my attention. One stated that I was being too hard on the RBZ and too lenient on the players in the banking sector.

The other said I was being too hard on the banking sector and too lenient on the RBZ. Those two emails gave me pleasure — I was satisfied because I thought, if the two “sides” from their respective platforms think I am being unfair to them about the same article then to the neutral observer that article must be impartial.

I never write with the intention of hurting anyone — only with the purpose of contributing to the marketplace of ideas with the hope that those who have power to act upon them see alternative approaches to dealing with common problems.

Our friends from the East, the Chinese, have a proverb: “Those who play the game do not see it as clearly as those who watch.”

So when we offer ideas, it is because we think there are things we can see from different angles and that would be useful to other actors.

I lay no exclusive claim to the creation of all the ideas that I put across — I benefit immensely from my research in the academy and from interacting with diverse nationals from various countries with whom I ply my trade. We do not need to re-invent the wheel but let us learn from their experiences in order that we do not repeat their mistakes.

The events of the last year demonstrate our failures on many fronts over the last decade. But we must take strength from the wise words that “our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” and in similar vein take inspiration from Henry Ford’s advice that “failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

Through the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) we jumped into the deep-end of capitalism without the appropriate checks and balances. The father of free-market economics Adam Smith warned that “under capitalism the more money you have, the easier it is to make money, and the less money you have, the harder. Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. The affluence of the rich supposes the indigence of the many.”

This we have seen and continue to see in Zimbabwe — the crisis has been harsh for many but it has also catapulted a small caste. The question is whether we can take steps to mitigate the harsh effects of this system — for wealth generated without solid foundations of productivity will sooner or later crumble.

The idea is not to destroy entrepreneurship, but to rationalise it in order to balance the individual and collective interests.

The generation and presentation of ideas to the marketplace has been personally fulfilling.

I conclude with Barry Jones’ sobering thoughts on the subject of ideas. He stated: “If you have the same ideas as everybody else but have them one week earlier than everyone else then you will be hailed as a visionary. But if you have them five years earlier you will be named a lunatic”.

I do not wish to be called a visionary, for that I am not but I also hope that these ideas will not wait for five years for by then when they look with the benefit of hindsight, I will be at risk of being called a lunatic.

*Alex Tawanda Magaisa is Baker & McKenzie Lecturer in Corporate & Commercial Law at the University of Nottingham. Contact: alex.magaisa@Nottingham.ac.uk

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