As the weeks have passed and more and more opportunities presented themselves, I have become increasingly worried, indeed frustrated, that our struggling businesses and artists (in the broad sense) are not on the ground seeking out those opportunities.
This open letter is therefore an attempt to persuade enterprising Zimbabweans to come and have a look, to see what they might be able to do here.
Senegal imports nearly everything, from dish cloths to generators, including — astonishingly — much of its food. This is despite the fact that it produces cotton, cows wander along the motorway and nearly every urban house has a mango tree and some tomato plants.
The reason lies buried in the colonial past, but suffice it to say that most of their produce is still exported raw and bought back at up to 10 times what they got for it in the first place! Hence at my local supermarket all the floor cloths are “Made in France”, the milk is imported from France: so are the crisps, cheese, pasta, rice (also from Turkey, Algeria etc), biscuits, jam…the list goes on and on. Most utensils, clothes and electrical goods are from China or elsewhere, while nearly all the upmarket furniture is imported from Italy, France or elsewhere — and the choice is extremely limited.
Senegal, in other words, is not a manufacturing country, but Zimbabwe is! We at least learned to process our own agricultural products, and we have many industries struggling to sell their goods. Here is a big market, waiting for some competition from African countries for its expensive European imports.
Not only competition, but also greater choice — and here is where our craftspeople and our artists can come into their own. I have spent three months looking for some really nice carpets and rugs — how I long to go to Nyanga, or pop out to Ruwa! There is nothing like rail track furniture here, or the lovely things from Doon Estate or any of the other creative places in Zimbabwe.
This weekend, I’ll probably succumb and buy apples from South Africa again, at my local street market, and doubtless I’ll also pop into the hardware store and run into the young South African who has just bought a part-share and set up his electric-gates and security business at one end of the shop.
Zimbabweans, where are you?
Stevenson is Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Senegal.