UPON announcement of the post-coalition government cabinet, a new indigenisation sheriff was ushered into town.
By Omen Muza
If first impressions are anything to go by, he is not your towering, swashbuckling knight in shining armour or strapping cowboy on horseback brandishing two smoking guns as he braces for the unenviable task of single-handedly rescuing indigenous folk from marauding poverty.
On the contrary, Francis Nhema, the new Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment comes across as this unflappable, inscrutable “dude” who measures his thoughts and chooses his words carefully. He recently made his first public pronouncement on how he is likely to go about business in his new portfolio.
The impression he gave is of a reasonable person willing to think things through and engage with key stakeholders before throwing temper tantrums or resorting to crude language.
At face value, these are some of the qualities that give one the faÇade of approachability and accommodativeness, traits the indigenisation and economic empowerment agenda needs in order to disarm its critics and help to move the programme forward without the burden of legacy issues.
Indigenisation does not have to be fearsome, does it? Interestingly, Nhema appears to be fully aware that the way he is perceived could actually turn out to be his trump card.
“I think it (the perception that he is an introvert reputedly of moderate stance) will make my work easier,” he said.
From hawkish to dovish?
Strategically, Nhema’s appointment appears to me to be one of the areas in which President Robert Mugabe got it right, at least from a character-job match point of view. You need different personalities for different stages of projects, particularly those with revolutionary pretensions.
Given the “momentum” the indigenisation programme had arguably gathered during former indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere’s tenure and how he appeared to be comfortable in his indigenisation skin, it certainly was tempting for Mugabe to keep Kasukuwere in that portfolio, the same way Joseph Made has been retained in Agriculture.
The reality, however, is that even as you embark on a revolution, sometimes you need someone who will come in and give the revolution some evolutionary characteristics.
And Nhema appears to fit that bill because his approach lends itself to a more evolutionary rather than revolutionary process, at least on paper.
Now you need someone who can focus more on the diplomatic aspects of his mandate while consolidating the gains made so far. It would appear that a subtle transition has just been made from the hawkish to the dovish, or has it? Time will tell.
Once a banker …?
With traceable — though not glowing — experience in banking, Nhema is expected to understand the key banking issues, something which could put paid to erstwhile running battles between his ministry and the office of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Nhema was once head of the Zimbabwe Building Society before it was acquired by FBC Holdings.
Regrettably, previous indigenisation protagonists sometimes allowed mutual engagement to degenerate to the level of open character assassination and gross mudslinging.
More inclusive view
My impression of the new Indigenisation minister is that he is seeking a broader, more inclusive view of empowerment which is not entirely or solely dollars and cents-based, but deliberately places more emphasis on youth empowerment and educational initiatives.
With his first official public statement he appears to have changed the narrative from one of cool, calculated commercial logic to a more humanised version of empowerment based on the quest for sustainability. The focus is less on soulless corporates and more on real vulnerable people who bleed when cut.
“So, before you talk about the industry, before you talk about any other sectors that are formulated, that are existing, that are institutionalised, we have a lot of people whom we have to look after,” said Nhema.
When quizzed about his vision for the empowerment programme, he said it would basically revolve around making “sure that wherever possible, everyone is given access to empowerment and that everyone is given the information that leads them to be empowered”.
His view that “when you educate people, you are empowering people”, appears more sustainable because in the long-run, a model that is based on transforming the people themselves instead of just changing the systems or situations surrounding them is bound to be more sustainable.
“Once you give a person a skill at that level, that is how they get empowered. That is what empowerment is all about. You can get a certain percentage and not know what that company is all about and you do not know what is going on. You do not know the profit and loss. Where is empowerment?” asked Nhema who is apparently British-educated.
I am re-assured by his apparent desire to ensure the education system, in particular the vocational training institutions, are adequately equipped so that they can “churn out good citizens who will come out and contribute to the economy of this country”.
“That is the only way we can empower them,” added Nhema.
Even though he insists on complying with the law on indigenisation of the banking sector, he appears to bring a sober perspective on the issue to the table probably because of his own experience as a banker.
First he asks some probing questions, which to me signals a readiness to first understand the implications of potential actions. He appears to genuinely want to engage before pulling the trigger or engaging in any name-calling exercise.
“Let us look at the financing sector,” he said. “What is it that you want to achieve? When you empower people; where do you empower them? What do we do with our finances? Where do you get the money? What is your market? What are your strategies?”
Walking the talk
I think the minister has made a good first impression. Now he must walk the talk. If he manages to do that, indigenisation will finally shake off its tag as largely an elitist programme and become a force of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Muza is a banker who writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org