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Reform now the key word

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe was in the past week away in Singapore, Kuwait and Dubai in UAE.

The Zimbabwe Independent

Although his trip was a mix of business and family issues, we hope he will bring big takeaways –– not in the form of trinkets from his junkets in those countries but ideas.

Singapore, where Mugabe always shuttles to, and UAE are now some of the most prosperous countries in the world.

However, it took vision, ideas and good leadership to develop those countries. While resources were central, reforms were key.

In the case of Singapore, a former British colony like Zimbabwe, it took the reformist leadership of Lee Kuan Yew during his three decades in power to transform the city-state from a relatively underdeveloped colonial outpost with no natural resources to a successful economy.

As a result, Singapore is now one of the world’s leading commercial hubs, with the fourth-biggest financial centre and one of the five busiest ports in the world. It has the third-highest per capita in terms of purchasing power parity and ranks high in education, healthcare (one reason why Mugabe goes there) and technology.

Despite its small population, limited land space and lack of natural resources, Singapore has thrived since its independence from Britain in 1963.

There was no magic involved. Lee often said Singapore’s only natural resources are its people and their strong work ethic.

Zimbabwe, with all its vast natural resources and human capital, is nowhere nearer to Singapore even though the country has been free for 33 years.

So what is the difference? There are many but the key is lack of serious leadership and good governance. Zimbabwe, which has more than 40 different types of precious minerals, including diamonds, platinum, gold, coal, and iron ore, as well vast fertile agricultural land, good human capital and a strong work ethic, remains an outpost of poverty and suffering, like many other African countries similarly endowed.

The trouble is we don’t have an open-minded, reformist and pragmatic leadership. Instead we have corrupt and incompetent politicians obsessed with winning, retaining and maintaining power largely for its own sake, and in the process destroying the country through leadership and policy failures.

Zimbabwe lacks practical economic models, policies and programmes. What we have instead are demagogic designs, populist policies and unworkable programmes like the ill-conceived and unstructured land reform and indigenisation initiatives.

We all want Zimbabwe to succeed but such methods don’t work. There are many enlightened examples from where Zimbabwe can learn. Closer to home is Botswana which lifted itself, mainly during Ketumile Masire’s era, from being a dusty former British protectorate at independence in 1966 to one of the most thriving countries in Africa.

In far-flung Asia, besides Singapore, there is also China, which some now see as an economic miracle. But there are no miracles in economics; it took Deng Xiaoping’s reforms to put China on a path to recovery from Mao’s damaging economic legacy to where it is today.

Xi Jinping recently announced further reforms. The key word is reform. We hope Mugabe, at last, learnt a thing or two from his latest overseas trip.

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