In the history of every nation, each generation seems to face its own unique challenges. When people rise to face adversity and they successfully get past whatever hindrances they may be facing, they are usually celebrated as heroes by the next generation.
Earlier this week Zimbabwe celebrated heroes of the liberation struggle – men and women, and indeed young boys and girls who fought racist colonial domination.
Zimbabwe has a relatively young population, many of whom did not experience colonialism first hand.
While the contribution of liberation war heroes cannot be overlooked, the new generation is facing challenges and desperately needs new heroes. Most of the ‘born free’ generation have not experienced a period of sustained economic stability.
The country is once again facing a period of adversity and it is time that new heroes emerged to save the day.
Many ‘born frees’ have memories of the disaster that was Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). Meant to herald a new era of modernised, competitive, export-led industrialisation the programme soon turned out to be anything but that.
Coinciding with a bad drought in its early years ESAP soon became synonymous with rising prices and retrenchments. Loan agreements emanating from ESAP stretched the country’s foreign and domestic debt to unmanageable proportions. Many were left highly suspicious of the motives of the IMF and the World Bank, champions of the programme.
At the turn of the century came the land reform programme which many blame for destroying what was a thriving agricultural sector. Production of many agricultural commodities which was at that time at a peak declined significantly and in many cases is yet to recover.
Tobacco, milk, wheat and other agricultural products all had record production at the turn of the century and are yet to recover fully.
After land reform came a decade of hyperinflation, considered by many to be the worst period in Zimbabwe’s economic history.
Industries closed down and scores of young, educated people of productive age emigrated. Skills shortage ensued and industries that rely on specialised technological knowledge suffered. Although some professionals returned after dollarisation the impact of brain drain is still felt to this day.
In the past five years there seemed to be a reversal of the economic decline. After the dollarization of the economy, many sectors enjoyed growth. Although most of it was in effect just recovery of lost ground, it was enough to rouse optimism in many people.
Recently however even the green shoots that had begun to emerge are quickly wilting. With not near enough export earnings and foreign investment still well below regional comparatives, the country has become starved of liquidity. Signs are already apparent that the growth phase is over. Many companies are retrenching. Others are failing to pay workers and creditors on time. Yet others have already closed shop.
What Zimbabwe needs now is a generation of economic heroes who will take the country out of poverty.
Getting political freedom was one thing, but now that is water under the bridge, there is a dire need for people who will take this country forward economically. Indeed economic emancipation is one of the things that yesteryear heroes fought for.
Some have tried to take on this role through the indigenisation drive. The results have so far been uninspiring. The model has mostly been redistributive rather than creating new growth.
Zimbabwe needs entrepreneurs who can start new businesses that are relevant to the economy. We also need business people who can take advantage of the much-touted natural resources that are at the disposal of the country.
Most big businesses in Zimbabwe are simply a continuation of UDI-era companies that were started to cater for a sanctions ridden Rhodesia.
In many cases the businesses are less well-run. Few new enterprises were developed by exploiting a new idea that differentiates Zimbabwe from the rest of the world.
In many countries today new small businesses or ‘start-ups’ as they are colloquially called are the life blood of new-look economies.
In the USA for example many tech-based companies run by their young founders have become multi-billion dollar listed entities driving the economy. Facebook is an obvious example.
Zimbabwe’s start-ups need not be in the technology sphere. We have our own areas of strength which we could exploit. One big difference between us and countries were entrepreneurship thrives is that we do not have an enabling environment. There have been complaints about how difficult it is to register a new company.
Many complain that government offices that give permits and licenses are fraught with corruption, red-tape and incompetence. If these problems can be done away with perhaps more people would have an easier time starting businesses and getting the economy back on track.
It is time for a new breed of heroes to rise to the challenge and help this country thrive, the problems discussed above notwithstanding.