I RECENTLY spoke to a group of young entrepreneurs and university students from Emerging Ideas (a group of entrepreneurs and businesspeople from Southern Africa and the United States) and was inspired by what they said.
Young Zimbabweans are well educated, bright, dynamic, innovative and creative. Despite the numerous challenges Zimbabwe has experienced over the last two decades, I met a number of bright, young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs and students. It gives me tremendous hope and optimism for the future of Zimbabwe.
However, some of the unintended consequences of the hyperinflationary period are that many Zimbabweans developed some bad habits, a poor work ethic and apathy. During the period of hyperinflation, people were simply trying to survive. The shortage of basic products meant that many people spent hours in queues away from their workplaces trying to secure food for their families. They were not totally to blame, it was all about survival. Productivity declined dramatically and the economy suffered.
Unfortunately, many of these habits have continued post-dollarisation. After the initial euphoria, many of our old habits crept straight back in. It’s almost like we have forgotten the meaning of work. Even more disturbing is the culture of entitlement in many parts of society. Gone unchecked, this could be disastrous for the country.
It’s not surprising we have all become entrepreneurs, from the street vendors to the CEOs of tech start-ups — people are simply trying to eke out a living in an economy that continues to deteriorate. How much longer can we continue like this?
The economy has been in decline since the middle of 2013 and this year it is likely to decline by 3%. Based on recent corporate results, the decline could be a lot worse. Econet recently reported a 17% decline in revenue and over 50% decline in net income. People are certainly spending less on their phones, but are also drinking a lot less. Delta reported a 4% decline in revenue and profits fell by 13% by end of March 2015. Since then revenues fell a further 6% in the second quarter.
What’s more interesting is the revenue mix. Lager sales fell 17%, sparkling drinks declined by 7%, while opaque beer sales grew by 8%. There is no doubt the economy is in free-fall, but what is of utmost concern is the apparent lack of policy response and the need of urgency in addressing these issues. While government’s efforts to address the country’s outstanding debt is commendable, what are we doing about the real economy? What are we doing to stimulate growth and encourage investment?
The continued decline in the economy is of grave concern. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries reported a further decline in capacity utilisation from 37% in 2014 to 34% in 2015. We are almost back to levels seen in 2006. The only difference is this time we are using the US dollar and can longer print our way out of trouble. Government needs to urgently address the general lack of confidence and apathy. If not, the economy is likely to face significant challenges in 2016.
Falling corporate revenues means lower tax revenues which further burdens the fiscus. Given that recurrent expenditure (that is the civil servant wage bill) accounts for over 80% of the budget, it is only a matter of time before tax revenues fall short of expectations, forcing government to take tough decisions. The options are limited.
The decline in commodity prices driven by the slowdown in the global economy, especially China, and a strengthening US dollar continues to hurt the economy. Exports will continue to decline while imports remain inelastic leading to unmanageable trade deficits. Diaspora flows continue to decline as incomes abroad fall. Zimbabwe needs to urgently find a way to stimulate the economy.
The mining sector is likely to remain depressed for the foreseeable future. Poor rainfall is likely to have a further negative impact on an already poor agricultural production. Given that these two sectors account for over 40% of GDP and 70% of exports, 2016 is likely to be another difficult year for the country.
So why do I remain optimistic? It’s very simple; it’s only when we hit rock bottom that we can build a foundation for recovery. It’s only when we fail that we realise what it is we truly want. In order to build a better Zimbabwe we need to learn to adapt to the changing global environment. We need to be flexible yet disciplined. There are certain things we can do on our own, but we will also need the support of the international community.
I truly believe that Zimbabwe can be great and the future of Zimbabwe belongs to the next generation. Young Zimbabweans are some of the brightest on the African continent. Zimbabweans need to rid themselves of the culture of entitlement.
Indigenisation should be about creating opportunities for the young to prosper and follow their dreams and aspirations. It’s about creating an enabling environment for them to pursue their goals. We need to boost productivity and work harder. We need to develop a Japanese-style work ethic and commit ourselves to building a better Zimbabwe.
Speaking to the youth, I was reminded of what I love most about Zimbabwe. Young Zimbabweans are resilient, dynamic, creative, enterprising, but most of all, hardworking. As I said to the group: “It’s only when you have stared failure in the face will you know what success looks and feels like.”
Zimbabwe’s future rests on the shoulders of the next generation of young Zimbabweans who show tremendous hope and promise.