The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (zitf) — the country’s premier trade exhibition showcase — held last month got me thinking. It was great to attend the event on the business days and as I moved around I had an epiphany.
State of the Art with Admire Kudita
The world over, traditional economic powers have had to grapple with the economic rise of the South East Asian states such as China (which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan in a way), Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. China’s growth is stupendous.
Chinese goods flood world markets, including the United States. This is aided by its lowly-valued yuan.
In simple terms, it is cheap to import Chinese goods, let alone to have them manufacture them over there and a coterie of global brands from Apple to Nike has found the lure of China irresistible.
So there I am at the ZITF and I am reflecting. What will Africa do to stake its claim on the global economy? Almost like China, we have about a billion of us Africans. China has 1,3 billion people. But we are largely unharnessed into a formidable synergistic market that can leverage on those said numbers in the manner that China and India have done.
I have been grappling with this thought for quite some time. I had the conversation with the ZimTrade CE Sithembiso Pilime a few years ago over the matter.
My sense has been that the traditional industrial base, as we have come to know it, has been rendered obsolete by the new economy and the rise of China as an economic titan. We may not be able to revive all faltering sectors of the Zimbabwean economy.
Clearly, we are not viable to produce some goods as competitively as the Chinese. We may, however, be still able to produce certain goods and services competitively. Our tourism and cultural product is an example. These sectors fall into what is called the knowledge economy. If we can explore the intersection of these sectors with new media and technology, we have an opportunity to succeed.
Selling cultural product
Let me explain myself. France, for example, is a place famous for its history, (Napoleon), tourism and culture (think the Eiffel Tower, cafés, perfumes, couture, wine and the Bohemian lifestyle). According to a France 24 report, over 83 million people visit France annually. France is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Now we all know that France’s appeal is the promise of a Bohemian lifestyle and its joie de vivre.
That is the allure of France, and its unique selling point. Obviously, this scenario is a culmination of years of cultivation.
Still, France stands as an example of a country that places its best foot forward. It is not an accident that even Disney decided to make it the European host of its famed theme park franchise.
My point, therefore, is that we can learn from the French. Eighty-three million tourists contribute 7% to France’s GDP.
Tourism is essential to France’s foreign trade. As of 1999, tourism has accounted for the main balance of payments surplus, according to French government reports. Tourist trade achieved a balance of nearly €13 billion (US$14 billion) in 2012, compared to €7,5 billion in 2011.
Protracted stays in commercial accommodation have led to increased spending by foreign tourists in France, amounting to a total of €35,8 billion.
Bulawayo has all the elements to make it a thriving place of leisure to some extent. The natural endowments, the illustrious history, the old world architecture, the medley of cultures, all coalesce to form a picture of a city which may generate tourist traffic and earn this country the much-needed foreign exchange.
There must, however, be a deliberate policy, not necessarily by government, but by stakeholders; most importantly the city fathers and people working across the cultural and racial divide. Durban in South Africa did it. It is now the regional tourist and leisure capital.
A close assessment of the situation on the ground, reveals that the human capital required to make this happen does not reside in one community. From the restaurants which serve foreign cuisine (that needs to change), to the places of leisure that play music and offer other entertainment activities, there must be emphasis on the city’s distinct tapestry and unity of purpose in pushing Brand Bulawayo forward.
The local institutions of higher education must also offer programmes to institutionalise the city’s teeming multitude of creatives (who by the way have been making do without). This is a sure way to start to compete in a global economy. Being creative and unique is the only way to win.