Rejuvenating the economy: Part One…as strengthening economic base is key

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AT the close of 2017, Chairman Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, made a heartwarming speech.
He expressed his wish to empower the common people of China and spoke of empowering minority groups and strengthening ties with Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet.
The Chinese President did not make any mention of building the highest buildings or the fastest trains, although this is what China has accomplished and is renowned for.
Instead, he identified the following needs as priorities of his office and the Government as a whole; education, employment, income, social services, healthcare, welfare of the aged and the protection of the environment.
These very basic issues that the Chinese Government prioritises are the foundation of the nation.
If addressed, the nation has a strong platform for further development in more specialised or technical sectors.
The lowest parts of the pyramid must be the strongest for the whole structure to be strong.
As Zimbabwe is making strides towards rejuvenating the economy, it is important that the focus of the Government, private sector and the people be on the very basic needs first. Though our targets may be high and seemingly farfetched, it is this approach of starting small and simple that will lead to the accomplishment of greater goals.
For instance, it has long been known that Zimbabwean minerals earn significantly less when sold in their raw state. Beneficiation, which involves purifying among other things, adds value to the commodity.
This also applies in the agricultural sector because if agricultural produce like soya bean is sold in a raw state, it will earn much less than when sold in the form of cooking oil, soy milk, bean curd and so on.
But it is too ambitious to expect a nation that has recently acquired land and only began participating in the agricultural and mining sectors less than 20 years ago to get involved in processing at the extent of developed nations like the UK and US.
Even the white settlers who previously owned the land did not start reaping benefits overnight, but after a long period of work and investment.
For some, it took over one generation for their investments to start paying off.
One needs to simply work towards a clear goal and little by little it will be accomplished.
One reason it is so hard for African nations to add value to plant and mineral produce by way of processing is that Africa was set up as a source of raw materials by our former colonisers.
Asia, because of its high availability of cheap labour, was set up for the processing of commodities.
And Europe as well as the US were set up to be the markets in which the produce would be sold.
We must first break out of this Eurocentric paradigm of what role Africa should play in the world and be masters of our own destiny.
This means we can extract raw materials, process them and even sell them as finished foods on the local market and other places besides the West.
Let us take chrome as an example.
Chrome is classified as a strategic mineral by the West.
It is needed in the production of several goods, including weapons and vehicles.
Zimbabwe has the largest chrome reserves in the world, but often sells this precious mineral in its raw form.
If we begin to process this chrome and use it in making finished products, our earnings from this mineral would increase significantly.
Our imports on beneficiated chrome would also decrease and our nation would be able to effectively compete in the technology sector.
So with beneficiation of minerals and processing of agricultural produce as our goals, we must first focus on strengthening the bases of these primary sectors of the economy – these being the extraction of minerals and the cultivation of crops.
At the moment, the mining sector is very informal and lacks proper investment in terms of mining technology.
A large chunk of the stockholdings in the formal mining sector are also foreign despite the measures taken by the Government to indigenise the mines.
How then can we expect to reap benefits from beneficiation when even the extraction of the minerals is not carried out in a sound manner?
Makorokoza or illegal gold miners do not have to be a burden to the country and economy.
They can become valuable assets if they are empowered by Government by way of formalising their trade.
These miners are often poor villagers who have run out of means to make money.
If trained, given equipment and offered a competent price on the minerals they extract, they would not have any reason to participate on the black-market.
They are readily available, hardworking citizens who lack the appropriate legal papers and mining equipment because of disenfranchisement.
Since mining machinery is too expensive for most indigenous miners, these labour resources can be made use of and this can cause the informal sector to shrink and increase the employment rate.
Calling these illegal miners back into the formal sector can also minimise environmental hazards such as underground digging in areas with buildings or roads above them.
This is a big problem in towns like Kwekwe.
Rural areas like Mberengwa have areas of land that are unusable, even simply for walking, because the ground has become unstable and is full of ditches owing to illegal mining. Formalising the mining sector would help stipulate areas that are to be mined and also allow for land reclamation.
Once the extraction of materials is stabilised, the issue of processing will naturally become more relevant.
Likewise, once the production of crops is stable, the issue of processing them would become a viable option for many.
China is highly dependent on machinery.
However, they have not totally forgone the use of archaic equipment that their ancestors used thousands of years ago.
For example, the papermaking industry of China is now predominantly machine-based.
But there are still individuals and families who prefer to use the ancient Chinese papermaking techniques and equipment.
This may be because the modern papermaking machinery is too expensive.
Their paper is treasured because of its superior quality and cultural appeal.
It also conserves the skill of making paper by hand and increases employment opportunities as opposed to machines that often leave humans without skills and cuts on the need for human labour.
If Zimbabweans in areas with minerals are trained and licensed and begin extracting minerals by way of picks and shovels, after a few years, their earnings could purchase machinery such as sensors and compressors.
Mills and mortars, which are overly expensive, can be made available by the Government and investors from the private sector to complete the beneficiation of minerals such as gold.
African crops and minerals are shipped to Europe at low prices for processing and brought back as finished products from Europe at high prices and this system has greatly benefitted the West.
The West depends not only on our crops and minerals, but on our failure to process them as this gives them employment opportunities and revenue from value addition.
In conclusion, the focus of Government should be on the very basic of needs, such as food security and education; all else will follow.
When production increases, the industry will undoubtedly grow because of increasing competition on the lower levels of production.
So, technical colleges and Government-backed initiatives such as Command Agriculture are examples of how the Government can initialise the process of development in the nation.

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