Why Zimbabwe’s economy is failing to turn around

Why Zimbabwe’s economy is failing to turn around

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa

Simon Bere

AFTER more than 10 years of failed attempts at economic recovery, it must be time to take a hard look at our economy and find out why we are failing, for it is when we do our failure analysis that we avoid Albert Einstein’s proverbial madness of doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.
The following are some of the reasons why the economy has failed, and continues to fail to emerge from the woods.
Lack of motivation to change the economic
Although there might be some individual and groups that are strongly motivated to change the economic situation, the general state of affairs is that of poor motivation to change the economic situation.
The reasons for this poor motivation vary from being completely happy with the current situation, loss of hope and fear of personal loss if the situation changes.
For example, people who are used to amass wealth through corruption and manipulation of the system, rather than through merit and personal effort will fight tooth and nail to keep the economic situation as it is.
The majority of Zimbabweans, including many business and economic leaders, have reached a point of despondence and hopelessness after years of seeing their efforts amounting to nothing. They no longer see light at the end of the tunnel even though they may project a positive outlook in public.
Having self-destructive mindset
There is nothing more dangerous and more powerful than mindset in economic affairs as in general life.
Yes, we talk about mindset a lot, but I doubt that we fully appreciate the fact that our economy is suffering purely from our self-destructive mindset than from anything else that we can think of.
Mindsets are specific patterns of thinking that determine how we make decisions, how we respond to situations and what we do in any given situation.
The problem with mindsets is that they operate in a stealth mode beyond our conscious awareness, making it difficult to detect them and correct them.
In addition, people with a wrong, bad, or self-destructive mindset rarely see their own faulty mindsets, creating conditions for perpetuating and worsening the situations they create because of their mindsets.
Yes, people often talk as if investment is the ultimate solution for the economy, but mindset is often the major reason for failing to attract the investment.
This means unless there is mindset correction, attracting the investment will be an uphill task. In addition, the country can have as many billions of United States dollars, but unless there is a change in mindset, all those billions will amount to nothing in terms of developing the economy.
Failure to understand the problem
A clear understanding of the problem is the first key to resolving any situation. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to solve a problem that you do not clearly understand.
In addition, the solution you provide in trying to solve a problem will determine whether or not you clearly understand the problem.
Given our perennial failure to solve our economic problem, it is reasonable to argue that we do not yet fully and clearly understand the problem we are dealing with. We think we understand the problem, but thinking we understand the problem is different from knowing the problem.
Because we do not understand the problem we are dealing with, we are developing the wrong solutions to the problem and as a result, we are hitting one brick wall after the other.
Again, if we understood the problem, we would precisely know whether what we need is economic turnaround or some other form of solution.
This means that unless and until we invest time in developing an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the problem, we will always come short and we will dismally fail to bring the economy back on its feet, if at all this economy is still redeemable.
The most important thing that we are failing to understand is that an economy is a system and that only a systems approach can resolve the economic challenges we are facing.
The piecemeal approach that we have tried to use to solve the problems has persistently failed and will continue to fail until we adopt the systems approach.
The realisation and acceptance that when we are dealing with an economy we are dealing with a system will be the starting point towards a successful resolution of Zimbabwe’s economic challenges.
Looking for a needle in the wrong haystacks
I am not sure what it takes to realise that we are looking for something in the wrong places.
In the case of Zimbabwe, it is amazing how much the majority have swallowed line, hooker and sinker that the ultimate answer to our economic solution lies in our natural resources and our friends from abroad such as China, America or Europe and from some investors from somewhere.
Government invests a lot of effort looking for investment and begging for help from “friends” and does very little to focus on what matters most in economic success; and that is focusing on its developing, organising and working with its national human assets.
The ultimate solution to the Zimbabwean economic situation can only come from the Zimbabwean people and especially those who are in the country. Everyone else including Zimbabweans in the Diaspora can only provide supporting roles.
This sounds so obvious, but it seems Zimbabwe has been missing this point repeatedly despite the results proving that natural resources and a begging bowl for economic bailouts and rescue packages alone just will not do.
Fundamental attribution errors
Fundamental attribution error is an unhealthy psychological phenomenon where an individual inappropriately puts all the blame for failure on other people and other factors other than himself/herself, while at the same time claiming all successes even when he/she is not directly responsible for the success.
Zimbabwe is a master at this game. The problem with fundamental attribution errors is that when you absolve yourself from failure, all you are saying is you have no capacity to take charge of the situation and that you are a victim. This case is probably understandable if you are a follower.
However, if you have a leadership position and all you do is blame others for bad results, you are telling people that you have no capacity to deal with problems and therefore do not deserve the position of leadership because leaders are there to find solutions for followers.
Any nation that blames its failures on other people and other factors is doomed. In addition, failing to acknowledge the contribution of others in your successes leads to doom because people will simply withdraw their support and leave you completely exposed.
When, as leaders, we tell our followers that all our problems are caused by other people and by other events, we are creating a hopeless, powerless and timid nation that will never rise to the occasion in any situation.
We are sowing and nurturing the seeds of the victim mentality, which is the worst mindset that any nation can ever have. Every moment we refuse to accept and admit our own failures, we are telling the world that we are incapable of sound judgment.
Zimbabwe’s economy will never recover for as long as our leaders and we continue to play the invincible and the infallible game of absolving ourselves from failure even when our own errors in judgment, decisions and actions have triggered the failures. The only solution is growing up as a nation and learning to take full and unconditional responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, performance, action and results.
Self handicapping
Self-handicapping is the flip- side of fundamental attribution error. Self-handicappers refuse to accept responsibility for their success, while accepting blame for all their failures even in cases where the failure was not their fault. Self-handicappers have a feeling that they are not good enough and this mindset is very common among Zimbabweans.
Relying on baseless
For years, Zimbabwe has been pinning its hopes for economic recovery on help from friends from the East and especially China, Russia and Malaysia.
This has been on the assumption that a political friendship automatically translate to serious economic friendship where one friend dishes financial aid to the other friend.
Zimbabwe has been under the illusion that since China and Russia assisted the country during the liberation struggle, then that support will cross into economic support. China and Russia no longer see the rationale of treating an independent nation as if it were still in an armed struggle and they now expect Zimbabwe to play by the economic game; by the economic rules and not to keep on begging for handouts. In addition, China and Russia are not donor countries and they know where to draw the boundary between a political relationship and an economic relationship. Zimbabwe is still to learn that no country in the world can afford to hurt its own economy by violating economic rules and laws in the name of helping another country.
Refusal to accept responsibility
Ask any Zimbabwean what caused the economic situation we are in and in the majority of cases, everyone is pointing the fingers at someone or something else.
The opposition politicians say it is the ruling party and its government.
The government says it is the sanctions and Zimbabwe’s enemies. The business leaders say it is cheap foreign goods. The farmers want government to provide inputs. The consumers say it is because companies are closing.
Ask any Zimbabwean what must be done to restore economic prosperity and the same pattern of answers emerges: Government says sanctions must be removed.
The opposition politicians say the current government must leave office. The industrialists say government must enable investment to flow into the country. It is always someone else who caused the situation and it is always someone else who must do something to correct the situation. This effectively means that no one is in charge and no one is in control of the situation in the country.
Lack of a strategic approach to economics
Strategy is by far the greatest asset we have for creating economic results. The majority of economic failures arise from either a poor strategic orientation or the employment of poor or bad strategies.
When an economy is on its death bed, the strategy is the only invisible avenue for bringing that economy back to life. When a nation perennially fails to fix its economic challenges, it means that nation is suffering from strategic deficiency. Strategic deficiency is either using a tactical approach instead of a strategic approach, inability to manage the economy from a strategic point or developing poor, wrong or bad strategies for solving the problem.
In the case of Zimbabwe, all three conditions exist.  While Zimbabweans think that education, natural resources and foreign investment are the most important ingredients for solving the economic challenges, strategy and strategic capacity are, however, the real keys to solving the problem.
Economic blueprints and policies are useless when they are strategically barren, which is the case with Zimbabwe’s blueprints and policies.
If you find yourself in a bad situation and you fail to realise that an effective strategy is your only lifeline then you are in a big fix. If you are facing economic challenges and fail to treat the problem from a strategic point of view, then you will be bogged down in the situation until you are able to come up with an effective strategy.
The problem is with other things like generic economic blue prints and policies; you can easily get away with the situation as long as you produce the documents and launch them.
The good thing about strategy is that you cannot cheat because the results will sell you out. No amount of money can even compensate for lack of strategy unless the money is used to deal with strategy and strategic issues. Economic results do not follow investment; they follow strategy.  Strategy matters. Strategy is everything. Strategy is the mother of results.
Conditioning to free things
Giving people the means of production free and then expecting them to be productive is expecting great miracles. Human nature does not work that way.
The problem of giving things free is that even those who have no capacity to make effective use of the goodies will accept them and abuse or underutilise them.
This economic disease has become endemic and is seriously contributing to the failure of the economy to bounce back. We are bearing the brunt of this phenomenon in our economy. It is a recipe for a monumental disaster.
The brand of politics
Zimbabwe’s brand of politics  is characterised by fracturing the nation across political divides, where politicians are always on each other’s throats and preach the message of hate. This is the economy’s worst enemy.
A divided nation will not stand. Our politicians, across all political formations, overestimate their capacities to solve the country’s economic challenges. They think they can do it alone within their political parties and without engaging the rest of the nation in the formulation and execution of economic solutions. They think that economics is like football where a team must outwit the other team, while spectators sit in the terraces enjoying the match. They waste time and energy on trivial things and ignore the important things such as nation building and bringing people together and harnessing their minds and energy for economic development.
All what opposition parties do is wait on the sidelines while the economy is burning instead of contributing to the economic development, even when they are not yet in power. The ruling party also fails to accommodate other critical players in economic management on political grounds. There are many patriotic Zimbabweans who are not interested in partisan politics and who want to work with any government of the day to move the economic agenda forward. Unless Zimbabwe matures enough to realise that different political parties can work together to solve economic challenges, the economic situation can only worsen.
Replacing merit with patronage
Zimbabwe’s economy is suffering from a deadly patronage system that knows no boundaries.
I for one accept that it may be difficult to completely deal away with a patronage system.
My major concern is not just the presence of a patronage system, but an extreme type of patronage that completely ignores merit and where people who are either not qualified, or are completely dismal, are appointed to critical positions within the country’s critical economic institution.
We have seen the ravages of this system in some of our parastatals where people who are appointed to create value in the institutions they are appoint to lead become the nerve centres of the destruction of those very entities.
The worse part of this kind of patronage system is that nothing happens to those appointees when they bring down the organisations they are supposed to drive towards prosperity.
In many cases, such individuals are rewarded with hefty handshakes, if at all they are shown the door. There are also many positions where the individuals lack the basic skills and competences and yet the nation expects economic recovery.
There will never be any economic recovery in situations where the entities that form the foundations of the economy, such as companies and other institutions, lack strategic leadership, managerial and technical capacity that only a merit system can guarantee.
Simon Bere is a metastrategist, results engineer and a peak performance scientist and trainer. He is the chairperson of The Strategy Society.simonbere@yahoo.com

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  • heeeeei

    Two more topics that might be missing from the debate might be the following since I do not think there is no one who does not know all the points Simon has raised?

    1. “Father knows best” syndrome or better the devil you know who lies to you but what can you do, makes it impossible to challenge authority no matter how bad.

    2. Failure to assert consumer rights and responsibilities leaning towards extreme cowardice or somber realism?
    As consumers, Zimbabweans never assert their rights to the extent that when the “kitchen gets hot” Zimbabweans would rather leave that kitchen rather than risking putting out the fire. It is more about self-preservation rather than the general good. Rather than fixing and modernising local health and educational systems and facilities, leaders rather go elsewhere outside Africa for treatment and educating their off-spring? I am also guilty as charged. How can supposedly educated and smart Zimbabweans allow ganja smoking leaders to say the nonsense they say in public and get away with it?

    3. We have a dearth in leadership. Our “self proclaimed” leaders in politics, religion and sometimes even business are in those positions for their own benefit and not for the public good. This by the way is not a Zimbabwean problem but an African wide problem. See what is happening in Africa’s most advanced economy? At least they have a vibrant civil society and vibrant opposition, which by the way I do not support.

  • JongweRachembera

    Why the long-winded explanation, sum it up in one sentence “Mugabe and his corrupt and inept government with an accute deficit in logic”.

  • Takudzwa Bvungidzire

    what a poor articles clearly written by a person who deep throats himself

    • gibson george

      He is right. What’s your alternative

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