11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: 2013 - the Year for Doing

The beginning of any year always brings a sense of rejuvenation, and is a time for setting new goals and agendas, commonly termed "New Year's resolutions". It is also a time when projections and predictions are made of how the year will pan out, scientific or otherwise.

To guide the forward-looking processes, it is important to look at how the previous year would have panned out.

Looking at the projections made in this column at the beginning of 2012 and how events then unfolded, it would appear that apart from the liquidity crisis deepening, very little happened particularly in terms of the dramatic expectations I had then. Social media networking, though steadily continuing to gain ground, did not yield any sort of dramatic changes - certainly not on the scale of the Arab Spring of 2011. And China, thanks to some deft political manoeuvering, still remains strong as ever.

On a smaller and more personal scale, 2012 was the year in which I decided to move away from being a critic to doing something about the shortcomings that were evident, particularly in the business sector and specifically as regards small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) development. Together with other like-minded entrepreneurs, the SME Association of Zimbabwe was the result.

While the association has yet to achieve many of the lofty goals it set, or achieve national coverage, it nevertheless has started or implemented changes in the business environment which we expect to gather steam in 2013. The business linkages programme, expected to gather momentum through the collaborative seminar to be held with The Zimbabwe National Cha-mber of Commerce on January 29 2013 is one example of the changes made by the association.

Another is the SME bourse we are assisting the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange to roll out. This bourse will increase the funding options available to Zimb-abwe's medium-sized enterprises, simultaneously widening the investment opportunities and capacity to attract foreign direct investment that the country has. This was one of the outcomes of a highly successful all-stakeholder seminar on SME funding that we held in October that brought together the pension funds, banks, the microfinance industry, venture capital, private equity and the development agencies.

Most importantly, the hitherto fore unrepresented and unsupported growing small and medium enterprises now have a voice and a supporting structure to aid their advancement. The association has put in place measures to determine exactly who the players within this space are, and what sectors they are in. We currently have 745 SMEs registered on our website, but we expect exponential growth in this figure in 2013. This grouping is poised to drive some major innovations in the economy in 2013, but more will be unveiled on this in the fullness of time.

The major point the above discourse on the SME Association is trying to drive is that we each have the power and space to create the changes we would like to see in our country. Writing and critiquing what government and its agencies are failing to do is simply expressing what most of us already know. Talking of what other countries are doing better than us is enlightening at best, but actually doing something to change the status quo is what brings tangible results and a change for the better.

In carrying out the functions of the association, I got in touch with several agencies, government departments, non-governmental organisations, corporations and of course SMEs. One of the most interesting realisations I came across was that with the exception of the banking sector, pretty much everyone else is looking for a way in which to improve the status quo. They are very much aware of the criticisms being leveled against them, and have even tried to implement some strategies that may have not yielded the desired results. A few are maybe pushing in the wrong direction, but with the honest intention of actually making a change for the better. Several, of course, are stuck in limbo, with great plans in place but failing to break free of the implementation paralysis we seem to be stuck in as a nation.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is the dislocation between government and its agencies on one hand, and business on the other. Of late, government has laid out several progressive policies and frameworks, but the business sector has failed to complement these, mostly because of the distrust and polarisation that has resulted from the last tumultuous decade.

The best way to describe the two's relationship right now is that of a battered wife and a repentant, formerly abusive husband; no matter how hard the husband tries to make up for past transgressions, the wife has withdrawn and will not respond enthusiastically to any overtures the husband may make, no matter how noble and beneficial to the family and even to the wife.

With 2013 being an election year, most are writing it off as a year in which no progress will be made as politics is expected to take centre stage. The reality is that this will only be the case if you and I decide that it will be so. This is not a statement born of naivety. I am fully aware of the violence, displacements and dislocations of yesteryear but would still hasten to add that it is us, the citizenry, who more often than not create self-fulfilling prophecy.

In defensive driving, it is said that if you encounter an unexpected obstacle on the road and have to take evasive manoeuvers, you should not keep your eyes on the obstacle, but should rather look at where you are driving to while evading. Your focus and attention needs to be on the escape route, and not the obstacle.

Already, there is a lot of analysis and interest on when the referendum will be, what possible outcomes are likely from the election and how the economy will thus fare. While traditionally there is a strong link between the economy and politics, there is nothing that makes this an imperative - except of course self-fulfilling prophecy. We as Zimbabweans have firmly ingrained it in our minds that we can do nothing to improve our lot until ZANU-PF and/or President Robert Mugabe is dislodged from power.

This is the same type of thinking that powers the "I will not be happy until XXX happens" syndrome. The reality will be that you are unhappy because of present circumstances which you feel you cannot, or more likely do not want to act on to change, and by finding something (preferably unattainable) or someone else to blame your circumstances on, you absolve yourself of the need to do something to change the direct source of your unhappiness.

Thinking that political change will magically transform your circumstances is no different from the impression that certain freedom fighters had that with independence they would take over white people's houses. In reality, the only people who took over white people's houses were those who were educated and could take up the higher posts that independence opened up. In other words, fortune favours the prepared mind and soul. If you are wallowing in self-pity and doing nothing to improve your own, and the country's fortunes right now, chances are you will remain in exactly that same position no matter which political party is ruling.

I will not make any predictions for 2013 but will simply wish that each and every one of us stops assigning blame and starts doing something to correct the anomalies they are observing. If you are a fellow critic, by all means criticise but immediately after that, do something to address the shortcoming you have observed.

Farai Mutambanengwe is the founder and executive officer of the SME Association of Zimbabwe. 

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