Controversial youth empowerment movement Upfumi Kuvadiki early this year made headlines when it forcibly tried to take over the operations of Easi-Park.
The group also organised demonstrations which degenerated into looting.
NewsDay Chief Business Reporter Mernat Mafirakurewa (ND) had a wide-ranging interview with the group’s chairperson who also doubles up as spokesperson, Alson Darikayi (AD), on several issues championed by the organisation.
ND: Upfumi Kuvadiki is viewed as a Zanu PF project meant to lure the youth vote through enticing them with empowerment projects. Could you shed light on what you represent and what motivated the creation of this entity ?
AD: Upfumi Kuvadiki is a bona fide youth business movement. We are a legitimate association operating from two fronts — the legal framework as well as from a cause and calling perspective.
We are formally registered with the Zimbabwe Youth Council and fully recognised by the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment.
Our existence is inspired by the challenge to represent the youths in Zimbabwe and complement other organisations of a like mind towards economic and social upliftment of the country’s youths.
In short we see a new breed of economic revolutionaries in what could probably be the Fourth if not last Chimurenga.
ND: You once threatened to approach the courts and Parliament to address what you termed were flawed deals in the media, retail, mining and telecommunications. What have you done so far?
AD: We are currently in talks with key stakeholders in the telecommunications and mining sector and there has been appreciable progress achieved so far.
True, if our lobbying and advocacy does not yield the desired results, we shall have no option but to engage Parliament or approach the courts to resolve some of the irregularities in several sectors of the economy, mainly with regards ownership and preferential procurement issues which we believe are central in determining who effectively obtains access to business opportunities, finance and economic participation in the long run.
ND: What is your view of the indigenisation and empowerment programme currently taking place in the country? Is this the way to go?
AD: The economic empowerment process must be associated with growth, transformation and enterprise development and not merely the redistribution of existing wealth.
The Indigenisation and empowerment law is thus an important policy instrument aimed at broadening the economic base of our country – and through this, at stimulating further economic growth and creating employment.
However, there is no easy way to navigate this contentious issue without falling foul to the venous outpourings and attacks from those across the political divide who may want to seek political relevance.
Despite the controversy, indigenisation and economic empowerment remain an essential and vital tool for economic growth and development.
ND: You are said to be a group of connected people riding on Zanu PF ministers and furthering their ambitions as fronts, what’s your take on that?
AD: We are a business organisation focusing on economic empowerment.
We don’t know of political heavyweights that seek to exploit Upfumi Kuvadiki and convert us into willing puppets and instruments of oppression or abuse.
We are not capable of being abused. If there are political heavyweights out there harbouring those aspirations then let them be warned, lest they will be embarrassed.
It is important to highlight that we will crush out of our way whoever clandestinely or openly connives with merchants of retrogression, that is, those seeking to frustrate our efforts towards youth empowerment.
ND: How many projects have you embarked on that have had a direct impact on the lives of the youths that you represent?
AD: Our operations are a process and it is too short a period to judge how well we have done. Suffice to say that the scope of our objectives has inspired many youths to rally behind the organisation.
Many projects are work-in-progress at the moment and if you give us some bit of time your questions will naturally be answered without seeking audience with us.
However, our lobbying and advocacy has yielded a number of procurement opportunities for the young people.
ND: If offered equity in large corporations that you have set your eyes on, do you have the financial muscle to fund the acquisition of stakes in those particular entities or do you intend to grab them for free?
AD: We do not condone violence, looting or grabbing of private property in the name of Upfumi Kuvadiki.
That is not our strategy. We are putting in place several financing mechanisms in close cooperation with the government and the financial sector which should commit itself to financing empowerment in its various forms.
This commitment should be structured in favour of our youths. Our local banks should structure the financing of equity purchases and hold on to the shares acquired as collateral and use dividend flow to repay the debt.
It’s quite a simple structure. We are also looking at establishing our own empowerment fund as Upfumi Kuvadiki with monies coming from our membership fees, our strategic business projects and we are also looking at possibilities of spearheading the setting up of a youth bank to support acquisition of shares, business start-ups, partnerships, linkages and joint ventures.
ND: You have called for the expulsion of the Chinese, Nigerians and other foreign investors from entering in the retail sector. Is this not in contradiction with Zanu PF’s Look East policy?
AD: While we support the government’s Look East policy and respect the diplomatic relations we share with other African countries, our position remains the same; the retail sector must be reserved and preserved for locals as opening up the sector to foreigners is treacherous and ill-advised.
If we are serious about indigenisation and empowerment, the government has to demonstrate its sincerity on this programme by supporting our stance to remove all foreigners from the retail sector and create opportunities for our young people.
All foreigners in the retail sector should take heed and invest meaningfully in other capital intensive sectors such as mining and manufacturing.
ND: What became of your quest to take over the Easi Park?
AD: Easi Park is simply a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things. It is one of the many battles in our war strategy.
It is not the alpha and the omega of our operations. It just happened to be one of the many small obstacles immediately on the way and we initiated action to dispense with those obstacles.
It is important to put it on record that the deal is or was fraught with many flaws until we raised the dust. In the heart of their hearts, the city fathers and the Ministry of Local Government know this.
ND: How do you intend to ensure that you implement a broad- based black economic empowerment that benefits a large number of people and not just a few connected individuals?
AD: A successfully implemented empowerment policy should give the youth the opportunity to become more economically active by providing them with skills and enterprise development.
There is also need to urgently resolve and clear the political cloud that is covering the country at the moment, with noticeable discord in the inclusive government.
In doing so, government policy and direction can be clear to all.
The first structural inconsistence that we observe is that the government is not talking with one voice on business issues.
The President is very clear on where the indigenisation and empowerment needs to go.
We expect other government officials across the political divide to fully support the President. The echo should be the same.