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Political will, not resources, drive development

Zimbabwe is in desperate search for a new development path. Those of my generation have an idea of what development is and how it once looked like in Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabwe is in desperate search for a new development path. Those of my generation have an idea of what development is and how it once looked like in Zimbabwe. 

By Tapiwa Gomo

We grew up when basic services such as water and power supply were functioning, albeit limited.

Those below the age of 25 years do not have the same imagination of that development, as we do because they were either born when the situation was already bad or when they were too young to have made sense of a Zimbabwe whose economy was still thriving.

For the generation that is 25 years and below, development is imaginary because they have never seen it.

They only imagine and dream it, it is a Canaan to them. The current state of things is the only normal they know and the rest is aspiration and imagination.

While, for those older than this generation, the current state of things represents a deprivation of their good past — a past that was filled with hope and promise. Thanks to bad politics, these are apart.

Nonetheless, we have to collectively grapple for a better Zimbabwe torn between an impossible attempt to regain the lost glitter of the past and to create a new thriving country.

The former is an impossible venture, because what is lost in time can only be imagined and remembered but never regained.

This leaves us with one option; to pursue the road towards creating a new thriving Zimbabwe.

That road is crowded and littered with tales of deceit, failures, heartbreaks, politically-induced bloodbaths and anchors the poverty the characterise the continent today.

Zimbabwe, welcome to the story of Africa — a seemingly impossible project. No post-independence African country has yet achieved development.

This, however, evokes the question on whether it is possible to achieve development in Africa at all.

Debate on how Africa can develop has continued to oscillate between seeding growth in poor countries through foreign investment or the transfer of knowledge and technology to poor countries.

The underlying presumption in mainstream debates is that development is not African, therefore must be imported and transposed as a business project or in the form of knowledge to empower the passive African.

Both approaches are self-cetred and allegiant to a global centre of power.

Nonetheless, these narratives have perpetually weakened, handicapped, the African mindset and transformed it into beneficiaries of all sorts of donations.

These have continued to inform development policies and Africa’s relations with the world.

To put it crudely, we have been discursively cast as endowed with natural resources and yet an inadequate race to utilise the same resources for our benefit in the absence of a “global market”.

For that reason, we have unconsciously and uncritically accepted that all the abundant natural resources around us are not for our own extraction and use but the “global market”, whose pricey products we must consume.

Our awareness of what we have is, yet to transcend the theoretical acceptance that the presence of natural resources is the basis for development.

This is where the answer to development lies. Development is an outcome of political power, so is poverty.

If political power decides to seriously prioritise development, it will secure itself autonomy by delinking from the corrosive global system to take control of its people’s affairs.

This is what differentiates African from Middle Eastern countries.

Both regions are endowed with an abundance of natural resources. The Middle Eastern countries are largely oil-rich, while most African countries have both oil and minerals and yet the former has made huge strides to improve the lives of its people.

It is clear that resources are not the determinant of success or failure, but the mindset and political will.

Countries that have experienced growth through export of natural resources such as Angola, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and others have proven that in the absence of an indigenous diversification model to complement and later substitute exports, there is no guarantee of sustainable growth and development success.

For example, there are more Nigerians living in poverty now than in 1956 when oil was discovered.

The reason is simple. The Nigerian oil feeds the “global market” and does not benefit Nigerians.

The Nigerians, who think they are in power are rewarded with freebies by the “global market” including keeping them in political power.

Exploring the experience of Dubai demonstrates how the mindset of the leadership can transform a country whether with or without resources.

With its oil-rich desert country, the Dubai rulers could simply have spent its oil money on themselves rather than invest in a locally driven diversification and service industry.

But, they chose to prioritise their country and their people first and it has significantly paid off.

The result was a locally owned and driven economic boom, which has transformed the country into global city, a major transport hub for passengers and cargo and business hub of the Middle East.

While Dubai’s oil revenue helped to kick-start the economy and accelerate early development, today, only less than 5% of its revenue comes from oil.

Between 2000 and 2005, Dubai’s economy grew at 13%. By mid-2000s, $100 billion worth of construction projects were under way and its free zones by 2012 numbered more than 30, attracted international capital and visitors and their name alone challenge the imagination.