Perspectives: Zunde raMambo concept and the economic growth formula

Gift Mugano

"Sadc bloc deliberates on solutions to power challenges: as power (shortage) poses a security risk to region", screamed a headline on March 21, 2023.

Some economists said South Africa’s economy would have recorded a 10% growth in 2022 instead of the 2% it achieved.

They attributed this slow growth to the poor performance of Eskom and Transnet.

Eskom is the electricity supply Utility of South Africa, and its partner in crime, Transnet, is the overwhelmed rail network of South Africa. 

Both of these enterprises are state owned enterprises (SOEs).

Typical to form, nothing much of substance was heard from the Sadc indaba on the strategy, if any, to end the bloc's power shortages, in spite of the bloc being richly endowed with coal and gas, the raw materials for power generation.

Besides these abundant fossil fuels, the Grand Inga Dam project in the DRC has the potential to generate 100 giga watts of clean and affordable hydro-electricity.

This massive project, with an estimated cost standing at US$100 billion, is the catalyst needed to ignite and power a regional socio-economic transformation chain reaction.

Despite the abundance of these God given riches, the region's poverty levels are the worst in the world. 

The question should be asked: why is the region engulfed in poverty and an energy crisis of a magnitude that may be classified as a security threat?

This question of why most poor countries fail to reduce poverty over the decades in a socio-economic transformational way, despite the countries having abundant human capital and rich natural resources, has baffled many an economist, one of the latest being Zimbabwean professor Gift Mugano.

Economist Mugano, whilst calling for a continent wide job creation and poverty reduction strategy, admitted that “economists do not know” how to grow economies, so as to create the much needed jobs”. 

Not many economists would make such an honest admission.

Commenting on the then just concluded 35th African Union (AU) Heads of State meeting Mugano and the theme of the meeting with its emphasis on economic growth through enhanced food production, improved nutrition and job creation.

 He lamented the fact that although the theme has virtually been the same since the beginning of the century, no traction has been made. 

He reiterated that, over the decades, no one set of policies or strategy from the AU, meant to mitigate the monumental tragedy, has worked.

He reminded the news anchor Blessing Zulu of Voice of America,that bad politics could easily torpedo any sound set of policies or economic growth strategy if one was found. 

The need for sound, constructive and progressive politics on the African continent was paramount, he concluded. 

Mugano’s thought provoking admission and lamentation should ignite introspection.

Zimbabwe, like most developing countries, has over the last three to four decades, seen many economic development blue prints such as the global Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Around these multi-lateral Agencies/United Nations driven economic growth agendas, national  programmes, usually structured along the lines of the globally driven ones, such as Zimbabwe Accelerated Sustainable Socio-economic Transformation (ZimAsset), National Transition Plan (NTP) and currently National Development Strategy One (NDS1) have been crafted.

These initiatives have generally failed or are failing, and in the case of ESAP, disastrously, as professor Tony Hawkins noted so well in his Working Paper 10, produced under the umbrella of the UNDP's Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe Working Paper Series.

These failures beg the question: does economics as a discipline, or economists as professionals, know how to grow sustainably a country's economy?

The answer is no as Professor Gift Mugano said on Voice of America on Sunday evening February 6, 2022.

The Economist (April 14, 2018) is in total agreement with the emininent Zimbabwean economist.

The United Nations Development Programme - UNDP, took up the challenge of putting together a 12 paper alternative policy framework that became known as "Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe Working Paper Series".

Despite the titanic efforts of the UNDP, and its assembled team of eminent Zimbabwean economists, 15 years later, Zimbabwe's economy has virtually shrunk to nothing.

Despite looking from various angles, the profession of economics, including the working paper series had to admit defeat.

The magic formula remained elusive. 

Good economic history does not seem to repeat itself so often.

However, in the few countries that registered sustainable growth, the growth was attributed to an “unexplained residual”.  

Usually this related to progress in the use of some technologies.

One economist described the unsatisfactory outcome as “a measure of our (the professions) ignorance”.

History and politics

Contemporary focus is now on ordinary history as we know it. This hunting field is said to be the most promising due to history’s link to culture and politics.

The general feeling is that the factors that contribute to economic growth may be numerous, diverse and or complex as to thwart attempts to sum them up in elegant mathematics.

 Adding to the misery, is the economic profession’s shortcomings in the disciplines of sociology and geo-politics that as components of history and culture are suspected to have key roles in sustained GDP growth.

It is in this retrospective note that the UNDP Comprehensive Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe Working Paper Series completed its task in 2008,  with Working Paper Number 12, titled "State Effectiveness, Economic Recovery and Poverty Reduction: Some Evidence from the Global Experience for Zimbabwe.

The paper highlights the key tasks of a sovereign state and the importance of a technically and administrative competent and focused civil service as necessary to design technically sound national growth strategies.


The working paper 12 also notes the "Elusiveness of Sustainable and High growth Rates” Astonishingly since 1950 up to the time Working paper number 12 was written, a period of 58 years, "only 13 economies have sustained average growth rates of 7%  (or more) per annum for 25 or more years, (with) the significance of those figures lying in the fact that at those rates an economy's GDP doubles in size every 10 years".

In conclusion, a country's values, culture and politics define its history, and may all contribute to its social capital at various levels.

High levels of social capital may be the missing link in most economies' failure to grow sustainably over three  or more decades.

These soft issues may be the "formidable barriers" economists suspect hold economies back.

There is a Chinese saying that goes: empires wax and wane; alliances coalerse and fall apart.

The rise and fall of positive social capital looks like it is behind it all.

The challenge is to prove that this is indeed the case.

A word from Senator Chief Clements Nembire of Mount Darwin

The hypothesis that adequate positive social capital may be the missing link in driving sustainable economic growth crystallised one Saturday morning while listening to Voice of America, Studio 7, pre-recorded Friday evening Shona news bulletin. In it Senator Chief Nembire was being interviewed on the Zunde raMambo concept.  

It dawned on me then that key SOEs such as the Central Bank (in particular), power, sewage and water utilities, Noczim, and the GMB, that warehouse strategic reserves, skills and competencies, are modern day examples of the Zunde raMambo concept.

Mismanaging these, as Zimbabwe and South Africa have done, is a recipe for catastrophe and poor economic growth.

There is need for integrity and skill in high and mighty enterprises, not list in politics.

*Tapiwa Osbert Nyandoro, B. Pharm (Hons), UZ 1980. Nyandoro is a pharmacist by training. He holds a Pharm (HON) from University of Zimbabwe.

These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Private) Limited, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe. [email protected] or Mobile No. +263 772 382 852.

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