OPEN ECONOMY: Learning to play to our strengths

It could just be one of those topics easy to overlook. Maybe too many complexities hinder short-term solutions; hence it becomes easy to push it to the sidelines.

However, it does seem that besides their contribution through remittances, Zimbabwean immigrants in the Diaspora do not feature in our economic discourse as prominently as other issues.

It does carry a noticeable extent of irony in my perspective, especially considering that a clear ailment suffered by our economy is a severe lack of capital.

So, it becomes odd that immigration, the flow of the greatest economic resource a nation has, its human capital, falls on the wayside of economic concern.

I suppose it’s not just us.

Backtrack to about six months ago at the United States-Africa Summit.

The narrative was African statesmen took to Washington to open dialogue and present convincing cases for greater US capital investment on the continent.

Notice, however, this came at the same time African immigration to the US was, and still is, at record highs.

I would hope that the continent’s leaders would be wary that capital leakage is our main problem, and engaging its predominant beneficiary for more capital is not necessarily the answer.

Maybe as a continent we really need to reassess our understanding of capital.

Instead of asking nations like the US for capital, we should learn from their application of it within their own economies.

Pay little attention to the exaggerated nationalist sentiments that brew xenophobia or immigration conservatism in certain countries. Economically shrewd policymakers globally are making immigration reforms to assimilate valuable human capital into their respective economies.

There is a hot race for this economic resource.

Human capital, especially a skilled workforce, brings innovation.

This is imperative for countries which need development of new growth sectors, new competitive means of production and technological solutions that bring about higher quality of life. Unfortunately, Africa is suffering a great leakage of this resource.

Meanwhile, for beneficiaries of this leakage, like the US, for example, immigrants secure patents at double the native rate, and more than half of start-ups in Silicon Valley were founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs.

Even lower skilled immigrants are solving labour segmentation problems as immigrants are more willing to relocate to places that natives may not be as open to resettling.

In the UK, there is empirical evidence that assimilation of immigrants into the workforce brings about higher wages throughout the economy and provision of more broad services.

These are all matters we should look at as opportunity costs for Africa.

Now, if we could focus on home for a second.

For a number of weeks now, a letter written by an anonymous Jimmy, expressing his discontent with the economic situation while revealing his intentions to leave Zimbabwe, has been circulating across all media and social platforms.

Of concern to me is how we have not perceived this letter in terms of human capital leakage or with the interpretation of what the departure of Jimmy and many alike means for our economy.

Cognisant of the aforementioned detriments and opportunity costs of capital leakage, I’d like to present my own disappointment with human capital like Jimmy leaving.

You see, it is true that we are a highly literate nation; very skilled as well.

At points I have shared my concern on the economic limitations of commodity natural resources and value addition of capital products.

An added gear for economic resurgence should be Zimbabwe focusing on, and utilising its competitive advantage in the services sector.

This is a sector that runs on a skilled and literate workforce.

If we can stop human capital leakage and assimilate back the workforce that has already left, we could create an environment that fosters a geographic service centre in many industries.

As Africa, including Sadc, is striving towards higher standards of life and increased consumer demand looking to be satisfied, services will be demanded on the continent more than ever before.

Healthcare, finance, accounting, education, information services and telecommunications are a few sectors that will experience growth in decades to come.

With our location in Sadc, and improved transport and logistics creating proximity to global markets, Zimbabwe could ideally be a service hub for many other economies that desire the skills of our workforce.

This is an economic ideal that I personally see for Zimbabwe in the long term.

However, this cannot happen as long as we do not create an environment that attracts and retains human capital like Jimmy.

Many other countries have benefited from Zimbabwean nurses, teachers, computer programmers and many other service fields.

Services is the one sector in which Zimbabwe – even put against global economic powers – stands its ground and is equally competitive.

So, let’s create our economy around this.

Of course, I am not saying everybody in the Diaspora should come back, or many still here should not wish to leave.

In fact, controlled immigration to foreign countries does help.

An example is India.

India has FDI laws that are stringent on business to consumer platforms, yet very liberal in terms of business-to-business investment deals.

Hence, it has benefited greatly from Indian-born immigrants like the CEOs of Microsoft, Pepsi and MasterCard, who have been instrumental in attracting operations, technological and information assimilation and infrastructure back to India through business integration with these global firms.

This can work for us.

We presently have, and will continue to have many individuals in influential positions within global industries.

They can play a similar role of bridging business-to-business FDI, ultimately uplifting our internal business practices and making our local operations achieve parity with global standards.

Also, this will further improve our human capital development at a practical level.

I see Zimbabwe’s economic might through the service sector.

It is more attainable as a goal, and it is much more sustainable as an economic advantage than natural resource dependency and capital good value addition.

Let’s play to our strengths.

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