The Sunday Mail
Chris Chenga Open Economy
It was only several days ago when this column indulged in the subject of economic nationalism, with a particular emphasis on correcting its perceived intolerant and retrogressive characterisation.
A fortnight ago, finding a nationalist identity within a global economy was a thought offered as well. It became rather timely then that the most echoing story of this week from a global perspective was the United States pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Locally, a team of Malawian incorporated investors, FMB Capital Holdings, acquired a majority stake in Barclays PLC.
These events form a confluence that merges multiple streams of reflection on economic nationalism in the global economy today; reflection that this column has belaboured to bring to the fore of our consciousness. Generally, the common economic observer has been groomed to assess economic events, locally or globally, often in reference to metrics such as growth, financial returns, investment opportunity, and other numeric imperatives of economic perspective.
However, how frequently does the common economic observer assess economic events from a humanistic and societal perspective; particularly one of nationalist identity?
This is a more profound point to ponder on for younger African demographics that are comparatively still at the nurturing stage of economic nationalism in our relatively new independent nations. Our global peers, especially in developed nations, have been sensitised to economic nationalist stimuli that it has become innate in their identity and impulsive in their behaviour. The most significant context to perceive the US pulling out of climate change agreements should be one of professionalism, as it relates to engineers, technicians, scientists and other range of professionals to be affected by this decision.
The US has garnered a self-proclaimed identity as the land of opportunity, emphasising its open welcome to professionals in cutting edge industries since the last industrial revolution. Today, according to the US department of homeland security, by far the largest share of migrants procedurally welcomed into the US have been ones granted Stem visas; that is visas for professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Cutting-edge professions that generally represent fields to be mostly impacted by whatever the US’ new long term climate change strategy.
What this may potentially imply then is an ideological question to what has become of US conventional identity in the global economy. Silicon Valley, for example, has been an impressionable and shining beacon of American industrialisation. Over the last several decades, it has been defined by companies founded by migrants fitting the prior formal descriptions. So, going into the future, what does it mean now for US Stem-influenced identity, particularly as renewable and alternative energy technology becomes more imperative across all facets of industrialisation?
Consider this in similar reference to the geo-political events redefining many European nations. The United Kingdom has initiated what is feared to ignite a secessionist trend that may redefine professional citizenry across Europe as the movement of professionals is becoming much more constrained.
For instance, for the past four decades, London has been defined as the financial hub of Europe due to its diverse financial professional demographic and institutions. These shall be the most impacted by Brexit, the same way Stem professionals and industries shall be impacted by the new US climate change stance.
On the other hand, new politicians such as French President Macron and Canadian President Trudeau have taken the opportunity to redefine the identity of their nations. Indeed, their election campaign rhetoric and recent invitation to the world’s best professionals, across all sectors, is a conscious effort to redefine French and Canadian national identity in the global economy, perhaps as centres for diverse expertise, grounded on the benevolence of global economic prosperity.
The Western developed world may seem distant and perhaps far-removed for young Zimbabweans to focus serious study. That would be to our own disadvantage. In 2015, a Tanzanian incorporated entity, Bhakresa, acquired a significant stake in Blue Ribbon Zimbabwe. At the forefront of humanistic and societal contest was the Affirmative Action Group, insisting on a local executive to lead the prospective management of Blue Ribbon. I emphasise a humanistic and societal context because at no point did the AAG raise any issue with the financial packaging of the deal.
Clearly, their problem was not of any financial exception to the deal. They wanted the investment, but maybe not so much the personnel. This week, Barclays Plc announced a Malawi incorporated FMB Capital Holdings acquisition of a majority stake. Similar sentiment to the Blue Ribbon deal was aroused. There were some publicly outspoken jeers critiquing whom and where the investment was coming from.
In less overt corridors, the same sentiment brewed!
What these two events should bring to our consciousness is that Zimbabweans must become humanistically and societally sensitised to interactions that increasing globalisation will bring within our borders! These interactions shall challenge, for better or worse, the existing perceptions within our society. This is in a context of tolerance and coexistence.
As such, we must begin to honestly discuss our humanistic and societal perceptions towards the global participants we shall inevitably interact with if we are to coexist and prosper in a global economy! This means honestly confronting our biases and prejudices as they relate to global peers from all over the world.
For the Zimbabwean economy to prosper at a global scale, young demographics must start to actively seek to assimilate global technology, bring in foreign expertise, foster their own partnerships with foreign peers. All this interaction must be preceded by brutally honest, depoliticised discourse about what identity the Zimbabwean economy of the future shall have.
Whichever identity we continuously morph into, the interaction and integration with foreigners will only increase. To construct a competitively “Proudly Zimbabwean” economy that serves the initial interests of Zimbabweans, yet remains a respected and influential participant in the regional and global economy, we must develop a sustainable sense of identity, mirrored on our understanding and acknowledgement of foreign peers.
Our society has a bad habit of placing all responsibility on Government far too often. However, global economic relations are not necessarily defined and sustained at a level of political and governmental diplomacy. Rather, the political and governmental diplomatic level reflects the humanistic and societal realities by citizens!
For instance, it is not the diplomatic ties between the Government of Zimbabwe and the Government of China that define our relations. It is the humanistic and societal ties that are intentionally created between citizens of both governments that define our relations. Moreover, it is not the economic conventional path of regional integration or globalisation that will define the Zimbabwean economy.
Instead, the Zimbabwean economy will be defined by younger generations consciously developing their own relations with global peers, continuously challenging humanistic and societal notions that exist within our communities.