Huawei saga; Of brand nationalism and identities

For the past seven months, Chinese tech giant Huawei has dominated international news.

The real escalation came in December last year, after Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Vancouver airport.

Meng is the daughter to the Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei .

Canada arrested Meng, at the request of the United States (US) which had charged Meng with “with fraud linked to alleged violations of Iran sanctions”.

Following the arrest in Vancouver, Beijing instituted a number of retaliatory actions, including the arrest of some Canadians in China, which it alleged were spying.

As the story continues to unravel with numerous threats and escalations unfolding, there has been a strong demonstration of the centrality of huge role being played by tech multinational companies to inter-state relations and global business.

In fact the issue has further gone beyond inter-state relations, judging by the enveloping alliances built between the East led by China and being supported by key ally Russia, and the West led by the US and Canada.

Efforts by the US to direct the European Union (EU) to institute a bloc-wide ban, have however hit a brick wall, indicating Europe’s autonomy in deciding member states’ auctioning processes for the 5G Network.

In light of the ensuing trade war, this latest move has hit Washington’s intended extension to ban Huawei products, including in Europe where it has a strong market share.

Despite these variations however, the EU has stood resolute to measures towards enhancing cybersecurity.

Evidently an entangled political spectre has unfolded.

All these developments have depicted a multidimensional face to the economic, political and diplomatic currents oscillating between Washington and Beijing.

The media has also come to the party, with leading Western outlets expressing an antipathetic attitude towards Huawei.  The BBC in particular went to the extent of labelling Huawei –‘The world’s most controversial company” (read here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/Huawei), in evident conflation of matters.

 

There is no doubt that such narratives deliberately seek to smear Huawei by portraying it much as a progeny of the Chinese state, which is projected as “authoritarian” and opposite to Western “liberal and democratic values.”.

That Huawei’s formidable rise is tied to the mainland’s growth trajectory is without doubt. What is however evident is that the company’s perceived shortcomings in the West, are tied to the Communist Part of China (CPC) ubiquitous presence both at home and abroad!  

Allegations of Chinese espionage through its communication technologies, seeks to thwart Huawei’s continuing inroads in the global market, albeit with mixed results in the West, East and even Africa, which stands as a strategic market.

Despite these mixed results emanating from Washington’s intended punitive measures, there is however no doubt that China’s formidable rise in tech systems has been coupled with numerous allegations of espionage activities; which work hand-in-glove to cement Washington’s projection of the dalliance between Huawei and the Chinese state.

In 2012, allegations of a similar nature were raised after Western media reported the existence of a “backdoor channel” transmitting information from the Chinese built African headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Whether the allegations are true is entirely separate debate. What is however a matter of record is the fact that, from time immemorial access to information at times through unorthodox means, has been at the heart of business wars and diplomacy generally.

While Washington conveniently raises these issues regarding reconnaissance missions to Western corridors of power and even business, there is a confounding silence regarding the US information hub which it uses to access information for its interests including from private citizens.

This subterfuge is daily bread in international affairs. This explains why a lot of scandals relating to the control of information has emerged over the years.

While allegations and conspiracies are built on a daily basis, there is no doubt that the Huawei saga however crowns the Chinese companies’ importance to the global business.

Huawei is the poster boy of global telecoms business, only three decades old and now having risen from obscurity to a leading multinational company of consumer electronics and telecommunications equipment. 

Apart from taping the Western markets, Huawei’s formidable rise has also riled fellow Eastern competitors, who are predominantly Korean and Japanese.  

Shifting nationalisms and Africa’s position

The Huawei saga is a reincarnation of power politics and the new spectre of product nationalism.  How else can one express the nationalistic expressions and built identities which Chinese citizens have shown through social media coordinated movements to boycott Apple Products.

In the end of it all, this is a battle for supremacy between Washington and Beijing; two states tucked in the quest for dominance in the information age.

The importance of the Huawei saga, is that it redefines the elementary international affairs debate about the state’s might, judging by traditional considerations of geographical space, size of economy, size of population, military capacity, nuclear capabilities and other such indicators.

Of course an empiric analysis of these fundamentals would show that these are relative from one country to the other.

While China’s power tag could be derived from its big population unit of 1.4 billion people, its economy and industrial performance, Japan however has a lesser population and geographical space but a powerful economy serving the world.

The story of Huawei is a reminder about the centrality of the information age to globalisation and international affairs in general.

Through globalisation, there has been increased communication brought up by an unprecedented internet connectivity, which has brought the entire world into a single village.

Regarding Huawei, it is important to note that the company’s inroads to the world stage depicts the entrepreneurial aptitude of Chinese business culture and of course mainland’s organisational capabilities to transform its economy from a backwater to a civilisation of our time.

All this transformation is courtesy of China’s fledging reformist policies under Deng Xiaoping and his subsequent successors.

The ensuing trade war with Washington testifies the role of the big brands whose importance surely go beyond the nation state.

This is why any mention of Huawei solidly leads to comparisons with Apple, the renowned manufacturer of the high end I-Phone, which are mostly assembled in Shenzhen, China among other hotspots world over.

Huawei’s global start tag speaks volumes of a story of success, unheard of in China, having numerous other big brands (such as Baidu, ZTE and Alibaba), which have largely exhibited an appeal to the huge Chinese domestic market.

In China’s indefatigable spirit, there is a strong resolve to create strong brands to compete with the likes of Microsoft, Apple or even Amazon.

Despite language hindrances impugning the growth of a number of Chinese brands abroad (with the exception of Huawei and others), there is a notable success story of commendable inroads made in the mainland, and perhaps the outpost Chinese territories.

In many ways, the story of Huawei becomes a microcosm of the macrocosm; the contestations about brand and accompanying national identities enveloping to geopolitical importance.

This has been with us for a very long time, albeit in other industries. The Japanese for instance are well known of their brands; Toyota, Nissan, Sony Electronics and so on.

For the Germans, there is Mercedes Benz, Sweden Volvo and there is no shortage of other such examples.

Ordinarily this underpins the role of mega corporate entities to the state’s existence and realm of global business and politics.

With the unfolding story of Huawei brought to global stardom by the Western media, there is an evident paranoia emanating from the quest to access and control information.

While these considerations are largely about the opportunities and potential threats of globalisation which has brought the entire world to a village, they nonetheless underscore an existing “Cold War”, not in terms of olden ideological makeups but in terms of business and information security terms.

The unprecedented communication of our time logically requires questions about cybersecurity for nation states, businesses and even individuals. 

In the wake of these developments which have pitted Beijing and Washington, it is incisive for Africa to ask itself the difficult questions.

Africa should ask itself about its security systems, especially considering that it is an importer of all manner of goods and services.  

We are a continent having growth pursuit aspirations including in the divide of technology.

While all manner of tech supported industries are growing across the continent, these are largely manufactured in the big hubs of the world; India, China and so on.

Our role in this global value chain has largely been that of recipients of the technology.

While the trade war is about identities, brands, ownership and security concerns, we however do not have ownership of the game-changing goods and services.

While Huawei and other Chinese brands have sprung up over the years as testimony to the springing industrial complex in the mainland, Africa has generally been slugging to the realm of innovation and technological contributions to solve local problems.

While identities have been built from brands to the extent of becoming national symbols, Africa has not had the same coping skills to arraign its own goods and services to service the world.

While conditions may vary from one African country to the next, there is however no doubt that Africa needs its own revolutionised brands which serve the local market.

Our collective experience denotes a continent which is largely a net exporter of agricultural and mining products which then return back as finished products.

While Africa is likely to enter into debates of who is right or wrong, these are however unhelpful interactions for now.

Our resolve should be about how secure we are given the increasing fundamentals of enhancing cybersecurity in general, and not as a response to the allegations and counter allegations of espionage activities.

At this stage, we should ask ourselves about our ownership or lack thereof strong tech systems and brands.

This however seems an ephemeral debate to us, given other hard pressing elementary needs, as opposed to this essential trade war, which should essentially worry us.

As Washington points to Beijing’s subterfuge, in its resolve to degrade Huawei’s growing profile, Africa should generally think about its lack of home grown tech goods and services to serve individual, business and collective needs of African states.

In this complex information industry, there is a huge reminder regarding the importance of indigenous knowledge systems to create products serving the African market.

This is fundamental for our universities which should manufacture knowledge especially in this information age of our times.

While the Chinese have developed their own systems and products, we have not.

At this stage it should worry us, that Google extremely knows about intimate details about each user.

While the trade war continues, with potential ripple effects to the global value chain, there is a strong reminder about the imperatives of cyber-security and the longing for strong African brands competing in the information age.

Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging with the intention to have a strong digital footprint. These days, your work online should speak about who you are, for professional or academic reasons. So few days ago I came up with the idea to start blogging once again, having been in the streets some seven years ago, but only posting twice and that was it. Blogging brings all of us together; journalists, academics, professionals and the list is endless. This is a marketplace of ideas!

To me blogging gives me an identity online, apart from social media appearances. This is why I have started republishing some articles which I wrote for various platforms including Zimbabwe’s papers such as The Herald, The Sunday Mail and Pambazuka. My new blog therefore focuses on the pertinent questions about Africa! My blog is therefore about tapping social, professional experiences into the written form! The idea is to tap into a strong narrative which is recognized.

#Day 6 #Afrobloggerswinterchallenge

Village reflections and dearth of the reading culture

This is the first ever time I have written about the village.

To most young people the village is a boring place.

In the village there are no bright lights. No sophisticated infrastructure or the rendezvous of the fast life we find in cities.  

In the village everything is laborious.

Fetching water from yonder, relying on firewood for energy, going to the far flung school on a daily basis, herding cows in vast expanses of land and the list is just endless.

Despite the synonymous “hardships” which come with village life and experiences, it is however undergoing some notable urbanisation, brought by social and economic developments. 

New sophisticated houses are being built with urban designs.

For some, the thatched houses seem old fashioned. That explains why urban lifestyles and tastes are being exported to villages. 

The homesteads are impressionable with these emerging changes.

Some houses are even walled and gated like those in urban settings.  At times even better than those in suburbs. Some of the houses surely leave one green with envy.

And villagers are very quick to explain who owns which house.  Often there is a child in the diaspora or a “big man” behind a lofty structure.  

In all these developments there is now an exuding attachment to privacy, now exhibited by those bringing an urban feel to the village.  

While this has changed the face of the village, there are however those who loathe this emerging individualism which departs from the olden communitarian way of life.

But despite this, one thing is certain: the face of the village and experiences of its people are surely changing.

Now villagers have cell mobile phones.

When they lose their cows, they ask their colleagues on the mobile phones which not long ago was a preserve of the rich. 

They even have internet on their mobile phones like their counterparts, albeit with low reception like in some instances.

Some villagers now even own cars, ostensibly out of sweat from farming tobacco especially.

It suffices to say the old image of the village is dissipating whether for good or bad.  Yet we, as the younger generation, christened as “born-frees” in Zimbabwe, we continuously loathe the village as a place of hardships and nothing more.

Dear reader, these reflections of the village come, after having gone to the land of my ancestors, following a bereavement in the clan, sometime last year.

The funeral wake coincided with the emotive Heroes and Defence Forces Day holidays.

After receiving the news of our uncle’s departure, I together with my family members trekked to Marondera, which is the provincial capital for Mashonaland East.

Marondera is some 80 kilometres from Harare.

Upon getting into Marondera, we drove some thirty kilometres of a tarred stretch laced with a hodgepodge of road strips, and a substantial stretch of some twenty kilometres of “dust road”, we slowly headed home, to our village under the legendary Chief Svosve.

Chief Svosve (the late Enock Gahadza Zenda) is well known for having led his subjects to surrounding farms in the area in protest over delays in returning arable land to indigenes.

As tradition follows, subsequent heirs have adopted the name.

Having gone to the village for the funeral, we relished at this momentous opportunity to stay another day to sort out our errands of making final touches to our small thatched kitchen and of course connecting with our big family, which even has a local primary school -Mupazviriho named after us.

The funeral became a point of reconnect especially for those of us who do not go to the village frequently.

Despite the proximity of our village, it became contradictory that we had become visitors or even “tourists” to the very land of our ancestors, where every person knew the next by bloodline, friendship or even inter-marriages.

At the funeral to pay our last respects to our uncle, his great friend (sahwira) gave a requiem speech, which instantly gave me the power to pen this piece.

Of course another highlight was the eccentric Methodist pastor who saw opportunity to convert new souls to Christ.

And not forgetting the local leadership who were not to be forgotten at such an event where they received respect from their subjects.

In the village the funeral is an important occasion of stately proportions.

It brings together villagers, businessmen, traditional leaders, pastors and local politicians who relish at the opportunity of being given a slot on the long list of speakers to the receptive mourners.

It even brings those from Harare, ready to snap their expensive mobile phones to take pictures of the memorable events and people in the village.

Back to the funeral.

Though many speakers had spoken glowingly about our departed uncle, it was the speech of the great friend which stood out among the rest.

Donning a black suit and a hat with as is typically done by elders in the village, the great friend walked with old swagger to the escarpment where everyone could see him.

He was holding a sack in his right hand; the type principally used to store grains of maize on the way to the grinding mill.

Obviously it was not maize nor its finished cousin, mealie meal.

As if he was reading our inquisitive minds, the senior citizen removed three voluminous texts from an olden life, to our surprise.

What was he doing with those books? We asked each other.  

The first was a sociology text in A4 size, evidently more than a thousand pages long.

Even professors or lawyers who have an affinity for big books would have been green with envy. Even non-readers keep books in their offices to exude sophistication by decorating their offices as they pretend to be part of the reading cult.  

Mourners were awed by the size of the books which were so big that they had to be kept in a sack.

Perhaps most had not read something that long in their life time.

Or even not bothering to read the big texts, thanks to the internet where one can now access information instantly, without visiting the library which now stands as a museum now.   

The great friend recited his long friendship with our uncle, which he said spanned some five decades.

He relived the friendship borne out of a culture of reading, which inevitably became the crux of his speech.

Though our uncle who had departed had lived in the village since the 50’s, he remained “alert” even to his urban contemporaries. He is one character who refused to be limited to his environs.

You could relate with him well. He was “switched on”.

“Charles (our uncle) gave me these books so that I could learn about sociology and discover the world,” he said.

 “But I am here to bring them back,” he echoed in his preliminary remarks.

Shortly, the tears on the cheeks of mourners dissipated as a cacophony of laughter emerged thunderously rebutting the solemn moments for short-lived delight.

Across Africa, it is a gesture of respect, honesty and accountability to return back that which the dead had given you. Perhaps this is also done to avert any bad omen associated with keeping the personal effects of the dead.  

There were two other equally big texts in the sack. These were evidently from other disciplines.

We admired the strong bond of friendship between our uncle and his great friend. We were impressed in their resolve to share ideas and knowledge which were epitomized by the big books, which were not for display.

Symbolically, the books became an embodiment of enquiring about the world. The book represented the traditional source of information, before the razzmatazz of the digital age which has brought an unprecedented free flow of information and a lazy generation as well.

Though simple, we admired our elders’ enthusiasm in the enquiry process about the world around them. 

Though ensconced in the village as “simpletons” to most, we learnt that this lot is quite advanced on any subject matter.

Sociology, politics, law, economics and so on. By no doubt, this diversity was even captured by the inter-disciplinary content of the three texts.

While seating in the unusual scorching sun, I immediately realised the intellectualism of our elders.

More intellectual even than our current generation, most having a plethora of academic degrees but without eating the actual book.

Seemingly exhibiting some dexterity in the cacophonic English accents, but without the tangible foundations of a critical thought process to answer the epistemological questions of the past, present and the future.

As the great friend narrated the good old times with our uncle and a friendship built from a reading culture, I shuddered to think about our generation’s little concentration span to even read a newspaper, let alone a book.

We have now been wired up to the world of social media which we cannot live without. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the list is endless.

Your likes, retweets, shares, tweets and so on.  This is modernisation which has changed our lives for better.

With these digital information sources, one would have thought that the reading culture would have been enhanced. Alas it is all gone.

The church now has Christians who do not read the Bible at all.

This writer’s late father used to emphasize on the need of reading just anything, even old newspapers. Now we have seas of information but without the readership.

Like his contemporaries they were readers who went through the rigmarole of reading the physical book, but however beneficial the exercise was to that generation. 

As the great friend continued with his requiem speech, we were reminded about the urban incrementalism to read the book in pursuit of lofty degrees caped on vacuous minds.

In his search for knowledge which was embodied by the book, we were reminded of the numerous Doctors and Professors amidst us, some who are not convincing at all.  Those who asphyxiate you with the prefixed titles to their names first without any accompanying content.

You end up having questions about their academic experience if any.

As I forlornly set on the rock in the unlikely sweltering heat of August in Svosve village, I remembered one veteran political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) from the old days.

Though not flaunting his academic credentials, the lecturer would often get standing ovations from students amazed by his delivery. He was lecturer man who was “switched on” yet unassuming just like my great uncle and his friend, who were simpletons but knowing.

Like the veteran lecturer at the UZ who was simple but a master of the art, so was this village elder who threw nuggets of wisdom and embodied self-taught knowingness from eating book.

Apart from the key lesson on the reading culture, there was also an exhibition of villagers’ organisational capabilities.

Across Africa, elders play a key role in family and societal issues. When one watches the typical “African movie”, there are these ubiquitous uncles who are well sought after for advice and wisdom including on complex issues of family and the village state.

Despite not having any legal training, they mediate over disputes with ease. 

Even whenever there are social gatherings, they are well sought after to give guidance about the protocol procedures especially at traditional weddings, funerals and so on. They are often referred to as (ana sorojena) /whiteheads exhibiting experience in life over the years. 

Looking at the African village, there are now very few of this breed of elders.

Sadly, when they depart to another world, they go with the experiences and attributes we cherished much.

Just as the saying goes, ‘you do not know what you have till it is gone.’

Possibly this is why the speeches at funerals of elders now tend to be longer. Longer to match their deeds and life well lived.  Longer, as happened on my uncles’ funeral.

Despite being fountains of wisdom, they are not appreciated in their short mortal lives. Yet their wisdom stands immortalised for generational reference.

Sadly, when the elders sit and debate on the great questions of the village, our youths are not there, or are physically present but not paying attention at all. They elect to fiddle on their fancy gadgets.

Resultantly, the succession concept of learning from elders, which in fact applies in all matters of life including business, politics, education and many other spheres, is now gone.

A day after our uncle’s funeral, our elders presided over a ceremony to share clothes of the deceased to members of his clan. As this was being done, the youths were imbibing.

A surely sad indictment to the state of affairs!

Evidently, there were a lot of lessons at uncle Charles funeral.

The first was the disintegration of the family unit which now, visits the village for funerals and other social gatherings which now serve as social points of interaction, just like weddings.

The culture of visiting each other is gone. At social gatherings, one has to be introduced to other relatives which they do not know or once distantly heard of.

This is an outcome of many related factors such as individualism, entrenchment to urban life and the search for opportunities in the diaspora, which has removed the physical connection despite the opportunities of instant communication of our times.

This fragmentation is symbolised by deserted homes, like some which we saw in the village.

Though we had gone to the village to bury our own, many things left an indelible mark.  There was a reminder of our mortal lives on mother earth as we buried our uncle.

In our hearts, we were simply quipping ‘who is next’.

We understood the sentimentality of the village as the burial place of choice for the older generations having long memories from childhood.

We got to understand the village as the place where the umbilical cord is buried, which is also a final resting place of choice for our elders.

And then there was the testimony of the great friend who showed keenness in reading texts even in advanced years.

Surely there were many lessons from the village, collectively bunched together in this piece. Rich for posterity but deserted. Despite being our source of reference, it has now become “exotic” as we have become mere visitors, if not tourists to the village which is the source of our social organization.  

  • The original article initially appeared on Pambazuka.org on

https://www.pambazuka.org/arts-books/village-reflections-and-dearth-reading-culture on 3 December 2018 before being republished by The Herald (https://www.herald.co.zw/village-reflections-dearth-of-reading-culture/)  on 10 December 2018.

Diaspora investments and informality

Francis Mupazviriho

The Zimbabwean diaspora plays a key role in terms of development back home.

They send remittances which constitute a key source of social support.

Some of the money sent largely forms the basis for capital used to start projects, which have largely remained small, informal and in other settings, medium entities. 

A key feature of the Zimbabwean, or the African diaspora in general is that, the establishments which they fund, are generally run by relatives and friends, especially in the case of small and medium enterprises.

The rationale is simple: acquaintances provide trust which the benefactor can rely on, in the newfound business relationship.

Or perhaps the choice in electing acquaintances to run the business, can be attributed the prevalence of unemployment, which makes the nearest the dearest, or perhaps the “cheapest”, however costly at times for the business’ survival, growth and sustainability.

Perhaps one can even argue that this social organisation is drafted with the intention of “eating together”, as happens with small businesses in the developing world.  

The danger however is that the business line is not run on professional lines and ends up being susceptible to serious omissions by those entrusted to run an entity by their diaspora benefactors.

In most instances, the benefactor who is domiciled in the diaspora, and is the sole owner of the business, regards their entities as mere “projects”.

They make regular phone calls home, exchange emails and rely on social media messaging to be in loop of the developments in the daily operations back home.

Since these establishments are regarded as “projects”, it therefore follows that there is no long term vision for the success of the business outside the biological existence of the owner.

In the end such businesses end up being feeding troughs for consumerist needs, whether for the owner or the caretaker.

It is incisive that most such establishments are charecterised by dependency to the funder, owing to their lack of organisational abilities to sustain themselves.

Apart from the social characterisation, the obtaining macro-economic environment equally has a serious effect in terms of the viability of the business operations.

Despite these contextual underpinnings and shortcomings of individual investments back home, it is however commendable that there is a commitment by the African diaspora to set foundations back home, in their chosen sectors.

When Africans sit down with their fellow brothers from the continent, they discuss about the trends and opportunities back home.

This is a typical question which essentially forms the basis of discourse at social gatherings such as parties, associations meetings and business forums in the diaspora.

The intention to ask about opportunities back home is an evidence of connectedness with the country of origin, despite being in far flung places.  Looking at the increasing role of the African diaspora in particular, it is evident that it has become a key actor.

Every nation out there enjoys much contribution from the diaspora.

Regarding Zimbabwe, the country has derived much dividends from its diaspora population across the world.

While mainstream media understandably locates the Zimbabwean diaspora as a creature of post 1999 movements ostensibly to South Africa and principally the United Kingdom and other Western capitals, there is a well-founded historical background of temporary and permanent contracts within the region and to, far flung places.  

What this shows is that each generation has shared experiences informing its resolve to leave the country in search for opportunities abroad, or for whichever reason.

For Zimbabwe, the turn of the millennium brought a changing spectre of political, social and economic conditions for the country and its people, especially in the aftermath of the land reform exercise.

As the political economy shifted, so did an increase in the outbound movements of nurses, teachers, doctors, engineers and later on youths searching for employment opportunities across different sectors of the receiving states’ economies.

Of course others left for reasons such as searching for educational opportunities abroad, or even purely social reasons like marriage.  Collectively this social grouping from varied dispositions abroad, has grown leaps and bounds in the past two decades, especially when one looks at Zimbabwe.

You now find Zimbabweans in Kinshasa, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, Amsterdam and other far flung capitals which were not traditionally “attractive”, or even heard of in the past.

It is incisive to note that Zimbabweans are now spiritedly metropolitan, having acquired jobs and other economic contacts outside its borders.  The size and professional composition of this constituency has been evident, as seen by the interactions with president Emmerson Mnangagwa, on the sidelines of bilateral and multilateral fixtures, in the past 18 months. 

President Mnangagwa interacted with the diaspora in Pretoria, Windhoek, Addis Ababa, New York, Kigali, Doha among other places.  

During these meetings, this demographic expressed keenness regarding political developments which unfolded in 2017, courtesy of Operation Restore Legacy (ORL). 

During these interactions, they further asked about investment opportunities back home.  There is no doubt that this now constitutes a general routine engagement between the African diaspora and its state officials such as presidents, ministers or even traditionally, diplomatic staff in their host states.

There is no doubt that the African diaspora now considers itself a vital cog for development back home. They are builders not only of families but of the nation.   This explains why African Presidents such as Uhuru Kenyatta seriously interact with their nationals abroad on their trips abroad.

This diaspora constituency is therefore an integral element for the development back home.

Some have even set up strong business entities in their host states, with the more thriving ones being recognised as key actors in their host states. Most however, have been bound to the homeland, as they have set up shop in their selected areas.

Individualism, investments and informality

Across the developing world, diaspora contributions to the national economy are largely synonymous with remittances.

These remittances vary in terms of amount and of course the formal and informal channels which they are sent through.  While remittances remain an essential source of funds, it is however reductionist to tie the collective contributions of the diaspora to these funds alone.

It is symbolic that there is even a realisation including from the diaspora, of the need to invest back home, however at varied levels.

Since 2000, which time is synonymous with shifting political, social and economic conditions in the country, the Zimbabwean diaspora constituency then largely comprised of nationals in South Africa, the region and the United Kingdom sent remittances back at home.

As Zimbabweans left, some founded social and economic clout, brought by their hard currency earnings.  

While all was not rosy, some however had life changing encounters.

In their stations, they frequently sent money to relatives especially during the hyper-inflationary period where their support essentially sustained families.

Apart from sending remittances, this diaspora constituency also went for material accumulations back at home. Buying houses, cars and so on.

Having satisfied these elementary needs, this lot devised means to extend their tentacles by setting up business establishments back home.

A bulk of this lot could be characterised as traders, who were into buying and selling commodities such as mobile phones, clothes and so on.  These mostly set their shops in the Central Business Districts, especially in Harare and Bulawayo.

And then there were those who started some projects in agriculture, mining and tourism among other sectors.

While this is commendable, these initiatives have however largely remained as projects which revolve around the owner who is domiciled in the diaspora, but having social conduits to do daily errands to run the business back home.

Despite varying thresholds in terms of capital, most of these entities have gravitated to informal sector entities.  As already suggested above, this is an outcome which is attributable to the social as opposed to the professional business organised structure. 

Regarding diaspora contributions and investments, these scenarios become interesting in many ways. With high levels of the informal sector coupled with high costs in starting business, these ventures have become part of the “unregulated economy” in many ways; despite the owner’s professionalization and earning capacities from their formal jobs abroad.  

In fact, these contributions now constitute an element of the informal sector, which should not only be portrayed as the typically populated, “dirty” African market in Harare, Lagos, Nairobi, or even Lilongwe.

It is important that this marks a great difference regarding diaspora investments in their host states and those in their countries of origin. 

While there is equally a lot of insurmountable evidence of informal sector activities run by migrants abroad (which I will focus on another day), there is also the reality of professionally run entities especially by diaspora elements formally employed and legally staying in their host states.

It is this lot, which have become serious employers in their host nations, for different types of businesses.

Apart from their regularised stay at their bases, the success of this constituency can be attributable to a number of factors.  Their physical presence gives them a latitude to manage the business, unlike the case with their social conduits back home.

They can even hire competent people to do the job for them in a professional manner.  Then there is a low of cost of doing business and other stability indicators as well.

This becomes the contradistinction of the diaspora investments which are essentially a tale of success and “failure” intertwined, especially when looking at the disparities in organisation, of the thriving entities in foreign lands and the ones back home.

And then of course there are other issues weighing down on the business back at home. These include lack of accountability and pure disregard for basic practices for a business.

These factors generally attribute to the circumstances which diaspora investments find themselves under.

This writer has a number of relatives who have done extremely well in the diaspora, but are however finding the going tough back home, largely due to some of the factors attributed already.

One brother from my mother’s side left Zimbabwe in 2004, for South Africa.

Despite having requisite academic credentials and a further plus of experience at a thriving computing entity in Harare, the guy simply left for South Africa where he settled for a painting job.

Most constituents in the diaspora can relate with such stories.  

A few years later, the guy started a small business, trading computer accessories and today he is a reputable employer in South Africa with a strong investment portfolio across different sectors of the South African economy.

Today he engages with the who is who in the South African Government and its private sector, which regards him as a big investor there. He is a big employer there and reputable philanthropist in a story which depicts wholly changing circumstances of life!

Though exhibiting interests to replicate the same success back home, he however hasn’t invested much here.

And then there is another relative who has set up a number of business entities in Mozambique, among many other places. At home he operates a fleet of buses and largely relies on his sisters and nephews to run the daily operations.

Despite some commendable stories of success abroad, the inevitable leanings towards in-formalisation, has made it difficult for authorities to quantify their collective contribution to the economy, apart from the obvious social support which this demographic group renders to their immediate and extended families.

The bulk of these establishments have circumvented the costs of formality especially with regards to labour contracts, commercial licensing and numerous other administrative costs which come with setting shop.

In terms of labour, one would have to ask, how many people they are employing back home?

What is the nature of the contracts, working conditions?

Do they follow Employment Council’s regulations?

Despite the sophistication which some of the ventures exude at face value, they are not following some of the sectorial requirements to start and maintain a business.

They see the numerous requirements as a burden to starting their business. Even when they have the means, they evade the taxman one way or the other.

Despite the veneer of formality, these entities largely remain informal, for one reason or the other.

While the ease of doing business reforms seek to institute a contusive business environment (not only for investors), but for everyone else, including the domestic population unit organised as Small to Medium Enterprises’ (SMEs), local business community and even for the diaspora, it is imperative to institute reforms which can potentially see diaspora funded entities formalising with ease.

It is important to ensure that pro-diaspora policies and interventions which enhance the success of the investments generated from this key demographic group.

It is equally fundamental to locate the question of formalisation with regards to jobs created.

African countries should not only expect jobs from foreign investors running multinational corporations or other such investors having the capital.

The African diaspora should generally be a bastion of creating jobs, decent ones for that matter.  This calls for a more astute organisation in their entities back home.

It is also important for the diaspora elements to strive for collective organisation to ensure viability back home.

The Indians or even the Chinese are doing it.

But this culture is not alien to Africa at all.  

Our diaspora has exhibited their collective aggregation of interests, on social initiatives such as crowd-funding or even putting up together material and other resources, like we saw in the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Idai.  The same resolve can easily be replicated to the business organisation.

The diaspora population should also make use of its business forums, which they should strongly use as a platform to aggregate business ideas, pool resources together and find other support which they may need.

While the diaspora contributions (in terms of remittances and small business) have sustained livelihoods back home, there is much room for growth as opposed to having severe limitations attached to the tag of “projects”.

This collective impersonal organisation can bring a measured involvement for diaspora contributions.  Just imagine the economic clout which the numerous Zimbabwean business people in South Africa, would have in coming in one accord and setting up big businesses, which could even compete with those of the investors trickling in to Harare?

I will not even say the same about Nigerians in the diaspora, given their comparative advantage in numbers. If they are already doing it, that is positive.

The issue is not only in pooling resourcing but in finding trust among each other and establishing thriving entities back home.

All this activity will constitute benefits beyond the social circle to the national domain!

Africa- Get Up and Walk

For those of faith, the story of Peter and John’s encounter with a lame man, at the Beautiful Gate, as contained in Acts Chapter 3 (vs 1-13) is a typical biblical story depicting the world of miracles.

The man is healed and his feet are made strong.

He walks in the temple with Peter and John praising God.

Those who knew the men before this miracle are astonished, to which Peter and John boldly assert, that the miracle is a testimony of the power of Jesus, the righteous one who was disowned and killed before Pilate.

For religious scholars, it is symbolic that each story in which a miracle is done, has a similar context, as depicted in the Bible. 

In this case, the lame man was expecting alms, only to be rebutted by the two disciples who had a life changing plan for him.

Said Peter; “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (Acts 3 vs 6; Revised Standard Version).

That must have been a disappointment, especially for a man who routinely received alms at a place called Beautiful.

But I digress. This is not a divinity lesson!

This is about Africa; our homeland! Our continent, our boulevard of dreams now scuttled by limitations.  

We are to draw much wisdom from the story, especially as we are commemorating Africa Day, which has been honored in Addis Ababa, across member states and even in the African diaspora. 

It is a very big day, given the pangs of the past, current challenges and the promise for the future.

Apart from some stories of successes (which I will touch on in other posts on this blog), Africa finds itself confronted by numerous challenges.

At every turn, the lack of money is largely subscribed as one of the problems needing to be solved by money, for a continent christened as “poor” or “Third World” despite some positive stories across the continent.

The complexity of our circumstances due to internal and externally driven conditions is again a matter for another day!

The over-reliance on more money to solve contemporary problems has festered a strong culture of dependency. This has been argued before by scholars and I will not touch much on that in this inaugural piece.

Retracing the journey: From the OAU to AU

Now to back to Africa Day.

In constructing Africa’s continuing slumber, we are called to look at the story of the lame man, who was rebutted by Peter.

The man asked for money, but was denied it, only to be healed.

We have gone through the academic exercise of theoretical abstractions regarding what Africa needs to do to develop. South to south cooperation, modernization and so on…

Collectively, Africa has come of age, with much experiences and experiments during its lifetime.

Socialism, capitalism, democracy, military establishments and the list is endless.

But regardless of the individual organization from one nation to another, we have to look at Africa’s past, its present, future. We have to look at Africa’s underpinning relationship with the developed world; which continues to be canonized by the olden strictures of dependency, covertly or otherwise.

We have to come back to the drawing board, exactly fifty-six years after the formation of the Organization of African Unity(OAU), which came to life on 25 May 1963, in the towering capital of Addis Ababa.

When the OAU was formed, there was a berth which was sweeping across the continent, led by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and countless other liberation stalwarts dotted across the continent, which was still largely organized as colonial outposts.

Nkrumah and others like Nyerere, Kaunda, and Selassie had an idea to rid Africa from the pit. These ideas have remained immortal for the continent.

In 2002, these ideas were again the driving force behind the inception of the African Union (AU), which was now being fronted by some, like Thabo Mbeki who had articulated the African Renaissance project. 

This reincarnation of the journey started by the founding fathers of the OAU was spiritedly supported by Muammar Gadaffi and not forgetting Robert Mugabe. 

With the AU posing as the new outfit we were reminded about unity, self-sufficiency and other imperatives.

There was a stronger focus on economic and social integration, especially given that the decolonization project had been essentially complete, with the exception of the Saharawi Republic and of course the fissures in Sudan, which later on led to the cessation of the new state, South Sudan in 2011.

The vision was replete with a verve of ideas, notwithstanding the complexities across the continent and of course the internal conditions of each state and the collective specter of the whole continent, facing a myriad of challenges.

Reflections “Thomas Sankara Speaks”

In this introspection, at a time when we are celebrating Africa Day, we are called to construct at Africa’s transformation and its dependency leanings, albeit at varied levels if we are to be country specific.

Despite the varying statistics however, there is no doubt that there is a general dependency across the whole continent, where the fate of each country is tied to outside interventions including funding even for social programming.

Despite the rhapsodizing imperatives of self-sufficiency, to cut the umbilical cord of dependency, Africa finds itself still at the mercy of foreign funding.

We are called to look at this undying cancer, which was a fundamental issue which provided the resolve for statesman to fight against colonialism and instigate self-belief.

Today, we still find ourselves tied to servitude and this has been quite sad.

We still find ourselves asking for money on top of money, as a way to address the common challenges of our people.

At the big forums of international relations, it is big news that some money has been extended to Africa, for whichever reason.

We have become accustomed to being a receiving continent, ever laying our hands in expectation.

So what this has done is that there is now an idea that the best way to engage with Africa is to keep it on the loop by giving it money on top of money.

While money and investments are welcome especially in changing lives in earnest, Africa still ties itself to dependency.

We are indeed forced to rethink about this undying problem which Thomas Sankara identified centrally in his speeches and articulated quite impressively during his short-lived political career in Burkina Faso.

This writer recently finished reading the book “Sankara Speaks” which is a recollection of speeches from 1983-1987.

The speeches situate a young nation previously called Upper Volta and now renamed Burkina Faso. A nation which is very poor, without social amenities and lacking at every turn.

While focusing on Burkina Faso, Sankara however situates Africa’s quagmire and its yearning to find itself within the global community.

Sankara spoke about the “good” and the “bad” aid, which he identified as having a negative effect especially if it falls short of mutual cooperation and becomes a threat to “sovereignty”.

When asked what is imperialism, Sankara had this to say; ‘Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet – that is imperialism.”

That sums up all the conditions on the continent.

With the increased interactions between Africa and the world, our continent’s fate remains unchanging, even despite all manner of organisations interacting with the state which remains the foremost rational actor in international relations.

As African nations, we must ask ourselves several questions.

Who is funding our social services?

Who is funding the health care systems? 

Who is funding our education systems for vulnerable children in our rural areas?

Who is funding our social security schemes for the disabled, the elderly and so on?

These are the questions which we must ask ourselves not with the intention of tackling the aid question in the academic polemics alone. It is a question we must strive to answer by tackling our inability first, taking us to the mercy of the “Good Samaritans”.

With the talk of Agenda 2063, Africa must continue to ask itself about its largely unchanging circumstances on depending on outside support in general terms.

This is not to say that no progress has been made in other areas however.

Sankara’s words remain instructive more than before.

In line with the Agenda 2063, Africa simply needs to get up and walk and fund its systems, without discarding the fundamental basis of cooperation at bilateral and multilateral fixtures.

Africa simply needs to understand its responsibility in funding its own programmes first as opposed to the preoccupation for outside support, which kills ownership.

While Africa continues to weep about the past and request for money, Sankara is reminding us to get our act together.

While Africa continues to ask for money, Peter is saying get up and walk.

While money is about material provisions, ideas are about having a vision for the long term.

With the wisdom from Sankara, or even the founding fathers of the continent, Africa is being reminded about its disposition in terms of natural resources.

It is being reminded about its human capital base and the abilities of its youth population, which has to be harnessed.

Our beautiful continent is being reminded about its great climatic conditions for agricultural produce.  Sankara is saying your conditions are the right ingredients not only for food self-sufficiency but for exporting the surplus.  So get up and walk. Work in those farms! 

With the headlining talk of increasing Africa’s industrial base, there is even a reminder about the need for Africa to manufacture goods for world consumption.

In our learning institutions, the voice of reason is reminding us about the need for classrooms to provide knowledge and solve the common problems facing the continent.  The teacher is being told, go therefore and teach the children.

The children are being reminded to use that education for the prosperity of the nation.

The voice of reason is saying, “Invent the future” to borrow from Thomas Sankara.

We are being reminded with the need towards self-belief, as opposed to lack it at every turn, to the point of believing that we are a people who cannot do anything without any external assistance, often euphemized under “technical cooperation”, even for the slightest of things.

In every part of our political, social and economic life we are being reminded to simply get up and walk.

With all the abilities which the continent has, we are however reminded about the paradox of a continent which every state has been reduced to consumerist status of foreign products.

That is inherently an evidence of the lack of self-belief and inability to be innovative, for whichever reason.

While the imperatives of regional integration continue, albeit in hushed tones, we find ourselves comparing who is indeed better, the Americans or the Chinese, in “lifting” the continent.

The discussion is often not about Africans themselves. We continuously dither even from the fundamentals of enhancing our cooperation as a people.

Each and every African nation yearns for cooperation with any country out there, for economic transformation. As a collective, Africa yearns for modernization, together with the rest of the world.

While anticipating for money from all manner of institutions, there is a voice of reason instructing Africa to get up and walk.

While Africa remains a key consumer of every product foreign, there is a reminder on the effect which this has posed especially towards unemployment.

While our young people leave in droves, searching for opportunities, there is an indefatigable reminder about an entire generation being utilized as an asset elsewhere at a time they are needed the most.

Africa, your time is now. Get up and walk!