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Eric Bloch Column

Bigotry fuels industrial collapse

By Eric Bloch

INDUSTRY and International Trade minister Samuel Mumbengegwi must be a major catalyst for the distraught state of Zimbabwe’s industrial sector and for the massive decline i

n the country’s international trade.

That anyone should occasion industrial collapse, with the concomitant negative economic consequence in general, and upon employment and foreign exchange generation is abysmal, but that it should be the minister responsible for industry and international trade is tragic.

One of the first occasions that the minister evidenced to this columnist how detached he is from reality was at the 2004 annual congress of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce. I had been accorded the privilege of being the guest speaker at the closing banquet of the congress.
Inevitably, my address centred upon Zimbabwean economic circumstances and actions that could stimulate economic recovery and growth. In the course thereof I suggested that Zimbabwe needed a change of attitude and policies insofar as interactions with the international community were concerned.

I contended that those who claimed that Zimbabwe “can go it alone and does not need the international community” were misguided. Any reversal of the economic decline would have to be facilitated by diverse circumstances, including reconciliation with the international community.

That reconciliation would result in foreign direct investment, in technology transfers and in development of export markets and, if that reconciliation was to be achieved, Zimbabwe needed to abandon its confrontational stances, its recurrent outpourings of vituperative, unfounded criticisms and its unwillingness to seek compromise and cooperation.

In doing so, I further suggested that the most outspoken in denying any need for interaction with the international community steadfastly cited Malaysia as evidence that economies can be successfully restructured and operated in isolation, but they failed to recognise the very great differences between Malaysian resources, circumstances and policies when that country so successfully uplifted its economy from very low levels to remarkably high levels of economic dynamism, and the circumstances, resources and policies which prevail in Zimbabwe.

As I spoke, the minister showed increasing signs of irascibility and indignation and, although not scheduled to speak at the banquet, insisted that he be given the opportunity to do so. He was given that opportunity, whereupon he gave vent to his spleen with an outpouring of negative reflections upon my character — to which reflections he is wholly entitled! — and claimed that my statements were devoid of credibility because Malaysia has clearly proved that countries can achieve economic wellbeing in isolation.

Obviously he did not absorb what I had said, for he used the very example which I had destroyed. He then also claimed that, in any event, Zimbabwe had fully satisfactory international relationships, as evidenced by its membership of the Southern African Development Community and trade bloc Comesa, and its very close friendships with Libya, Malaysia and China.

Unfortunately, he did not explain how those relationships were benefiting the Zimbabwean economy to an extent as would be forthcoming from reciprocally harmonious relationships with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union and the Commonwealth.

In the post-banquet comments from participants, it was very evident that the captains of commerce present were wholly unconvinced by his diatribe, and that he had successfully dissipated any esteem that most of them may have had for him.
But then, approximately a fortnight ago, he saw fit not only once again to disregard totally the substance of an address, but instead resorted to unmitigated vitriol, directed once again at this columnist.

The minister is fully at liberty to despise me, and is welcome to use his best endeavours to belittle me, but he should not be at liberty to ignore irrefutable facts as to the state of industry, which he is supposed to assist and encourage, and equally he should not unilaterally reject opportunities (present or future) to strengthen international trade. And yet that is exactly what he did, if numerous reports are well-founded.

The Ministry of Industry and International Trade, in conjunction with the textile faculty of the National University of Science and Technology, organised a workshop on Zimbabwe’s textile and leather industries, targeted at identifying how those industries could be assisted and supported, and could be key players in Zimbabwean economic development.

The ministry extended an invitation to me to present a paper on the textile industry at the workshop and, as I was going to be overseas and therefore would be unable to attend, I was then requested to prepare a paper to be read on my behalf. I duly complied, and by way of a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis suggested that the textile industry could become a very major factor in a future, strong economy, subject to the weaknesses and threats being appropriately addressed and countered, and the strengths applied to exploitation of the opportunities.

Among various opportunities, which I believe exist or will exist in the future, I identified the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) of the USA, which enables various countries in Africa to export textiles and clothing to that country without an incidence of customs duties and import taxes.
I suggested that although present political differences between the USA and Zimbabwe resulted in Agoa not being extended to Zimbabwe, at some future date Zimbabwe could well become a beneficiary of Agoa, and the textile and clothing industry should gear themselves towards maximising on the opportunity, when it occurs.

Reports from 16 different participants at the workshop have since given me substantially identical details as to what occurred when my paper was presented. Some participants said that the minister was apoplectic, that he could not contain himself and fury and heat poured forth from every pore.

That venom was only matched by the quantum of vitriol that, in my absence (and despite the fact that it had been his ministry that had invited my participation) the minister directed towards me. His ire had been primarily fomented by my references to Agoa.

Like the fox of Aesop’s Fables fame, that unsuccessfully strove repeatedly to reach a bunch of grapes and then claimed “I never wanted those grapes!” so the minister said that Zimbabwe had no desire whatsoever to be aligned to Agoa for, he alleged, Agoa was nothing but an evil stratagem of the USA to colonise and dominate Africa.

He proceeded to state forcibly that I — whom he dubbed as “Dr Blair” — promoted Agoa because I was an active conspirator with Tony Blair, the United Kingdom and the USA and the Zimbabwean political opposition, striving to achieve a regime change in Zimbabwe.

The only gratifying feature of his censorious decrial of my paper was that his audience, or at least many present, listened to him in stunned silence, provoked by dumbfounded amazement that he could project himself in such a ludicrous manner, completely detached from reality, and that he could allow his racial and political bigotry to override the interest of the industries that he is supposed to care for.

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