By Noah Manyika
With over 70 percent of our people living in dire straits, it is crucial that the Government, under the leadership of President Mnangagwa, commits to winning the war on poverty as this will set the tone for effective national development priorities incumbent in our leap to economic recovery.
It is a given that people and communities living in poverty cannot protect themselves from political, economic and social manipulation or exploitation. It is impossible to change fortunes for women and children if they remain ensnared in poverty. Epidemics like cholera, typhoid and HIV and AIDS thrive in environments in which they are nurtured; and lack remains pivotal in such environments.
Poverty and economic inequality pose the greatest threat to the short and medium term security and stability of our nation, which will make it difficult to achieve the breakthrough leap into the ranks of the First World.
In an environment where poverty is prevalent, society cannot impose moral responsibility on individuals so as to preserve societal values. Many Zimbabweans in the Diaspora take up 2-3 jobs at great cost because since independence, successive Governments have not made much progress on reducing poverty. We cannot maximise the potential of our nation to be a blessing to mankind without bringing the majority of our people out of subsistence living through taking strides towards eliminating poverty.
To win the war on poverty, infrastructure and services that directly impact the tempo of economic activity in the rural areas where the poor majority lives will be urgently needed, as will be the formalisation of the informal sector, where 90 percent of Zimbabwe’s workforce currently ekes out a living.
Government can position itself for the juggernaut against poverty by setting out to develop a modern and comprehensive rural road network to facilitate access to markets and services. This must be prioritised over projects like the dualisation of an already relatively safe Mutare-Plumtree Road, or the construction of a new House of Parliament. Implementation of creative industrialisation initiatives such as Ghana’s One District One Factory policy to “equip and empower communities to utilise local resources in manufacturing” and to increase agricultural/manufacturing output, employment opportunities and the production of consumer goods and food availability, may also be considered.
Creating village level in-kind investment programmes where villagers seed livestock to build common herds;
Introducing village ownership of commercial farming and agro-industrial projects that will provide contract farming opportunities for small-scale farmers and facilitate the commercialisation of rural agricultural activity. (Note that agricultural entrepreneurship and the creation of rural labour markets are both proven pathways out of poverty);
providing comprehensive veterinary services and creating modern cattle dipping programmes to ensure the health of livestock;
Easing access to capital by creating provincial savings and loan institutions that will also effect a devolution/decentralsation of the financial system.
Chiefs and traditional leaders should be depoliticised and equipped to become the fiduciaries for village-owned commercial projects, which will provide jobs and critical safety nets for villagers in lean times.
Poverty can be mitigated through solving the energy poverty in rural communities by creating alternative energy projects and the acceleration of the rural electrification programme, creating comprehensive irrigation infrastructure to fully utilise Zimbabwe’s 10 000 small water bodies to service small-scale farms and promote year-round agricultural production, as well as incentivising Local Direct Investment at the same level as FDI to encourage the growth of locally-owned industries and the economic empowerment of our people.
the Light The Way Campaign whose brief will be solving rural energy poverty;
the Roadways Out of Poverty that will seek partnerships to construct rural road networks;
Health On Wheels: comprehensive mobile clinics programme to provide specialised services such as cancer screening;
partnership with global housing organisations such as Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) to address housing, water and sanitation needs in the country, including house construction for vulnerable groups and provision of interest-free mortgages to low-income families.
Government can spearhead efforts to make Zimbabwe the most disability friendly country on the continent by, among other things, full capitalisation of institutions providing loans to women and youths; creating a transportation service for Zimbabweans living with disabilities to ease access to services and mainstream their economic participation; revising building codes to ensure easy access for people with disabilities; and creating a business engagement team to create employment opportunities for the 83 percent of unemployed disabled women and 74 percent unemployed men, as well as promote projects and market products made by people with disabilities.
The foregoing list of solutions is hardly an exhaustive one, but would be significant weapons required to win the war against poverty. In his famous speech in Washington DC, five decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr, highlighted “the fierce urgency of now” and warned that in the “unfolding conundrum of life and history,” there is “such a thing as being too late.”
It is my belief that it’s not too late for these fundamental reforms to be implemented. I also don’t believe that the best time to be talking about reforms is four years from now in a polarised campaigning environment.
I am convinced that it will be too late then. President Mnangagwa has the opportunity to lead us in a conversation we must have with ourselves, and to lay down for generations to come the foundation for building a nation, whose greatness will be measured not just by African standards, but global ones.
Instead of just talking about the war on poverty, we all need to play our part in that fight. It is our hope that Government will also partner with us as we launch the work of the War On Poverty Trust.
I wish the President and his team the best as they lead our great country.
Dr Noah Manyika is the president of Build Zimbabwe Alliance and founder of the War On Poverty Trust.