STRATEGIC innovation expert Brian Sedze has urged industry to focus on competencies in order to fully revive the struggling sector in a modern knowledge economy.
Industrialists have been calling for government protection from cheap imports, which they blame for stifling local demand, but in a harsh economic environment where most manufacturers have either closed shop or are operating below capacity, they have struggled to satisfy the market in terms of quality and pricing.
Sedze believed industry needed to switch focus and understand the country’s capabilities for it to create sustainable modern industries.
“Fighting to revive the rundown industries which we inherited from colonial times and have been on the decline for decades is like flogging a dead donkey because they are no longer relevant and will not survive,” Sedze said.
“We should invest in a new economy based on our abilities. The world over, production and industry are not confined to farming, mining or manufacturing, but what is now important is to look beyond traditional focus.
“A good example is Mauritius, which is traditionally dependent on sugar production such that about 90% of their cultivated land was under cane, but it managed to look elsewhere and became a financial hegemony in Africa,” he said.
On the efforts by industry to lobby for import restrictions to ensure local demand grew to sustain operations, Sedze argued that it was no longer sufficient to depend on local demand.
“Industry will still struggle because there is a need to expand the market beyond national borders and our products still don’t compete with foreign products in terms of pricing and quality, so they will still fail in other markets, but if you manufacture for the local economy only, you will not break even.
“Zimbabwe is also a prominent participant in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and it would be unwise to try and over-restrict imports into your country while you call for other countries to embrace free trade.”
He challenged the country to accept that in line with modern trends, South Africa was highly automated and now considered the rest of Africa as its market which it would not readily lose.
“We just need to be self-sufficient. For example, we have two major strategic competencies in tourism and trained human resources, so Zimbabwe has to invest in an innovation hub to explore ways to exploit such advantages,” Sedze said.
He queried the proffered harp that industry needed to retool for revival and subsequently employ more people saying retooling actually reduced the need for manpower.
“Automation naturally renders people redundant, so it is not a valid argument and if we choose not to fully automate, our products will still lose out because the cost of production in this country will remain higher than South Africa, for example,” he added.