Scratch beneath the gloomy Zimbabwe headlines, and there are interesting possibilities

The country boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world, which stands above 90%.

RECENTLY the news 35 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars is now worth US1$, and that the country’s currency will be officially cease on September 30, as it adopt the US dollar, the South African rand, made for big news and humour.

While the country’s economy is dire, scratch beneath the gloomy headlines and the apocalyptic images of Zimbabwe of recent years, and you will find an old truth – it is never so bad that a country will not have opportunities.

For all the troubled paths it has walked, Zimbabwe is still an economy with several sectors which have the potential to divvy up positive returns.

For one Zimbabwe has a relatively skilled work force, though they they may not have many possibilities for high-paying work. The country boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world, which stands above 90%.

This provides significant opportunities for increased labour productivity, something that will leave companies expanding into Zimbabwe in good stead to become more efficient and compete globally.

However, like other countries also faces the problem of a wide gulf between the skills of the thousands of young graduates entering the labour market each year and the actual requirements of the market.

Reforms must therefore be made to align an outmoded school curriculum with market requirements. This also must be looked at from the perspective of a rising number of youth unemployment.

Like is the common trend in most African states, where more than 60% of the continent`s population is under the age of 25, Zimbabwe too has a youthful population. In Zimbabwe, youth aged 15-34 constitute 36% of the national population and a further 56% of the economically active population.

This demographic trend presents unprecedented possibilities as this burgeoning age-group could translate into a lucrative market. More so now with the continuing spread of technology, the higher technological readiness of this demographic in the Southern African country means that these young people mirror the demands of youth elsewhere.

They demand fast and cheap internet access, smart-phones and various other trinkets that come hand in hand with the global standards of living they have become exposed to, and is an opportunity that is there to be exploited.

Historically, agriculture has been Zimbabwe’s mainstay, and after a dip in output following the land redistribution exercise at the turn of the new millennium (which lately even President Robert Mugabe has admitted was badly handled), there still is upward potential for this sector’s revival barring the effects of negative weather patterns.

Though the long-term prospects for the industry globally look shaky, Zimbabwe’s tobacco farming has done especially well in the recent past, with the sector registering 222 million kilogrammes last year alone, raking in US$685 million in revenue.

Recently, the government commissioned $38.6 million worth of agricultural equipment under a $99 million loan facility from Brazil.

Be that as it may, farming in Zimbabwe has largely become dominated by communal and small scale farmers who do not have access to irrigation and access to agricultural funding due to the fact that most of them do not hold title deeds to the land they occupy. In spite of all these bottlenecks, lie significant opportunities in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector especially considering its highly arable land.

A recent survey by FinScope revealed that 70% of adult Zimbabweans still live in the rural areas; not just a banal statistic if you consider the effects of urbanisation.

What makes this all the more interesting is the fact that Zimbabwe currently has a cumulative housing backlog of over 1 million. For players in the construction sector, this presents massive possibilities for the provision of low cost housing for this rapidly expanding population in urban centres that is going to need housing.

Where others are seeing only obstacles, others are seeing endless opportunity. Global accounting firm Deloitte recently positioned its Central Africa practice in Zimbabwe to tap into the wide talent pool. 

The indigenisation policy - which requires foreign owned businesses to cede 51% of their shareholding to locals - that has become a major sticking point for most investors, “is in reality much more flexible than assumed,” says Zimbabwe Investment Authority head, Nigel Chanakira.

The shift towards a more informal economy has placed consumer facing FMCG businesses top of the line to reap the rewards of investing in Zimbabwe`s economy.

Granted, Zimbabwe is facing negative headwinds, but history has shown that each economy is prone to falling under the cosh from time to time, with Greece being the most recent example, by becoming the first developed country to be in arrears with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Opportunities in Zimbabwe are still exist beyond the “noise” of the headlines. However it is not to negate the crucial work that needs to be done in Zimbabwe to make its economy more competitive and to work again. It’s a lot of work to do.

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