‘Resource nationalism’: a risk to economic recovery?

 In a recent presentation, Southern Africa: Economic Prospects 2012, Professor Tony Hawkins from the University of Zimbabwe, offered some notes of caution about Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, despite the high growth rates being recorded recently.

 He argues that Zimbabwe is becoming “increasingly resource-reliant with the share of GDP of agriculture and mining together now virtually double that of manufacturing”. This structural change is illustrated in a table, contrasting the share of GDP and percentage of exports in 1990 and 2010-11.

SHARE   IN GDP 1990 2010
Mining 4% 9.1%
Agriculture 15% 13%
Manufacturing 22% 11.5%
EXPORT   SHARES 1990 2011
Primary 82% 94.5%
Manufactures 18% 5.5%
Exports:GDP 28% 50%

Exports he explained “now contribute half of GDP – up from 28% – while the share of primary exports is up 95% from 82%. This reflects the de-industrialization of the economy”. He continues: “…if Zimbabwe is to re-industrialize, firms will need to have very different business models from those of the past”. But, he says policymakers are fixated “on capacity utilization, strategic industries, import substitution, self-sufficiency and local ownership”. This, he says, is “more likely to accelerate de-industrialization than reverse it”.

This is overlain with what he calls a “toxic cocktail of resource nationalism and the resource curse”. He explains: “The two interact as politicians, desperate for revenue and votes, prioritize wealth exploitation over wealth creation. The resource curse is evident where policymakers use diamond revenues to finance current – not capital – spending”.  Policymakers, he says, “argue that Zimbabwe is not a poor country – its diamond, gold and platinum wealth could – and should – be used to repay our foreign debt, rather than seeking debt relief. This is a political – sovereignty – argument, not an economic one. Those who tout this argument believe not just that Zimbabwe can – and should – go it alone, but also that this is a means of escaping the governance and structural reforms implicit in HIPC debt relief.”

He argues: “Resource nationalism takes many forms ranging from higher mining taxes to indigenization and local ownership laws. Regardless of what form it takes resource nationalism fails unless its long-run focus is on wealth generation, not asset ownership and short-termist wealth exploitation”. Reflecting on the statistics, he comments: “Today the Zimbabwe economy is recovering – not growing – by consuming its wealth. The country has increased its reliance on resource-depletion growth, while failing to diversify production and exports and invest in the future”.

He concludes that policy needs to shift the focus

  • “From consumption to investment
  • From asset ownership and wealth consumption to wealth creation
  • From needs-based remuneration to productivity-based earnings
  • From reviving uncompetitive firms that have passed their sell-by date to start-ups and new entrants.
  • From near-term income growth, reliant on wealth depletion and consumption, to long-term growth sustainability based on investment and competitiveness”.

These are all certainly good aims, and the note of caution about how mineral and agricultural riches can be fragile, if not reinvested is important. But the commodity boom driving economic growth across Africa is not going to go away. Africa is resource rich, and the demand for these riches is growing, particular in Asia. The new geopolitics reflects this as China, India, the Middle East, Brazil and others seek out alliances in Africa in order to secure access to resources to fuel their own economic growth.

This new world order is what Hawkins calls the ‘new normal’. Rethinking the political economy of growth in the era of the commodity boom will require accommodating these new realities, but also guarding against the risks, making sure the new riches are broadly shared and appropriately invested, and keeping the new investors accountable  and avoid dependency in a new periphery.  This will be a major challenge for future economic policy, in Zimbabwe and beyond; one that will require some major rethinking.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “‘Resource nationalism’: a risk to economic recovery?

  1. Jean Simon

    Well spoken Prof Hawkins. We do need a radical change in thinking by our political and business leaders.

    • Psani

      This is a very well written and thought of article on wonders with such minds in ZImbabwe how can we be at such a situation in the first place!!

  2. Pingback: Greatest hits. Your favourite posts in the past year | zimbabweland

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