When current American President, Donald Trump was campaigning to get into the oval office in 2016, he built his campaign around a controversial but important message; “America First!”.
This mantra, not only shaped Trump’s presidential campaign, but it has gone on to influence his foreign and economic policy, ever since being successfully elected into office.
The big question to ask is “Why did Trump pick this position?”
He knew very well that Americans care about just a few things. Their national security and nationhood at the collective level, and job security at personal level. Americans want decent paying jobs. It is jobs that give livelihoods to the American family and they know this very much.
While outside America, US foreign and trade policy has been heavily criticised, Trump is seen by a major section of Americans to be fighting in the ordinary American citizen’s corner. He was elected to protect American jobs, and to bring back manufacturing to the mainland. His argument that massively cheap imports were harming American citizens by exporting jobs to China, Mexico and Canada and other places, while dramatic, has received massive appeal.
His policies have seen the United States of America record strong growth in GDP and employment numbers, supported by an increase in minimum wages for the American workers. This is good.
Imports of goods which a country can and should produce locally while they are good in the short term if prices are low, are harmful in the long run if they result in the closure of local companies or the downscaling of operations.
We in Zimbabwe have been on this path for a while. Bad policy and bad consumption habits have forced us to be large importers. Between 2009 and October 2018, we have imported some US$80 billion worth of goods. US$80 billion is a very large number.
Zimbabweans are not poor. We are just poor at managing what we have. This madness and preoccupation with foreign products must stop. Starting with Government itself.
Twenty years ago, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of food in the form of agricultural products and manufactured foodstuffs. The country was also a net exporter of manufactured goods. We imported relatively more raw materials, intermediate goods, chemicals and machinery compared to imports. Zimbabwe had virtually zero imports of edible oils. We were producing enough.
Twenty years on, we are big importers of everything, from toothpicks, matches and toilet paper. Even the food we eat, we are spending big on maize, wheat, edible oils and processed foods. We import fruits and vegetables and cut flowers!
In the process, we have exported jobs. We buy foreign goods but expect to be employed by local companies. How is this possible?
To save Zimbabwe’s jobs and to create new ones, we need the Buy Local message to be an ongoing clarion call to action for all citizens in the public and private sector, all businesses in the country, all government entities and ordinary consumers.
This will be necessary in order for us to restore Zimbabwe pride, create and protect wealth and of course jobs. When President Mnangagwa ascended to power in 2017, he pushed for an agenda that was anchored on the creation and preservation of JOBS JOBS JOBS!
This mantra can only be pushed if we as a country, formally adopt a deliberate Buy Zimbabwe strategy, which has the potential to strongly influence procurement in favour of domestic production.
The “Buy Local” message must become our own version of “Zimbabwe First”. However, buying local should not be about patriotism but the goods must also be of good quality, so that overall consumer welfare is not only maintained but improved.
The writer is an economist and the views expressed in this article are his personal opinion and should in no way present views of any organisations that the writer is associated with.