Of benchmarks and visions

20 Dec, 2019 - 00:12 0 Views

eBusiness Weekly

Clifford Shambare

During the week 29 November to 5th December, 2019 Alfred Mthimunkulu posted what I found to be quite an interesting article titled; “What is informing path to Vision 2030?” This article was repeated the following week in this paper’s issue of 6-12, November. This time around it was juxtaposed to my own article titled; “What’s in a budget?”.

When I noticed the positioning of these two articles thus, my first reaction was that this was just one of those errors and/or coincidences that occur in life. Nonetheless, this incident propelled me to re-read that same article whereupon I made an interesting observation.

In my article I had dwelt, to some extent, on the criticality of vision in matters that relate to economic progress. In his article Mthimunkulu talked of benchmarks.

He also concluded that in order for Zimbabwe to make real economic progress she needed to think of starting afresh and not to consider improving on the current situation. In his own words he said, “We need a lot more alternative methods for mapping our futures, methods that force us to make the analysis on a clean page.”

He also emphasized that a ‘catch up’ strategy will not lead to success.

This is part of the article that set me thinking. My interest in this matter stemmed from the fact that a few weeks ago, I had written an as yet unpublished article titled; “Catch up economics or leapfrogging? This is in which I am questioning the strategy of leapfrogging that Zimbabweans appear to be currently applying in trying to catch up with the developed world.

As I continued to mull over the issue, more questions cropped up in my mind. One of them concerned the definition of a benchmark; what it is, as well as what its origin is.

At this juncture, let us try to answer these two questions. Under normal circumstances, in life, there are two forces that set benchmarks – that is nature and the human being. To Christians, however, there is no such thing as nature but only God.

Nonetheless, this is an argument that is outside the scope of this discourse, so here we shall dwell on the human being only.

Generally speaking, in land surveying matters where this term is commonly applied, a benchmark is a starting, or reference point.

In commerce and trade, benchmarking constitutes pegging one’s strategies and operations against competition – especially top companies in a given industry. And in some contexts benchmarks go hand in hand with standards.

On the other hand, a vision, also known in layman’s terms, as a wish – is also set by man. To my mind, man is the connection between these two – that is, a vision and a benchmark.

In this case, when one is envisioning their future position, they are comparing their current position (the benchmark) with the intended one. This still remains the case, whether they are conscious of this fact or not.

And these two terms and/or concepts have quite a bit in common in that they are set by special people in society. As I explained in my budget article, in the first case, the individual(s) involved are political leaders while in the second, they are industry leaders. In addition to these two, there are also leaders in the invention/innovation and/or scientific fields.

That said, the concept can also apply where individuals in general, are concerned but, however, this is a case that we are not considering in our context here.

Viewed from a holistic perspective, economic development can be considered at four major levels – that is at the community, at the national, at the regional, and at the international level. Here Mthimunkulu appears to be considering Zimbabwe’s case within the (African) regional context as well as within the international context.

Now, if we consider the matter within the latter context, we find ourselves inadvertently using the OECD economies as our benchmark. Our reasons for doing so should be obvious; they are the current leaders in many fields including the economic one. And in doing so, we find that they are ahead of us.

At this point one question comes to mind; how did we get to that position, and why do we feel the way we do about the matter? To my mind, attempting to find answers to these questions throws up an interesting area of argument.

To begin with, there are two main causes for being behind another person, people or system(s), as the case may be. One is through competition while the other just comes about because one was not present when the phenomenon took place, or was not aware that their ‘competitor’ was doing something they might want to emulate at some later date. Put in another way, in the first case, they fell behind by design while in the second, they fell behind by default.

While at the first glance, this may seem to be a trite point to make, on further consideration, it turns out to be not the case. In that case do you remember my quote from Walter D. Wintle in my article in this paper titled: “The power of positive thinking”, which says; “If you think you are beaten, you probably are”? The opposite is also true; If you think you can win the game, you probably will.

The Japanese case in the Iwakura Mission is instructive here, so is the recent Chinese economic revolution that took place starting from around thirty five years ago. Even though each of these two countries appeared to  fall behind the West by default and not through competition, they nevertheless, in a way, thrust themselves in a position to catch with the former. And they did so to the extent where they could even surpass it.

Over time, the boundary between the design and the default mechanism becomes rather blurred. This situation is further complicated by the fact that in today’s world, all economic matters are now centred around competition. This is notwithstanding that this competition may be functional or dysfunctional.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that today, Africa (Zimbabwe included) is behind most, if not all other continents in economic development matters. The question to ask here therefore is this: Which strategy should the Zimbabwe adopt to move forward?

Here Mthimunkulu is arguing against trying to ‘catch up’. Put in another way, he is arguing for a new bench mark defined by Zimbabweans and not one that is already in existence, so to speak. His reason for adopting this position is based on available econometric information that shows that “(…) In the last half century only 28 countries have closed the income gap with industrial countries by 10% or more—only 12 of them were non- European and non resource based countries(…)”

He goes on to assert that: “It is, in any case, impossible in definitional terms, to win a game called catch up.”

This is an argument that in itself, raises more questions, and more concerns. One of the major ones of these questions is this: Why are Zimbabweans failing to improve on their current economic situation? The other one, that is a follow on to the first one, is this: If Zimbabweans for whatever reason, do not have the capacity to improve on the current situation – a position that seems to be backed by facts on the ground – can they manage to set their own paradigms and move forward in the process?

To my mind, our ability to address these two questions will enable us to make the right decision(s) on the matter – that is, to try to improve on the current situation on our way up the development ladder, or to start afresh. This is a position that will hopefully, enable us to succeed in our future economic endeavours.

Shambare is an agriculturist cum economist and is reachable on 0774960937


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