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  • Writer's picturerutendo matinyarare

Zimbabwe Must Focus On African Markets And African Trade

After a protracted colonial deconstruction project by Robert Mugabe, the baton has been passed on for a new leader to build a new Zimbabwe without the exploitative colonial vestiges that consigned our people to slavery and poverty during the colonial era.

As part of this national rebuilding process the new leadership will need to take a new approach on who we partner in building a new Zimbabwe, and it comes without saying that rebuilding will require new partnerships with which we can negotiate win-win agreements for mutual, collaborative and sustainable development. The days of skewed, parasitic, exploitative relationships that characterized most independence agreements with the west can no longer be an option for a nation that has been independent for 37yrs, 17 of which were spent in isolation in rejection of neo-colonial excesses.


Of late, global economic forecasts are replete with data on how Africa is a rising star economy, which is currently enjoying the fastest economic growth rates, earnings, savings, urbanisation, workforce and population in the world. All in the while, latent needs are growing although the market remains fragmented, solutions scarce, investment fleeting, competition and locally produced substitutes remaining limited. According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), Africa’s expenditure is estimated at $1,4tril, of which 35% of that is spent on food. This expenditure is forecast to grow to $2,4tril by 2025, which will be an average compound economic growth rate of 5,1%, while Europe will be chugging along at most by 1,5% and Asia 4% over the same period. More compelling is the fact that Africa continues to have a plethora of problems and untapped needs that offer huge potential business and investment opportunities for Africans to solve. Nevertheless, Africa still only gets less than 4% of global investment despite her growth potential.

Another well publicized growing market is that of African Americans who are the richest Africans in the world with an average income per capita of $49000 and an aggregate spending power of $1.2tril and rising fast. They constitute the largest sub-market of Africans by revenue in the world, presenting a unique market of captive investors and consumers with a need for identity and sense of belonging that Africa can address. This market is also made up of highly skilled resources, savings and high net worth individuals who can offer investment, skills and a lucrative market for African products and services. Together, Africa and it’s diaspora in America, Brazil and Europe offer Zimbabwe a formidable and lucrative potential investor, product and partnership market for unique African value propositions and opportunity.

Way forward

It’s with this consideration and the objective of reviving Zimbabwe that as a nation we must focus our marketing, brand strategies and scenario plans to rationalise and extend our potential market targeting to the partially tapped Afrocentric market segments with their unique sets of ideals and needs that with a bit of effort we can legitimately satisfy better than competitors.


However, before this change in position can be attained, we need to acknowledge that Zimbabwe has problems that will require change management and reorientation from both a systemic and psychological perspective before our new development objectives can be tenable. I will not be able to exhaust all challenges that we face and need to address as a nation before we are able to build, albeit, I will deal with the most critical human factor challenges which affect our understanding, response and thinking towards our task. It’s critical that the human component is brought in line with establishing and embracing core values and thinking that is malleable to the nation building task at hand.

A great problem that we encounter in Zimbabwean business, as a psychological remnant of colonialism is business Afrophobia, where we native Zimbabweans and Africans in general only see value, markets, investors, service providers and partners in Europeans or non-Africans. We, like other Africans seem averse to doing business with other Africans, as a result close to $460bil of African capital flys from the continent to other continents in importation of even rudimentary products that the continent can produce for itself. Of that $35bil is spent on food imports from outside Africa, while another unaccounted for $53bil leaves illicitly through corrupt business practices. Someone might however argue that Zimbabwe’s biggest trade partner is South Africa, but if we are critical, South Africa in many ways resembles a European economy powered by European monopolist investment and capital.


Our Afrophobia is so engrained in us that even though European investors have generally dealt with Africa exploitatively and their markets have been in maturity, stagnancy and sometimes decline for over a decade; Our leaders and business strategists continue to focus on trying to attract these investors and push our product into their mature markets even though these [markets] are characterized by monopolies, collusion, exploitation, diminishing returns, serious competition, tremendous amounts of product substitutes, deeply entrenched supplier relationships and prohibitive entry barriers. Meanwhile, while we are not adequately consolidating our African markets with African propositions, western nations are refocusing their efforts from just investing into their own mature markets to aggressively penetrating and monopolizing Africa’s rising star 1.2bil customer market. This rewards them with an extension market for mature products, the ability to use their capital and scale to build monopolies and collude in Africa, growing revenues, increasing returns on investments and higher profit contributions because of the lack of competition, fewer substitutes and the opportunity to charge premium captive prices in this unserviced market.

To illustrate this challenge in empirical terms, lately there has been talk of Dangote looking at investing $50bil into the European and American markets, yet he made almost all his wealth in the growing Nigerian market selling food and cement. The question is: why does he not reinvest his wealth back in the Africa market that has rewarded him so handsomely and still has the potential to reward him more with all its untapped needs?

Another compelling example is Zimbabwe; while under US and EU sanctions over the past 17yrs, we did nothing to mitigate the western sanctions by targeting our own Zimbabwe diaspora savings to invest in the country. Neither did we attempt to penetrate new product markets in Africa with our agricultural produce, tourism, ethanol fuels, crafts, music, books, art, films,jewellery and investment propositions. This, despite the fact that we are in an agricultural economy in a resource rich country on a continent that is estimated by the World Economic Forum to spend 10% of it’s $350bil food expenditure importing food from outside the continent, which is a huge missed opportunity for an agricultural economy like Zimbabwe. This is in stark contrast to the historic case study showing that ethnocentric investment, targeting the lucrative African market was a strategy employed intensively by both the apartheid South African and Rhodesia gvts to mitigate the effects of sanctions on their economies, monopolizing and earning very high margin returns from the African market, growing their companies into international players. The Equatorial Guinean President for example was renowned for buying Rhodesian beef and punting it as the best in the world, and even today, European descendant Zimbabwean horse breeders in Zimbabwe are exporting both horses and star grass horse feed to countries like Congo and as far as the UAE.

Not too long ago South African Breweries became the second biggest brewer in the world with a market valuation of over $50bil before being bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev to create the biggest brewer in the world. Today, SABInbev is one of those global companies capitalized by South African local investment, funded by a lucrative, captive African market where they developed a monopoly in both value chain and market because they encountered very little competition and high returns. African profits have also grown other South African companies like Standard Bank, Edgars, Multi-Choice, Nandos, Famous Brands and Checkers into global blue chip companies while most other African countries have looked on and let their African markets be monopolized by foreign brands.

Lack of home biased investment

So in analyzing this period, instead of Zimbabweans focusing on attracting African diaspora investment, investing in this African cash cow market and embarking on a similar brand building investment drive like South African companies. We continued to try to attract investment from countries imposing sanctions on us, we also corroborated with those applying these sanctions by externalizing our savings, investing these savings in western banks, foreign money markets and tax havens simultaneously splurging on ostentatious German cars, western electronics, jewellery, fashion and even agricultural produce from South Africa and Brazil. All this in essence meant Zimbabweans harvested their own market without reinvestment, destroying our own companies to give monopoly to South African brands that are being subsidized by a penetrative capital marketing investment to kill Zimbabwean competition. This is something that must be remedied.

Even our gvt under our colonial deconstruction champion, Robert Mugabe, embarked on buying European luxury vehicles for senior government officials, accompanied by Asian vehicles for gvt departments and political parties . This, instead of saving our scarce foreign currency resources, resuscitating our own local car building plants like Willowvale or better yet, supporting both Nigeria and Ghana who have started producing their own vehicle brands, lnnoson and Kantanka. It’s ironic that none of the African gvts or businesses in the spirit of Pan Africanism have supported these Nigerian and Ghanian car manufacturing companies, including the Nigerian gvt itself. This is counter productive for a rapidly deindustrializing Africa that is in need of savings and investment, whilst suffering at the hands of neo-colonial exploitation.

Lack of patriotism.

Sadly, when one looks deeper at the source of the above problems, they stem from the scourge of the lack of patriotism of most Zimbabweans. As a nation we lack a common vision to glue us together as a people to work for common interest and common weal, therefore, we have this belief that western foreigners for some reason have more of an interest to invest in our development rather than us investing in ourselves. We are more prepared to embrace western principles like free markets to benefit western investors and economies before we look at what’s in our best interests as a nation and continent. It’s for this reason why during the sanctions we saw very few strategies by Zimbabweans to bust sanctions, increase home biased investment or appropriate trade secrets from the organizations we work in and use those to develop Zimbabwe or to mitigate the effects of the sanctions. Instead a number of our locally incubated brands like Econet went on to expand their investments and brand extensions in foreign jurisdictions instead of in Zimbabwe to consolidate home markets and build a formidable economy before expanding globally. As Zimbabweans we have not fully embraced the mantra most developed economies followed: do as they [most advanced economies] did, not as they say.

Strategy: Segmenting, Targeting and Repositioning

It’s in light of the above opportunities and problems that our new President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his new team must approach our rebuild and re-engagement process with the international community through an extensive strategy that will target both traditional and non-traditional lucrative investors, high net-worth individuals, skills and high growth markets. I am even tempted to suggest that Zimbabwe does not really need re-engagement as it’s central strategy because this insinuates a dependency on only those mature nation’s that disengaged us for their own narrow neo-colonial interests. Instead we need to reduce our over reliance on traditional western markets and broaden our segmentation and market targeting to expand our portfolio, rationalizing these previous markets alongside new market penetration and collaboration to help us not only rebuild Zimbabwe but to partner with other African and Pan African high net-worth communities that share common interest with us to consolidate the African market, build mutual partnerships, African brands and industries. As Africans we need to start harnessing and protecting both Africans savings and revenues to leverage us to build African investments and interests, in a world where as Africans we are just clients of other nations.

This repositioning to target domestic, growing African savings and markets at the same time focusing on consolidation of African markets through collaboration, is critical for us to start building a continental common interest that will give us the benefits of market consolidation, savings, investment, market protection, job creation, market partnerships and revenue preservation. This, in place of us wasting scarce continental resources competing amongst ourselves, externalizing capital on imports, giving foreign capital monopoly over our markets and attenuating our own progress in the process.

This is a strategy well implemented by the Rhodesians, apartheid South Africans, the Portuguese in Mozambique and today by the west who no longer compete as nations when they enter the African market. Rather, they enter as a united front through the use of global oligarchies and combines of capital: financial institutions, global companies, partnerships, agencies, franchises, consultancies flanked by NGOs and international multi-lateral organizations to monopolize the African market and opportunity.

Holistic Strategic Focus.

Yes, engagement with capital is critical for development but it should not escape our strategists and politicians that partnership with western capital is a mix of overlapping political and business interests that are competing parasitically with African interests. It’s the balancing of strategy in this obscured reality of survival that we need in charting our way forward. The manifestation of the above parasitic, hybrid business political relationship by our western competitor-partners should see us beginning to look at African and African diaspora investors, markets, savings and revenues as a prime target for our country.

In line with addressing these competitive challenges in the market place, Zimbabwe needs an integrated strategy that encompasses:

• Resegmentation of our potential investor, product and collaboration markets: Zimbabwe needs to resegment it’s markets and start to look at targeting sources of revenue, growing new markets with mutual values away from the traditional stagnating western markets that are characterized by parasitic tendencies, serious competition, stagnating markets, monopolies and discriminatory entry barriers. To achieve this outcome a focus on Afrocentric needs, aspirations, values, identity, economic fundamentals, common interest and emotional appeal with unique African propositions tailored to speak to the African heart needs to be the focus. As a central part of our strategy is targeting African savings and disposable income, fighting to get a lion’s share of that global revenue with products and services we have unique advantage in; emotive propositions that speak to the core of African identity, common history, common struggle, common purpose, aspiration and nation building objectives.

Some of the areas to pay attention to in the targeting of African savings, spending, skills and markets include the following:

Diaspora markets:

We need to extensively consolidate the needs of Zimbabweans and Africans in the diaspora, tailoring engagement, touch points and propositions that will commit them to:

* Have home biased investment to invest their savings on solving lucrative, untapped needs and opportunities back home.

* To bring their skills back home to help develop the nation’s competitiveness.

* To collect intelligence on the markets they work in the diaspora which may include: research data, strategies, policy documents, trade secrets and new technology blue-prints to be used in home based RnD.

* Market investment opportunities to potential investors with appetite for Zimbabwe opportunities

* Get them to position themselves as indigenous partners to foreign investors particularly to western investors

* Establish and expand value chains in their diaspora markets for home made products.

* Link Zimbabwean opportunity to foreign capital

* Identify special talent, skills, the financially endowed and minds that will compliment the Zimbabwe developmental objectives particularly in Africans and Africans diasporians seeking to establish roots on the continent and develop African capacity.

* Become agents for Zimbabwe, it’s products and brands to enter the diaspora market.

* Market and distribute Zimbabwean products

* Promote Zimbabwean and African products.

* Demand more products from the continent in their markets.

* To become brand ambassadors and apostles for the country and homemade brands.

Africa and the African diaspora is full of unsatisfied needs that address Africa specific needs which companies can profit from by satisfying, therefore investment in R&D to solve these problems offers potential for huge returns for African companies and investors.

Domestic African markets:

We need to target African country markets for skills, investors and consumers of our products in the same way we will target the Africa diaspora. Efforts must also be made by our governments and businesses to lobby Africans to unify the Africa market to limit the effects of market fragmentation and the capture of African markets by foreigners. The current $460bil lost to other continents in imports constitutes an above 35% market share of the African market to foreigners which is unacceptable for a continent in need of savings and industry.

African America market:

This is a market segment similar to the diaspora segment but it differs fundamentally in the aspect that African Americans have no real experience of Africa because most have never been, however, this is a sub-culture of people who have an emotional connection with the continent most desperately in need of identity and a sense of belonging which African countries can deliver. A great number of African Americans desire to reconnect with their roots and have a place they can call home in a Eurocentric world that subliminally rejects them, hence they are a very fertile market for relocation, skills acquisition, investment, partnership and consumption of African products aimed at addressing their belonging, egotistic and identity needs.

Suitable Products and services for these markets are: vocations, investment, tourism, real estate, knowledge, citizenship investment, land, books, music, ornaments, art, film, theatre, literature, clothing, history, lectures, fashion, precious metals, gems, jewellery, organic food, raw materials.


Collaboration for Africans the continent over is no longer optional but it has now become a matter of survival for Africa because as long as we continue to be isolated in fragmented little markets giving other continents the right to monopolize our markets and economies, it will bring the extinction of our companies and our development potential, leaving us prone to economic domination and by derivation political and military subjugation.

The above ethnic focus strategy will not be at the exclusion of other growing markets outside our ethnicity but as Zimbabweans and Africans we have to begin to focus on uniting our own markets, interests, revenue and savings before expecting other markets to readily open up for our products in their markets. Moreover, of importance is the objective of protecting our home markets from being controlled by foreign capital at our expense.

I hope our new government combines social engineering, politics, sociology, military history, marketing, branding and anthropology in creating the new strategy for Zimbabwe.

Rutendo Matinyarare is a Marketing and Brand Strategist at Frontline Strat Marketing Consultancy.

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