Children suffer from Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil

A young boy sells boiled eggs and buns on the streets of Harare. (AP)
Updated 11 August 2019

Children suffer from Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil

HARARE: It is only a few hours since Zimbabwe’s schools closed for month-long August holidays, and 13-year-old Tanyaradzwa is already milling outside a bar “doing business,” he says. He hawks cigarettes outside a dingy downtown bar in the capital, Harare, and for a fee, helps motorists find parking space.
“I am not a street kid. I come here to sell my things, go home and use the money to buy food,” said Tanyaradzwa, who did not give his last name to protect his privacy.
With power cuts lasting 19 hours per day, debilitating water shortages, inflation at 175 percent and many basic items in scarce supply, Zimbabwe’s children are the silent victims of the once-prosperous southern African country’s debilitating economic downfall.
For his family of six to eat, Tanyaradzwa must hang around the bar at the popular Elizabeth Hotel in hopes of cashing in on afternoon drinkers and passers-by who want to buy cigarettes, he said.
His parents run a small vegetable stall in Glen View, a working class residential area, but what they make is hardly enough to pay the bills, let alone buy food, he said.
Many people can no longer afford to put food on the table without the help of their children — no matter how young.

Children are forced to juggle between school demands and supplementing the family income through street vending or selling at small stalls.
“These holidays just mean more work. There is no break, because I now have no excuse not to work every day,” said Tanyaradzwa.
On the adjacent, busy street named after former longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, children joined elders pushing fruit and vegetable carts. Some kids held cardboard boxes selling items ranging from cigarettes, cell phone airtime, sweets and clothing.
According to Mercy Mpata, a teachers’ representative, the demands are taking many children’s focus away from school.
“There is a lot of absenteeism because the children have a lot on their plate,” said Mpata, the spokeswoman for the Association of Rural Teachers of Zimbabwe.
“Even if they come (to school), they are either sleepy or, instead of concentrating on school work they are busy thinking ‘Where will we get the next meal if I don’t sell enough items after school today?’“
Teachers have their own grievances. They are paid the equivalent of about $50 a month and, like the rest of the civil service, say they cannot live on those wages, which they call “slave salaries.”
“We live in the community. We interact with these children and their parents. They are like family. That’s why we always try to give it our all ... but hungry teachers teaching hungry children, that’s tough,” said Mpata.
The food situation is dire in Zimbabwe, with about a third of the country’s 17 million people being food insecure due to drought and the worsening economy, according to a report released this month by UN agencies, international aid organizations and the government.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the drought a national disaster on Tuesday. On the same day, the UN launched a $331 million appeal to mitigate the unfolding disaster. Children, according to the appeal, are some of the hardest hit. Close to 160,000 children and adolescents will need welfare and child protection services, according to the UN.
“There is a risk that children and adolescents will increasingly experience psychosocial distress as some are likely to drop out of school, pushed away from home to seek employment,” said the UN in its appeal for funds.
Expectations were high that Zimbabwe’s economy would grow following Mugabe’s departure at the end of 2017. But the economy did not take off and will contract 3 percent this year, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, said this month.
After inflation reached a decade-high of 175.6 percent last month, Ncube suspended the country’s monthly inflation reports, saying that last year’s prices were in US dollars and now they are in Zimbabwe’s currency, introduced in June, so they are not comparable.
However, that has not stopped schools from feeling the pinch of rising prices and eroding incomes. For the coming school term, some boarding schools are asking parents to provide food instead of paying school fee increases.
But that’s just for the fortunate children who still have parents and guardians able to afford such boarding facilities.
For many children such as Tanyaradzwa, juggling between school and eking out a living takes a toll, even as they desperately hold on to bouts of hope.
“I have dreams, big ones,” he said, smiling. “I want to be a lawyer.”
To achieve that dream, he is sacrificing much of his childhood.
“There is no time to play with friends,” he said. “The work, the school, it takes all of my time.”


INTERVIEW: Lessons in intelligent learning from the UAE’s master restructurer

Updated 9 min 45 sec ago

INTERVIEW: Lessons in intelligent learning from the UAE’s master restructurer

  • Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment considering itself a nation

Ziad Makhzoumi is ready for the next chapter. A serial entrepreneur, restructurer par excellence, corporate adviser and public speaker, the 64-year-old Lebanese-born executive is looking for a new challenge in a career that has made him one of the best-known figures in the regional business scene. “Retirement is not an option in the coming few years,” he told Arab News.

Since 2016, when Makhzoumi helped to put together the deal that saw fertility firm IVF Fakih sold to NMC Healthcare for more than 1.5 billion dirhams ($408 million) — then the biggest deal ever in the UAE health care sector — he has taken stock, written a book based on his immense corporate experience, and launched another start-up in the medical business that could have global ramifications.

The book, “Intelligent Learning: Competing in Systemic Chaos” is a manual for budding entrepreneurs, as well as a primer for more experienced executives and policymakers. “I wanted to write about my approach to strategy and problem-solving in business. The reason for my success over the years is my passionate drive to want to achieve positive outcomes in my personal and business life,” he said.

“When I advise businesses, many times I have been frustrated with people who are not interested in learning new things, they chose to ignore what is around them and are content with looking in one direction instead of seeing everything that is really there,” Makhzoumi said.

He was speaking in general terms, but perhaps his comments could be applied to the corporate situation for which he is still best known in the Middle East — the five-year stint when he was chief financial officer of Arabtec Holding, one of the UAE’s most prominent contracting groups, responsible for some of the Emirate’s globally iconic landmarks, including the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

Arabtec, founded by his Lebanese compatriot Riad Kamal, had been a driving force behind the Dubai building boom of the early 2000s, but by the time the global financial crisis hit the region it was in all sorts of trouble, overextended and under financial pressure.


BIO

BORN: Beirut, Lebanon, 1955

EDUCATION
• University of Manchester, Alliance Manchester Business School

CAREER

  • Consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Chief financial officer, Arabtec Holdings
  • CEO, IVF Fakih
  • Adviser, Drake & Scull
  • Founder and CEO, MAP Sciences

Makhzoumi kept the wolf from the door for a considerable time, and helped to organize the rescue of Arabtec by Abu Dhabi backers. But a change of strategic direction by the new management left him out in the cold. It also left him well-qualified to comment on the UAE’s current real-estate related challenges.

The country is still growing in economic terms, according to figures from the International Monetary Fund, but oversupply of property developments has taken the steam out of the real-estate market, formerly one of the drivers of the local economy. Levels of indebtedness remain stubbornly high despite several rounds of restructuring since the 2009 crisis.

Property valuations have been languishing just as the UAE gears up for Expo 2020, the global business fair on which a lot of hopes have been pinned. Makhzoumi believes there is still some work for policy-makers to do ahead of that event.

“The medium-term outlook for the UAE remains stable, underpinned by sizeable sovereign wealth fund assets, as well as the government’s commitment to forge ahead with reforms. However, sustaining robust non-oil growth after Expo 2020 remains a key priority, especially in the context of the likelihood that global oil demand will slow,” he said.

But his Arabtec experience, as well as a later short term as an adviser to another troubled UAE contractor, Drake & Scull, make him wary that the boom days will return any time soon. “The real-estate sector in Dubai is still suffering a correction cycle that has been extended based on over-optimistic expectations, which might not happen because of external factors like the global economic and trade situation.

“As a result the over-building and high prices of real estate will possibly increase the incidence of default by the buyers and developers, and thus affect the banks’ balance sheet. The cycle could directly affect the banking sector’s ability to lend to other businesses, especially SMEs which are vital for the diversification of the economy,” he said.

On the subject of diversification, Makhzoumi has had plenty of experience in Saudi Arabia, and takes a more optimistic view of developments in the Kingdom.

“I have worked in Saudi Arabia at different times in my professional life, in the Seventies, Eighties and in 2000, but never have I witnessed the vast changes that are happening now under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Vision 2030 strategy has highlighted the intent, and the leadership is delivering on its promise. We are seeing events that 20 years ago we would not even contemplate. It is all good and will get better,” he said.

Makhzoumi’s current big project could be a game-changer in the medical field. MAP Sciences, a UK-based company that offers state-of-the-art diagnostics, has developed an all-in-one test based on the high-tech spectral analysis of a simple blood spot, dried on to a blotting card, which could be used by an individual without medical staff and revealing the results within minutes.

He explained the sophisticated science behind the product. “Not only will this new test dramatically overcome the cost and phobia of venous blood draw, but the minuscule sample required is subjected to a new laboratory technology, termed ‘MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry,’ which is quicker, cheaper and better than current tests,” he said.

MAP is involved in projects around the world, including a potentially huge research initiative in China with the government of the city of Nanjing to provide an efficient and rapid diagnosis for Downs syndrome during pregnancy, as well as trials in some of the leading medical institutions in the UK. “We have started our male and female cancer screening tests that will soon offer the individual a home-screening test that is affordable, reliable and fast,” he said.

He is currently seeking funds from global investors to help fuel MAP’s next phase of growth.

Makhzoumi spends a lot of time in the UK working on the MAP business, and is a skeptical observer of the political scene. A natural conservative, he has become disillusioned with post-Brexit developments in the country, and has moved away from the current Tory party philosophy under leader Boris Johnson, who has just won a resounding election victory.

“I believe the UK cannot be completely isolated from the European Community, and should have approached the problem differently. Great Britain is not so great any more — racial bias and secular isolation has become an acceptable political stand. I hope the new government will bring unity and future clarity and make the UK united again and reclaim its leadership role on the world stage,” he said.

If his view of the UK is less than optimistic, the situation in his native Lebanon he regards as altogether more depressing. “Lebanon is a very sad story. My heart bleeds for a nation, claiming to be a modern republic after 15 years of civil war, built on democratic principles that accepts corruption and favoritism as a normal social and political standard,” he said.

“The economic system needs a complete overhaul and only honest and capable professionals should be appointed, who have the nation’s interest at heart, and not accept office as an opportunity for personal gains and to abuse the citizens of Lebanon,” he said.

Quoting Kahlil Gibran, Lebanon’s national philosopher, Makzoumi said: “Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation,” and added: “The future of Lebanon hinges on whether these barbed fragments can at last be overcome in the interest of a forging a nation greater than the sum of its parts. The overriding obstacle to realizing this vision is that Lebanon remains cursed by geography, and its core fragments are liberally supplied by powerful and ruthless foreign patrons.”

Maybe policy-makers need a dose of “Intelligent Learning”? 

“The world is at war with itself, fueled by ideologies and economic and cultural assumptions that do not work together anymore, and old assumptions that are unreal. The world is going into a state of systematic chaotic disorganization. As individuals, governments, businesses and global citizens, we must learn differently,” he said.