Beyond the taste of fried chicken
Tichaona Zindoga My Turn
There was a lot of hullaballoo that accompanied the reopening of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Zimbabwe last July.
There was excitement.There was some consternation.
Debate. Zimbabwean debate.
And there were long, winding queues at the newly-opened outlet as people jostled to grab the reintroduced delicacy.
Local parlance tells us that “Zimbabweans love things”.
The growing queues should have sent worrying chills down the spines of established competitors — as indeed KFC’s happiness to report late last month that the local branch had exceeded expectations.
KFC is even contemplating, according to top official Bruce Layzell, to “paint Zimbabwe red with KFC”.
(Red is one curious colour to decide to paint Zimbabwe with, isn’t it?)
Layzell says KFC wants “to have as many restaurants as we can and as soon as possible.” And they are bound to make lots of money from the things-loving Zimbabwe.
The reader should not be drawn into thinking that this writer has something against Kentucky Fried Chicken — absolutely no beef there!
However, the entry of KFC into the Zimbabwean market symbolically marks something intrinsically wrong with Zimbabwe beyond a mere love for fried chicken by its citizens.
The first problem is the fact that as Zimbabweans we seem to be a nation of consumers — ravenous consumers — even beyond our means.
We eat and eat and eat.
Authorities in the monetary and fiscal sectors have often told us about this bad habit as individuals who eat and as a nation that outspends its budgets.
We stand accused of eating a whole elephant when the hunters in us would have killed a measly mice.
The problem is compounded when we have tastes for foreign elephants, too. That is one problem.
The other is even more fundamental. Zimbabwe has long abandoned being a producer or manufacturer and become a warehouse for foreign goods.
Sad to say, Zimbabwe has become more and more of a market for South African products, with some companies that used to produce goods locally now preferring to bulk-buy finished products and repack and sell.
Some once-proud manufacturers have turned themselves into glorified vendors of foreign manufactured goods. Each day hundreds of Zimbabwean traders and companies cross borders into neighbouring countries and overseas to buy things for resale.
New shops opening in town — including warehouses — contain almost exclusive imports.
An IPS report recently cited statistics released by the Indigenous Food Processors Association showing that 70 food shops, either supermarkets or retail stores, were opening monthly nationwide.
“This appears to be an increase from last year. According to statistics released by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) in 2013, 26 food outlets, including both formal and informal restaurants and grocery stores, opened every three months countrywide,” said the report.
The other side of the growing consumption has been the dearth of our own industry, whose sites have long turned into something between graveyards and post-apocalyptic zones.
Of course, the reasons for this are as varied as they are complicated.
However, there are certain fundamental things that have not been done right.
There has been debate around such issues as MPs buying cars locally and save money and serve a good example.
They do not want that.
They prefer foreign rides.
Damn Willovale Mazda Motor Industries, which has been crying out for business and capital! Now are these the same MPs that are supposed to drive an agenda for a self-sustaining and independent Zimbabwe?
Will the MPs support the recapitalization or resuscitation of WMMI?
The MPs are happier exporting cash and jobs to other countries, not their own where their constituents stand to benefit by way of jobs and an improved economy.
An improved economy comes when industry is functioning and producing and the country making and retaining its money. It’s that simple.
You do not have to be an economist to realise that the current economic problems that the country is facing stem from the export of money.
Every little money that Zimbabwe generates is bound to find its way to foreign markets.
There are reports that some countries are specifically making products for the ever-demanding Zimbabwean market.
The multi-currency regime, which has since served its purpose as a reprieve against inflation that ravaged the local currency, is said to be even discouraging investment in the country as it becomes more expensive to produce in Zimbabwe than in neighbouring South Africa, for example.
There are times one cannot help but feel that even some of our friends and brothers making neighbouring countries even laugh at us beneath the fraternal tears they shed for us, the economically critical.
Our woes are not exactly their worries. They gain from our pain.
They gain from our cheap labour and our tastes for things foreign.
Then you tend to pity this guy called Munyaradzi Hwengwere.
Hwengwere is identifiable these days with some initiative called the Buy Zimbabwe Campaign.
The campaign is meant to promote local brands, from table salt to cars.
He regularly gets sympathetic audience on the media, especially on ZBC, where he preaches the virtue of local brands. Only nobody seems to listen.
On the market, in the shops, the same local brands are ever diminishing while foreign ones flourish.
I pity Munyaradzi Hwengwere each time I see him on national television with his voice box dancing to the appeal to buy local and veins on his neck and temples dilated in sympathetic anticipation.
He should have all our best wishes.
The problem is not insurmountable, though.
What is required is the willpower to turn Zimbabwe into a proud country that it was once by doing all the right things at the right time.
The thing is to recapitalise, resuscitate and promote the local industry so that it begins to produce and sell at a reasonable cost.
This will not only create employment but also ensure that the eternal consumers in us eat something that is done to our standards.
Some of the countries from which we buy employ at best shoddy and at worst criminally irresponsible standards which may yet turn out to be a danger to our populace.
It may also help the country and the Munyaradzi Hwengweres of this world for people to develop the right attitudes towards local products.
Local used to be lekker.
Precisely for that reason, local food and cuisine, for example, should reign supreme over foreign imported products, whether fried or boiled.
However, the matter goes beyond the mere personal taste of the palate: it’s ultimately a matter of a country’s life and death.