I always get goose bumps when I read in some publications in the country, the narrative that has now become a chorus among them — that is, Zimbabwe’s economy “cannot be fixed”. Initially, they used to say it will be an “uphill task”, now they seem more bold in their position on the matter. The whole issue to me, now sounds like a statement from someone with a death wish — not for themselves though — but rather, for other people.
Every time after reading such an article, I start wondering what it is that is so wrong with our economy that cannot be fixed. And at every one of these moments, I get the impression that someone is trying to deceive us by it.
In The fox trilogy the authors, Chantel Ilbury and Clem Sunter, say something that I find interesting; they say Margaret Thatcher was known for using the phrase Tina which stands for, “there is no other way” – to try and steam-roll her opponents into the position she would have taken herself. They go on to argue — and I agree with them totally — that such a situation is rare in real life. In most circumstances — no matter how difficult the situation may be — there are nearly always quite a few alternatives among a number of possible scenarios, for achieving one’s desired goal. To me, as a Christian, it is only God and Jesus for whom there is no alternative.
Looking critically at the matter, one finds that a good part of Zimbabwe’s current economic challenges stem from its polarised politics where attitudes and perceptions, rather than reality and possibilities, matter.
For example, compare the “can’t be fixed” mantra with this statement in the October 4-10, 2019 issue of this paper’s headline article; “Zim dollar, rand parity reignites debate”, that was made by one positive minded economic analyst in which he said; “Chiefly (sic), Zimbabwe is a recovering economy and needs exchange rate and price stability . . . ”
That said, personally, I never cease to be amazed by the way we Zimbabweans think and behave in the current era.
Before independence, there was always the feeling among us, that if ever we were freed from colonial oppression, we would perform wonders.
But sadly, this positive outlook now seems to have been lost among us.
The way I see the matter, the sort of challenges we face today were conceived among some of us — the anti-revolutionaries — during the colonial period but the majority of us were not conscious of their eventual development over time. This process started with our over-dependence on the colonists to take care of all our needs/interests, be it food, education, health, jobs, and so forth.
And despite our current disdain for them and what they stood for, the original nationalists were well aware of the possibility of such challenges, so they had made preparations for tomorrow in a number of ways. For example, they had sent cadres for training in many areas of the economy vis-a-vis agriculture, education, health, engineering, and so forth, in such countries as East Germany, the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe. In Africa, Algeria and Ethiopia were some of these countries.
Furthermore, after independence they had removed racial segregation from nearly all the aspects of life in the country in the hope that we would somehow, learn from the colonists
in preparation for taking over the economy or at least start our own meaningful enterprises alongside theirs. (The Boers had done it in South Africa when dealing with the British dominance from the time they arrived there from the period 1917 to 1960 or thereabouts).
But instead, we now ape the colonists in everything we do, including condemning our political leadership for “mismanaging the economy”.
Now we are paying dearly for this attitude. We have become almost blind to the real (underlying) issues that are bedevilling our economy despite our claimed “superiority over other African countries in education, technology and other arenas”.
The issue of ZDERA is one where this confusion among us is playing out in a fascinating but sad manner.
Initially, quite a few of us denied the existence of ZDERA, now those of us who know about the debilitating effects of this US act are demonstrating against it in the street and through ineffectual jingles and even songs. On the other hand, those of us who were involved in the promulgation of those sanctions are going behind the scenes to urge the US to maintain them in place despite the suffering that they can clearly see their people enduring.
So under such circumstances, how would anyone in their normal senses, want the US to respond to such stimuli, if we may call them that?
Then there is the issue of the stipulation under ZDERA that, if the Zimbabwe government under ZANU-PF does not fulfil certain conditions that in themselves, are tantamount to “regime change” – Zimbabwe will not be allowed to borrow money from the multilateral financial organisations of which the IMF is the top one.
It is in this state that we are still clamouring for funds from that same direction as well as from Western FDI, forgetting that those companies also get funding from the IMF and also risk being slapped with the same economic sanctions for daring to break these sanctions. In this case the Standard Bank that was fined US$18 million for facilitating Zimbabwe’s international trade activities is one such a company!
The way I see this whole matter, we Zimbabweans lost our way many years ago! For all these years, we did not follow the advice of the nationalists by preparing conditions for ourselves in which we would have more options for dealing with our eventual economic challenges.
As the authors of The Fox Trilogy, explain in that book, there are areas in which one has control of their circumstances and other areas where the forces that affect their economic well-being, are beyond their control.
The former is where one’s capacity to effect positive change lies, whereas in the latter, this control (capacity) is virtually non-existent.
In Zimbabwe we had ample time to effect economic empowerment through skills development and capital creation but we blew our opportunity through ineptitude, corruption and opportunism! And even today, we do not seem prepared to change our bad ways!
As I have always argued, we black Zimbabweans need to reduce the dominance of our erstwhile colonists on the economic front. But when confronted with challenges in the process, we will argue that; “The Government is the problem.”
Today, many Zimbabweans of standing, think our situation – where blacks hardly have any say in the affairs of major companies in this country – is normal.
They view such thinking as expressed here radical, but then, consider such cases as the Japanese, the Chinese and the Indians gradually taking total control of their economies from a position of control by the British and the Americans from the late seventeenth to the early eighteenth centuries.
On the other hand, looking into the relationship between the US government and that country’s business fraternity, we find them only disagreeing on a relatively few issues such as the level of government expenditure e.g. the fiscal cliff hanger phenomenon of January 2013.
The two parties hardly disagree on major internal policy issues that affect their economy and their well-being.
Both of them agree over foreign policy issues because these involve the source(s) of their raw materials and trade partners.
But come to Zimbabwe and you find that internal policy issues are the ones that the private sector and the Government are always fighting over. Here we have the indigenisation issue, the 2 percent tax levy, the currency issue, the Command Agriculture programme, as the major ones.
Interestingly, however, the only issue on which we agree is corruption, but even this case is full of intrigue in the way most of us think it is being handled by the authorities who themselves, seem overwhelmed by the phenomenon.
So what is the source of this challenge, you may be asking? You see, it is all to do with the duality of Zimbabwe’s economy – an economy where there has always been an underlying tussle between its founders, the colonists and the black Government – a Government they have loathed since it came into power in 1980.
This tussle was ignited, first by the payment of the War Veteran Gratuity Fund in 1997, then by the Government’s decision to intervene in the DRC war (1998-2002) and lastly, by the land reform programme in 2000.
In this case the Caucasian caucus grumbled incessantly over the fact that Government was spending their “hard earned” tax money in a manner they did not agree with.
This of course, was a normal reaction for a number of reasons; firstly, they had fought the war veterans during the war of liberations, so the latter were their foes.
Secondly, they did not see the reason why their hard earned money should be used to fund a war which to them, was a distant phenomenon. Regarding the latter case, there was another reason that they did not openly discuss; the DRC has diamonds and other minerals such as coltan — a very important and highly sought after mineral in the electronic gadget industry the world over.
Their attitude to that war had its base in the Rhodesian era when they had sympathies from America, the country that still has an interest in that country’s minerals. And remember also, the Byrd Amendment of 1977, allowing that country to continue the importation of Rhodesia’s chrome ore in spite of British sanctions on the latter?
Overall, this a complex situation in which, instead of supporting the black Government, the black business caucus finds itself fighting it perniciously. This situation arises from the fact that the latter are acting as proxies for their employers, the former Rhodesian companies. In order to appreciate this fact better, imagine a situation where you are the CEO of such a company, meeting the Government on any policy issue. On whose side would you be?
Going back to the origin of our discourse on capital, we can safely assert that when it comes to this matter, even though the thought is rather surreal to most of us – there is now an urgent need for alternative(s) to Bretton Woods.
The Chinese have demonstrated this reasoning through BRICS. Our former president, Mugabe had come to realise this fact after the US had set economic sanctions on the country, this is why he decided to “go East”.
However, he soon realised that the East had its own ideas about funding the Africans. And now ED Mnangagwa the current president, appears to have come to the same realisation – a situation that has created a very serious dilemma for him and his administration.
Nkrumah also came to the same realisation, this is why he made the statement; “We neither face east or west, we face forward”. So ultimately Africans will have to learn this lesson sooner or later if they have to even survive, let alone prosper economically in the long run!
Today a good proportion of Zimbabweans is exasperated by the current economic quagmire in which the obvious solution to them is a political one.
However, this is a very tricky situation (for them) since they have lived for a very long time under conditions where they have not bothered to prepare themselves for genuine involvement in the economy. So they now have only two alternatives — that is A and B.
In these circumstances, if one cannot have A, the only option left is B, but B is very likely to cost them a whole economy. Sadly, there is no time to create conditions for a multiple alternative situation. So given these conditions, where the country will finally land, only time will tell. The saddest part of this story is that today, the majority of Zimbabweans may not be aware that what today appears to be the easiest solution will end up costing them dearly in the long run — that their children will only realise their parent’s fatal mistake(s) when it is too late.
Therein lies the dilemma, not for Zimbabwe alone, but for all black Africans!
◆ Clifford Shambare is an agriculturist-cum-economist and can be reached on 0774960937.