President Mnangagwa has almost completed his first 100 days in office and has shown that serious change is possible.
On the economic front there has been a complete change of attitude, from complaining about problems to a great deal of pressure to fix things. The President himself has led a charm offensive in his limited foreign travels making it clear that “Zimbabwe is open for business” and listening to what people who want to do business say they need.
There is a realisation that the world does not owe Zimbabwe a living and that if Zimbabwe is to boost trade and investment then it has to sell itself and craft policies that make both easier and more attractive. This is starting to bear fruit including serious inquiries from foreign investors, Zimbabwean businesses increasing production and exports, and even the State sector climbing out of its pits, as the commissioning this week of the first batch of new NRZ locomotives and wagons showed.
Switching a country from a victim mentality, “we are at the mercy of outside forces”, to a “can do” attitude, “if we all work really hard we can fix things” was perhaps the most crucial test of leadership for President Mnangagwa. And making it clear that the “fixing” needs to be done efficiently, honestly and fast was another bonus. There is still a “perhaps tomorrow” attitude in some areas, but considerably less.
Even Government intervention has tended to be practical. This ranges from the big legal stuff, like amending in a fast track Finance Act the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act to implementing changes that general consensus agreed had to be done, to practical steps like cutting taxes on fuel and even sorting out, in a day, odd problems like the rise in bread prices caused by the cost of printing plastic bags.
Efficiency seems to be a watchword. We have seen Zimra getting new leadership, with the candidate that professionals within and outside Government reckoned was the best choice quickly whisked to the top and told to run an efficient and fair system.
Corruption was a growing and killing problem in Zimbabwe. The word does seem to be getting out that it is totally unacceptable. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission now has a free hand to hunt down the big fish, and the little fish seem to have largely decided to conform and hope that past slips will not be noticed. Those who deal with Government offices report that there is a general attitude of trying to help, rather than seeking bribes or favours.
Of course there is still a lot of systematic problems. Zimbabwe created or inherited a surprising amount of bureaucracy and regulation to opening a business, for example. Much of this is not necessary or can be done far more simply. Basically a business should not be a health or safety hazard, should pay taxes and should follow generally agreed labour standards. The authorities should not really have any other interest. It should be easy to set out the minimum requirements and tick the boxes, and do all of this in one office for both central and local government requirements.
Other changes that have helped are outside the economic field, but have had a huge impact. One of the biggest was an almost instant reform of the police. Suddenly switching the force from a gang that preyed on the people to one that served the people was done smoothly; the fact that there were obviously a lot of officers who were professional and had a commitment made the changes possible, but it was still interesting that the President gave his new Commissioner General what amounted to a two-month probation in an acting capacity before confirmation. That shows another angle on changes.
Successful businesses have always been eager to know what people can do, and how well they do it, rather than gazing at pretty certificates on the wall and if the Government switches to that system then at least the worst wasters will be eliminated.
And there is still the final test before many of those now eager to do business with Zimbabwe take the final step.
They want to be sure that Zimbabwe is nice stable country and can run a decent election without much fuss. The President has said that is his ambition as well and has been doing his part to ensure that the conditions are set on the ground.
In his fifth labour, Hercules was set the job of clearing the stables where King Augeas had kept 1 000 cattle for 30 years without ever clearing out the mess.
Being semi-divine Hercules was able to do the job in a day by diverting two large rivers to run through the stables.
Zimbabweans, being mortal, regrettably have to use shovels. But a lot of digging has been done in the days so far, so at least we know we can shovel our way out.