Zimbabwe’s prospects for 2014

2013-12-27 00:00

I THINK we all want to see things getting better in Zimbabwe. There is nothing as painful as knowing that your country can do better and that it can be better managed.

Zimbabwe continues to operate well below its potential simply because it is in the wrong hands.

The recent Zanu-PF congress has not given me any hope at all that there could be something in the making. It was full of old and tired rhetoric, clearly demonstrating that Robert Mugabe no longer has the required intellect and energy to create a modern, developed economy.

I have read the 129-page ZimAsset document and the first thing that strikes me is the reasons given for our economic decline. When you have a problem and you fail to define it, there is no way you can come up with sustainable solutions, which normally lie in how you define your problem.

According to ZimAsset: “Zimbabwe has experienced a deteriorating economic and social environment since 2000 caused by illegal economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. In my opinion, if we defined our problem better, then we could be on the right track to solving it. In my opinion, Zimbabwe has failed dismally to exploit its resources for the benefit of its citizens because of the philosophies and values of those who have had political power for the past 34 years.

Let us be honest, we Zimbabweans have chosen the wrong economic policies over the past decade and these policies have destroyed value, created high unemployment and poverty. We must not continue to blame our problems on external forces because this disempowers us and what we can do.

In addition to the above, the corruption and greed that now permeates both our private and government sectors will continue to limit growth prospects going forward.

How can a government that has driven an estimated 75 state enterprises into the ground begin to turn our economy around? The sad part is that ZimAsset gives the president’s office full responsibility for the policy.

As far as I am concerned, the blueprint that is being hailed as our saving grace is nothing but a further attempt at state capitalism, where the state (read Zanu-PF), seeks to strengthen its hand in the economy and centralise decision-making and control. This economic model not only stifles potential but puts our economic fate in the hands of individuals who have failed dismally to manage our economy for the past 34 years.

I am not convinced at all that our economy will turn around in 2014. Instead, I expect a further deterioration in conditions as unemployment and poverty increase. We are most likely to see liquidity constraints worsen and we have already seen how indigenous banks are struggling to survive. More are likely to close shop, as is the case with a significant number of companies.

I discussed a very interesting perspective with a colleague recently, where we noted that Zimbabwe is no longer a formal classical economy, but a highly informal and survivalist one. Because of this, even if conditions get worse in the formal economy, we are unlikely to see any popular revolt, simply because Zimbabweans have adopted a survivalist attitude and as long as they can make a plan, political apathy will continue. Even if we do go back to a situation like the 2008 food shortages, it is highly unlikely that a popular revolution will emerge.

It is, therefore, difficult to see where political change will come from in the short term. This leaves a huge responsibility with the MDC and other opposition groups in the country. The question is, what can they do when there is no popular support for a revolution?

The other problem with ZimAsset is the key assumptions upon which it is based. The fundamental condition for it to be a success is for the country to have access to foreign direct investment and attract new cash inflows. We can forget raising substantial revenue from tax because this base is reducing every day as companies close and retrench. There have been some silly suggestions that churches and the informal sector should be taxed, which demonstrates the desperation of the Zanu-PF policy makers.

The document has quite an interesting sectorial analysis, and clearly identifies what must happen in each so-called cluster identified, and also identifies the critical projects that the country must undertake in order to develop its capacity. But as always, good ideas that are founded on flawed principles and values are unlikely to produce positive and sustainable results. Next year is, therefore, unlikely to be different from 2013. In fact, things will get worse unless we see a change in leadership.

Until Zimbabwe is an open society where politics does not play a central role in the decisions we make as a country, where citizens are free to pursue their own ambition, and where the government plays a facilitation and not a dictatorial role in the economy, ZimAsset will remain a good idea on paper only.

The people of Zimbabwe must come first and they must be the drivers of socioeconomic change. For far too long we have relied on the centre to lead and it is clear that the centre has failed.

We need a miracle. — Politicsweb.

• Vince Musewe is an economist and author based in Harare.

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