Zimbabwe, a nation afflicted by a government working against it

May 31, 2011

Zimbabwe's long-ruling regime couches it's by-any-means-necessary grip on power in the language of doing so for the best interests of 'the people.' If those people increasingly express discontent at the methods used for the rulers to hang on to power for their ostensible benefit, that is not accepted as a normal outcome of democracy, but is dismissed as their not fully understanding what is good for them.

Much of what made Zimbabwe a country perceived as a success and a country of great promise has been decimated by controversial policies that have failed to build on the country's strengths.  
South Africa's Business Day captured the agony of a country with great potential that repeatedly, consistently seems to make decisions that backfire:
Yet another wrong turn in Zimbabwe

How often is it possible for Zimbabwe to take a turn for the worse?

You would expect that at some point, a social disaster of the scale that has afflicted Zimbabwe would reach its nadir. However, as sad as it is to say so, Zimbabwe has taken a turn for the worse.

In an illuminating study, the Brenthurst Foundation has tracked Zimbabwe’s decline, up to suggestions in recent times of improvement, including economic growth for the first time in a decade. Sadly, according to this study, these green shoots appear to be flattering to deceive, and more problems loom.

Despite a level of development second in the region only to SA in the early 1990 s, Zimbabwe registered 12 years of economic shrinkage associated with hyperinflation until forced dollarisation in 2009. At its peak in 2008, inflation was estimated at 6,5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent — or 65 followed by 107 zeros. The Global Political Agreement signed between Zanu (PF) and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its smaller offshoot in 2008 suggested a possible partial way out and led to the government of national unity . At last, economic growth reappeared, although today most of the civil service is still being paid less than the minimum wage in SA.

New problems are threatening even this miniscule economic resurgence. The politics of Zimbabwe is still deeply flawed, and investor confidence is low, with the government’s apparent determination to nationalise much of the remaining private sector, to say nothing of the growing corruption and cronyism, the report states.

One of the biggest problems is that Zanu (PF) has used the comparative improvement in the economy and access to income to step up intimidation around the country, to the extent that only half of the population feel they would be free to vote for whatever party they choose, according to surveys.

It is in this context that Zanu (PF) has insisted on the indigenisation policy going ahead. The policy forces foreign companies to sell half their equity, not only to Zimbabweans, but Zimbabweans specified by the government. Only in the flat- earth mentality of Zimbabwean economics could such a move even be considered. The notion that this plan will "retard investment" is such a radical understatement it hardly bears examination.

One of the disturbing aspects of the programme is that it appears to be garnering some support from none other than the MDC. At the recent World Economic Forum, MDC leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said: "Across the political divide we agree on the principle of citizenship empowerment ... we have been consistent in the area of indigenisation." This is despite him saying that indigenisation was "empty rhetoric" earlier this year.

It seems the unity government is doing what its detractors feared most: strengthening Zanu (PF)’s position. Zanu (PF) has been provided with a lifeline, and is using its position in the unity government to consolidate its hold on power. The consequence is that for once it is actually Zanu (PF) that is pressing for early elections.

What should regional nations do now? The Brenthurst paper suggests we should not rely solely on external intervention nor place undue expectations on the MDC, "whose performance in the unity government has fallen well short on a number of levels." It calls for a new approach that should comprise several elements, including renewed international pressure for reform, stronger regional leadership by SA , and a commitment by the opposition in Zimbabwe to become a credible, democratic and accountable alternative to Zanu (PF).

This approach seems eminently reasonable, but also very hopeful. If Zimbabwe insists on what is effectively the theft of South African companies, perhaps more comprehensive sanctions should be considered. It is extraordinary that a company like Old Mutual can still be invested in Zanu (PF)’s despotic media interests. Corporate SA , at the very least, should know better.

This report is mostly a bulls-eye analysis of Zimbabwe's tragic situation.

One of the ways it is not is in its dismissal of the yearning for 'black empowerment,' ill-defined as it admittedly is, amongst the generality of Zimbabweans, as among South Africans. There are many alarming aspects about how the concept ('indeginisation' in Zimbabwe) is being conceptualised, discussed and implemented in both countries.

But it is unfair for Business Day to fault Morgan Tsvangirai for what it effectively accuses him of getting on to the ZANU-PF bandwagon. He has little choice in this matter, and can not be seen to be arguing against black empowerment. On what grounds would he do that in today's Zimbabwe? His expressing support for the concept may inconveniently-for-him dovetail with a policy that ZANU-PF has championed. But it is a popular policy that he stands nothing to gain for opposing.

About his only choice in the matter is to articulate a different-from-ZANUPf policy of what exactly 'indegenisation' should entail, and of how to implement it without doing more harm than good, in the way that has become typical of ZANU PF.

In fairness to Tsvangirai, this is precisely what he has attempted to do: to express support for the concept/policy, but to carefully disassociate himself from suggestions of expropriations. This is a tricky balancing act for him because he is now effectively a senior member of Mugabe's government, but at the same time wants to try to keep his identity as leader of the 'opposition.'

The mixed signals from Tsvangirai that Business Day points out are more a reflection of the many competing pressures on him and his poor ability to stay on top of them, than they are evidence that the basic concept of empowerment/indigenisation is faulty. 

Still, Business Day is right to suggest that foreign investors will assume the worst of the Mugabe-led government, based on its record of white farm expropriations. And as long as Tsvangirai is seen as clearly the weaker partner of the coalition government, those foreign investors will be scared off by fears of Mugabe more than they will be re-assured by Tsvangirai. 


Post a Comment