The year 2020 opens with increasing foreboding for Zimbabweans: a looming drought, that the United Nations has already flagged, threatens to make dire the complex social, economic and political conditions that the Southern African nation is in.
The social, economic and political problems that Zimbabwe faces are a continuation of the last two decades of suffering that citizens have endured, owing to some well-storied internal and external dynamics.
It is hardly surprising that there is a declining dividend of hope, as a new decade opens: the structures, forms, practices and externalities that have contributed to Zimbabwe’s misery remain intact.
Barring any miracles, which no one is really expecting, it will take a lot of courage and ingenuity for the administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa to turn things around for the better, a promise that has taken a whole two years of transition from the era of the late Robert Mugabe.
It is trite to mention that many Zimbabweans, in private and public spaces, have been increasingly hankering after the era gone by – for all its own problems that were supposed to go in November 2017.
Alas, things have not turned out the way Zimbabweans, with a lot of goodwill from the outside world, had imagined!
The economic, social and political issues of the past year, which to all intents and purposes appear set to seep into the new year, are telling.
However, there are five things that ED’s administration has to address as a matter of urgency.
A central thought informing this piece is that Zimbabwe’s problems are mainly economic and administrative, as I argued in an op-ed published by a number of South African newspapers on New Year’s eve.
Zimbabwe’s domestic and foreign policies are, to put it bluntly, a dog’s breakfast. The key domestic issues revolve around economic administration. The economy is in a state of breakdown because there has not been any meaningful development of a programme that stimulates growth, revive industry, expand exports, create jobs and compete internationally. In the absence of the above, government has tended to rely on taxing citizens to the death, eyeing shamelessly the exponential growth of the informal economy. Apart from taxes, the thrust of the government has been trying to cut down on debt and narrowing deficits. The latter has more to do with the absolute superfluity of balancing books, even so badly, rather than deliver impactful changes for the people. Whereas Mnangagwa two years ago preached “jobs, jobs, jobs” as a function of a revived economy, the current state of the economy shows an inconsistent and failing trajectory. At the centre of this is the so-called austerity which must, as government has promised, now be phased out and a new policy come in place. We know we are going to need a lot of luck on that.
On the foreign policy front, that Zimbabwe has hobnobbed with all manner of countries from China to Eurasia to Dubai and courting many a suitor – and with little success – is indicative of the dog’s breakfast alluded to above. Mnangagwa’s foreign policy can be seen to lack character and consistency.
This in turn affects such aspects as foreign direct investment and the economy. In 2020, the administration will have to make a decision of what sort of animal it is.
Zimbabwe has blown hot and cold regarding tackling corruption. Addressing corruption is supposed to cleanse and aid the administration of government, while ridding society of thieves and looters. Many suffering Zimbabweans would derive some comfort from seeing corrupt elements go to jail. Very few have. While in places some “bigwigs” have been arrested, they have been let go for reasons that range from inability to prosecute the crimes to a demonstrable lack of political will to pursue the matter. At the end of the day, the current anti-corruption drive is nothing but a joke. Nobody is being fooled, including investors. It becomes worse when officials use, nay, abuse, institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to settle personal scores. If criminals, including those in government, are made to account, a new hopeful vibe will be felt.
There is an established correlation between freedom (democracy) and prosperity, as well as free enterprise. The enjoyment of civil and political rights by the people will ensure a society that is more peaceful and stable. Zimbabwean authorities like to throw in caveats regarding enjoyment of freedoms and rights such as assembly, speech and expression. The government appears afraid of the people. The people are afraid of their government. Mnangagwa would do well to change this climate of fear – on mutual sides. It takes real leadership to do that, and if he succeeds to do that in 2020, it will be a positive sign. The proviso being, if the government addresses people’s needs, it takes away incentive for rebellion and its own fear of the people.
Mnangagwa did a lot to undo the indigenisation policy of his predecessor. Indigenisation, which Mugabe initiated in the mid-2000s, empowered locals to demand majority stake in the country’s businesses, factories, banks and mines; etc. Certain sectors were set aside for locals as “reserved”. A controversial policy, indigenisation was deemed anti-business and Mnangagwa did not waste as much as a blink to dismantle it, including scrapping the last vestiges that dealt with platinum and diamond mining. That was supposed to be a pro-business routine of the new administration. Only Mnangagwa has not put an alternative policy that addresses the anthropological aspect of empowerment, and its creation of a movement of people who can lay claim on the economy through grassroots and localised initiatives. This is especially key for black people who ought to dream that they can own mines, factories and banks. In Mugabe’s time, people once dared that dream. In the absence of such a smart, revolutionary movement, is it coincidental that we have seen the growth of the so-called Mashurugwi, a made-in-Midlands phenomenon of gangs of young people who move across the country hacking people to death with machetes in search of gold? Mnangagwa must revisit the idea of an economic empowerment drive that will be organic and national in nature, appeal and impact.
Listen … and act!
Mnangagwa has suited himself as a “listening President”. In 2020, he will need a lot of listening, and acting – this time – and address issues that are affecting ordinary people, including issues enumerated above. A key skill will be reading, as well. He should read the mood of the people and read signs of the times. The latter cannot be emphasised enough.
Tichaona Zindoga is an independent writer and communications consultant. He previously worked for The Herald as deputy and acting editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org