ZIMBABWE’S economy is on the brink yet again. A report by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) says capacity utilisation for the manufacturing sector has markedly declined since the July 31 general elections. In 2012 it stood at 44,9%, now it is down to 39,6%.
By Charles Mangongera
Another report by the National Social Security Authority says between July 2011 and July 2013, 711 companies folded in Harare alone, resulting in 10 000 job losses. But perhaps the grimmest sign that the economy is off the rails was the failure by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to present the budget statement in November as is tradition, after President Robert Mugabe set up a new government following his electoral triumph. Chinamasa told MPs at a workshop in the resort town of Victoria Falls that government was broke. Some Zimbabweans would have found the MPs’ lampooning of Chinamasa as the “Minister of Finance without the finance” funny, but it is not because this is a matter of serious national concern and people have had enough of this life of penury.
Faced with this harsh economic reality, one would have expected Zanu PF policy wonks that drafted the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) document to think outside the box in crafting a blueprint that would chart a path towards creating a conducive environment for recovery and sustainable growth. What many Zimbabweans expected was a framework for industrial revival and job creation. Sadly, ZimAsset fails this simple test and will not drag the economy out of the rut it is stuck in.
The biggest problem is that ZimAsset is predicated on self-serving propaganda that Zanu PF has been feeding Zimbabweans ad nauseam. What the drafters of the document seem to forget is that elections are over and Zimbabweans expect food on the table and not empty promises.
The assertion that “Zimbabwe has experienced a deteriorating economic and social environment since 2000 caused by illegal economic sanctions imposed by the Western countries …” is a red herring that must be rejected with the contempt it deserves. While such blatant lies are tolerable in a party campaign manifesto, it is unacceptable to have them in a national policy document that is supposed to help extricate a country from its economic morass.
Serious Zimbabweans committed to making this country work again know that the country began experiencing economic decline in the second half of the 1990s, the zenith of which was the so-called “Black Friday” of November 14 1997 when, in one day, the Zimbabwean dollar lost more than 70% of its value.
International financial institutions had raised the red flag on Zimbabwe, thanks to Mugabe’s populist policies of awarding unbudgeted for gratuities to veterans of the liberation struggle and participating in a costly war to prop up president Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sanctions were only imposed after violent elections particularly those of 2002. It is therefore shameful for the drafters of ZimAsset to trade blatant lies in a document that purports to be enunciating national public policy.
Let us for second go with the Zanu PF lie that sanctions are at the centre of the myriad of challenges confronting us today. One would have expected that ZimAsset would spell out a plan for countering the sanctions or limiting their damage. Sadly, there is no such plan except a single sentence that makes reference to Zimbabwe pursuing “import substitution industrialisation”.
Import substitution industrialisation means the country would reduce its import bill by producing products it would ordinarily import. So instead of spending billions on importing tractor spares from China, for instance, we would make our own, a herculean task given the perilous state of our manufacturing sector.
The reason the drafters of ZimAsset do not go beyond that single sentence in their reference to import substitution industrialisation is that they know Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector is comatose and we are importing even paper clips and rubber bands from other countries. Was it not presidential spokesperson George Charamba himself who excoriated the CZI in his abusive Nathaniel Manheru column for failing to invest in new technologies in Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector?
Another problem is that ZimAsset is not grounded in empiricism as its drafters glossed over important key statistics. Take the growth projections, for example.
ZimAsset predicts a very ambitious average growth trajectory of 7,3%, which is not backed by any explanation of how it will be achieved. One wonders how a government that currently cannot pay its bills will achieve 3,4% growth in 2013, 6,1% in 2014 and 9,9% by 2018. A table with thumbsucked growth rates for various sectors of the economy is presented, but there is no explanation of how those figures were derived.
ZimAsset’s proposals for the agricultural sector are a sick joke. The same failed strategies that have resulted in the country going from Africa’s breadbasket to a basket case are recycled. Instead of addressing the biggest problem confronting the agricultural sector, which is that of land being rendered dead capital by the absence of security, the authors of ZimAsset regurgitate the same tired mantra of “government support to agriculture”. This was tried under the outgoing Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s farm mechanisation programme and yielded little.
Zimbabwe’s legendary musician Thomas Mapfumo called it kurima nzara (literally cultivating poverty). What the agricultural sector desperately needs is a framework that will restore its status as a business. A business requires capital to be viable and banks are only going to provide capital where there is security of tenure. Zanu PF’s 99-year leases have not done so.
The drafters of ZimAsset seem unsure whether this is a national policy document or a party campaign manifesto. Their inclusion of a “presidential inputs support scheme” in a national policy document is baffling. We know for a fact that in the run-up to the elections, Mugabe used the same scheme to source money from his dodgy allies to shore up his support. That the same scheme is now contained in a national policy document is scandalous. If public resources are being allocated to agriculture, why should they be part of a partisan presidential programme that benefits only Zanu PF members and supporters? If resources for the scheme are privately sourced why should they be included in a public policy document that is supposed to benefit all citizens regardless of political affiliation?
More worrying is ZimAsset’s deafening silence on the democratisastion and reform agenda. One would have expected that government would put in place measures for building a social contract with citizens, but it seems Zanu PF’s hubris and triumphalism have blinded it to the need for a governance framework that gives citizens a voice.
Finally, ZimAsset is shrouded in ideological ambivalence. On the one hand, the document espouses the idea of using “its own local resources, which are in abundance and readily available for full exploitation and utilisation”, while on the other, it proposes engaging bilateral and multilateral funding partners for support.
The same incongruity is evident in the badly drafted indigenisation policy which has been interpreted differently by Zanu PF officials. This ideological ambivalence has confused investors and this has not been helped by other populist pronouncements, including the banning of foreign investment in sectors said to be reserved for locals only.
After reading ZimAsset, one gets the impression that those in charge of running this country are clueless about what is wrong with it and what needs to be done to get it working again. The drafters of ZimAsset skirted the real problems and as a result the solutions they prescribe are anachronistic. This is hardly surprising given the recycling of the same old and tired brains we witnessed when Mugabe announced his cabinet over three months ago.
Until the Zanu PF government demonstrates a commitment to democratic reform by fully implementing the new constitution, reforming state institutions and putting in place measures for fair and equal political participation, it will remain a pariah and will not attract international support and investment, which are critical for the country’s recovery.
Mangongera is a Zimbabwean researcher. He is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC. He writes in his personal capacity.