Eric Bloch Column

Another chance for economic revival

By Eric Bloch

DESPITE the government’s vociferous contentions to the contrary, few will agree that last week’s parliamentary elections were truly free and fair.
 
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f there had been no ulterior motives for the Delimitation Commission’s revision of constituencies, and even if there had been no tampering with the registration of voters, and even though there was evidently no “stuffing” of ballot boxes, the elections were not wholly free and fair. Admittedly, various regional observer teams gave the “thumbs up” to the conduct of the elections, but they were clearly duped or unaware of certain realities.

Although the state-controlled media pretended to give equal time or space to all contenders, that did not happen in practice. That applied only to paid advertising and to so-called party political broadcasts. But for months there was not a day when the news reports, commentaries and articles did not focus exclusively upon promoting Zanu PF and castigating the Movement for Democratic Change. While the elections were relatively peaceful and without the violence that had characterised previous polls, nevertheless there was intimidation, even though the government denies it.


On the one hand, many constituencies having been the victims of intimidation in 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2002, there was an entrenched fear that if any constituency failed to elect the ruling party candidate, there would be retribution in due course.


On the other hand, the president, addressing a Tsholotsho rally, threatened that if Zanu PF did not win that constituency there would never be further development there. That made many in other constituencies fear similar repercussions.

Be that as it may be, Zimbabwe needs to accept the result, for every attention should now be directed vigorously to achieving the long-talked-about economic turnaround, for the ever greater slide into the depths of poverty for most of the population must be halted.


And Zanu PF’s resounding victory, howsoever attained, makes it possible for the government to concentrate intensively upon bringing about the desperately needed, long overdue economic recovery. Inclusive of the 30 president-appointed members of parliament, Zanu PF will have 108 seats in parliament out of 150, or almost three-quarters of the legislature. With that strength, the government can afford to abandon past destructive policies and to embark upon others which can restore the Zimbabwe economy to its 1997 levels, and then build thereon.


The first focus should be upon the dismal failure of the land reform programme. Few can deny that, for the greater part of the 20th century, Zimbabwe had appalling, racially discriminatory land policies, and that reform was needed. But if there had been a deliberate attempt to destroy agriculture — the foundation of the economy — the government could not have done so more effectively than it did with its unjust and ill-conceived programme of land acquisition and redistribution.


That programme displaced over 4 000 successful farmers, 300 000 farm workers and more than a million of their dependants. It reduced Zimbabwe from self-sufficiency in food to a nation of under-nourished. It lowered agricultural production by almost two-thirds. The government attributed the collapse of agriculture to drought. But the government, the populace and the world know otherwise.


Only two weeks before the election, Vice President Joseph Msika appealed to new farmers to cooperate and work with white commercial farmers. That appeal should be progressed, in the interests of the white farmers, the new farmers and the Zimbabwean economy. At the outset, the government should make a sincere endeavour to attract the former white commercial farmers back to their farms or, in the case of larger farms, to parts thereof.


Concurrently, it should implement a genuine compensation for those lands not returned, for the improvements thereon, the vandalisation and looting that has decimated many of the farms, and for years of loss of income.


While doing so, the government must unhesitatingly, although belatedly, return all farms as were protected by international bilateral investment agreements, such as exist between Zimbabwe on the one hand and Germany, Italy and the Netherlands on the other, among others. Failure to do so is not only to the prejudice of agriculture, but also an overwhelming deterrent to procuring foreign direct investment, although the president has declared 2005 as the year of investment.


The second key task is to intensify the war on inflation. The Reserve Bank has done much to reduce inflation from its January 2004 all-time high of 622,8% to 127,2% for the year to February 2005.


But rising world oil prices, an inevitable need to import food, declining industrial productivity and significant real depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar (within the unlawful parallel market which fuels much of the country’s imports) are all likely to force inflation upwards once more.

That is unless the government does something about it. Its actions must be to reduce its own spending very considerably. Perhaps the first step would be to abandon the intent to establish a senate to complement parliament. Zimbabwe cannot afford to create “more jobs for the boys”! Foreign Zimbabwean embassies in excess of real need should be closed, parastatals privatised, the number of state residences reduced, provincial governorships dispensed with, presidential entourages cut in size and the budget of the Information and Publicity department substantially slashed.


Motivating investment is critical, in order to achieve job creation, access technologies, source new markets, generate economic activity and source foreign exchange. But attracting investment is not easy when an economy is derelict, and especially so when potential investors are given grounds to doubt the future security of their investments.

The blatant disregard for bilateral international investment protection agreements was a major nail in the coffin of investment promotion. Then the government hammered in another big nail when the president first stated that at leas 50% of all mines must be owned by Zimbabwean blacks (which is how he defines “indigenous”), subsequently modifying the demand to 20%, and more recently there have been statements that the countries of the region intend “to repossess the mineral wealth bequeathed to them by Cecil Rhodes”.


And recurrently the government makes statements demanding indigenous participation in all enterprises. It is time that it learned that coercion is counterproductive. Motivation, incentivisation and facilitation is more effective. Who will invest, be they residents or non-residents, when they must live in continuing uncertainty as to whether they will, at some stage, be forcibly deprived of some or all of their investments, particularly without even receiving fair compensation?


To motivate foreign investment, Zimbabwe must also demonstrate that it is a genuine democracy. The government will argue that the recent parliamentary election is the proof of that democracy, but many will remain unconvinced.

However, were the government to repeal the oppressive, iniquitous and undemocratic Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act and facilitate the re-establishment of a free and independent daily press, it will go a long way towards conversion of the unconvinced.


That would be strengthened if, concurrently, a genuine independent, free and fair judiciary and judicial system would once again come into being. And that should be further augmented by demonstrating real intent to re-establish law and order throughout Zimbabwe.