RESERVE Bank governor Gideon Gono this week went to war — not for the first time in his role as central bank governor — to fight an epic battle he knows very well he can lose.
Half way through his tenure as governor,
Gono has come out second best in previous offensives in which he has lost the battles against inflation and the foreign currency black market.
To drive home the point that he was intent on winning his latest campaign, he sought and got the presidential seal of approval through a decree pronounced this week to introduce the new currency and to give him sweeping powers to deal with those caught with large sums of money.
He has paraded the zeros he lopped from the currency as his trophies but the enemy on the other side of the line can only be bigger than the zeros, as all things are.
As in previous fights, Gono has employed basically the same strategy — the element of surprise accompanied by shock therapy and storming perceived enemy strongholds with security agents and thought police. There is even greater determination in his military-style stratagem to fight the three evils he identified as speculation, corruption and indiscipline.
He has enlisted the services of the discredited Zanu PF youth militia, the police, central intelligence spooks and the army to carry out the operation to recover the old currency from private holdings and to bring to book those caught on the wrong side of the law.
The campaign is coming at a huge cost as shown in a story we carry elsewhere in this paper. A day after he pronounced his monetary policy statement, suburban police stations were teeming with “economic saboteurs” as he walked across the streets of Harare like a medieval army general rallying his troops to the front.
Gono, together with government, appeared to have already identified their targets in this military campaign. In Bulawayo he indicated that the central bank was contemplating reducing the 21-day period for the remission of old notes to 10 days. He is zeroing in on his target or is he?
Gono has defended his guerilla tactics in enforcing his new measures on currency reform because he does not want to show criminal elements too much of his strategy lest they conspire to outdo him. He has thus elected to make policies on the hoof.
The look of awe and horror on faces of several government ministers as Gono was delivering his policy statement denoted that they had not been consulted. He caught them off-guard. After his tour of the city centre on Tuesday, he announced another policy directive: that all purchases above $100 million should not be done by cash but through bank transfers.
There will be more pronouncements designed to catch opponents off-guard, we can bet. The strategy has all the hallmarks of last year’s Operation Murambatsvina which even caught Zanu PF stalwarts off-guard. The element of surprise presupposes that the enemy will be defeated expeditiously and decisively. This could be true with political enemies of the incumbent and undesirables in Zanu PF but not in reviving this ramshackle economy.
What Gono is lacking in this blitzkrieg is critical mass. He has in the past failed to recruit the country into his corner to fight against corruption, inflation and the foreign currency black market. The nation has stood aloof as he tries to fight the battle without seeking popular support. The result was obvious; the people fought back by discrediting his policies and engineering new methods of rendering his plans ineffectual. Popular opinion was that illegality should be allowed in the name of survival.
His new fight is also lacking that essential ingredient requisite to win guerilla warfare. He has still not managed to pitch the fight as a struggle against the three evils. It remains a fight against the people if there is scant information on his plans.
But a worse predicament is that he has positioned himself as a messiah who wants to rescue government instead of seeking to be carried by the state for his plans to succeed. We have seen his spectacular failure in the past, but because he has climbed even higher on the pedestal of influence and demagoguery, his fall could be even more spectacular unless he gets a popular buy-in for his policies.
A central plank of Zimbabwe’s economic revival is the restoration of agricultural productivity. Gono has spoken on several occasions on this important issue, whereupon he has been ignored by ministers in charge of land reform and agriculture.
If he is really sincere, Gono should not miss this chance to make his point clear. It is on the farms, and not at border posts and airports, that he needs to deploy the army and the Border Gezi youth graduands to execute another Operation Murambatsvina.