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Editor’s Memo

Bumper harvest?

WHEN I am asked what of all the qualifications required by a journalist is the most important I have no hesitation in replying: scepticism.

dana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>A journalist who swallows all that he is told is of little use to the profession or the public. We are currently being subjected to a campaign in the government media to persuade us that the country’s economy is undergoing a recovery; that the monetary measures being pursued by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono will soon yield dividends and after the good rains we shall see a “bumper harvest”.

It doesn’t take much insight to realise there is an election around the corner.

In fact it is still 11 months away. But in keeping with Zanu PF’s policy of maintaining a political ferment – in itself highly destabilising for any economy – the country is in election mode. Ever since the 2000 parliamentary election which the ruling party came within a whisker of losing (many would argue it did lose), Zimbabwe has been battered and bruised by a vengeful regime determined to wrest back lost ground. Every election has become a life-or-death struggle.

Every contest has seen new extremes of intimidation and violence as Zanu PF attempts to “prove” that it still enjoys popular support. But it appears unwilling to permit an independent electoral agency to supervise polling. It is also unprepared to disband its militia gangs.

In other words it fears losing any poll in which it is unable to coerce voters.

That is understandable. Despite energetic attempts to blame others for Zimbabwe’s predicament – the ultimate exercise in political dishonesty – the public by and large know who the real authors of their economic woes are. And they don’t live in London and Washington!

But the government, in a torrent of childish propaganda, persists with the fiction that Britain and the US are seeking to “recolonise” Zimbabwe. There is no explanation as to why they would want to acquire a run-down economy that has been stripped of all its assets by a predatory elite when well-managed and booming economies like Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Mauritius provide better opportunities for trade and investment in the region.

None of those governments claim Britain and the US are attempting to recolonise them. They are happy to engage with the rest of the world, confident in their own sense of sovereignty.

The claim that West African leaders and those from the Caribbean and Asia failed to back Zimbabwe at Abuja in December because of British manipulation grossly overestimates British global reach. And anybody with a grasp of the rivalries that permeate the EU knows that the claim that Britain dictates the 15-member body’s foreign policy is simply absurd.

But puerile claims of this sort are being churned out every day in the state media on the Goebellian assumption that a lie repeated enough times will eventually be believed.

There will be some who swallow this deceit including many who should know better. But despite the physical and propaganda bruising Zimbabweans are undergoing, they are unlikely to be satisfied with the latest batch of statistics deployed to suggest the economy has turned the corner. A dip in inflation from 623% (January) to 583% (March) year-on-year is unlikely to make much difference to incomes or provide relief to the business sector. The recovery in tourism appears to be more politically ordained than real. All those new arrivals the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority claims are visiting the country must be hiding in the long grass. Hoteliers certainly haven’t seen them!

As for forex inflows, these are unlikely to manifest themselves when the country’s earning capacity has been severely eroded by farm seizures. Tobacco and horticulture have been badly hit.

In his First Quarter Monetary Policy Statement Gono says between 2001 and 2003 agricultural production fell by a cumulative 26% undermining the country’s self-sufficiency. Many crops are well down on that figure and dairy farming is under siege. We carried a report last Friday on new farmers slaughtering dairy cows because dairy farming was proving too demanding!

However committed Gono may be to monetary discipline – and I don’t doubt his resolve spelt out at Wednesday’s review – he can never succeed in a climate of fiscal turmoil. Above all, the rule of law remains absent making any business decisions perilous. The occupation of Kondozi Farm and Charleswood Estate over Easter together with the expropriation of sugar estates around Hippo Valley reveal a scorched-earth policy that is sounding the death knell for all commercial agriculture as well as wildlife management. That can only have a tidal impact as downstream industries go under.

The forlorn bands of refugees – workers and their families -dumped on the roadside in Odzi after the brutal occupation of Kondozi last week provide the human dimension to Zanu PF’s onslaught. The small 10-acre plots around Harare will be next.

The rainy season was certainly better than last year. But without sufficient inputs or planning, it is difficult to see how we can expect a “bumper harvest”. Aid agencies are planning for a deterioration in food supplies.

That is the reality on the ground. Those who continue to suggest that economic improvement is on the horizon are deceiving the country as well as themselves.

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