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Eric Bloch column

Emperor who has no clothes
By Eric Bloch

THERE is an old fable of an emperor who appeared before his subjects wearing no clothes. He was completely naked, but none of his subjects reacted to his nakedness.They were fearful of his possible anger if the

y caused him embarrassment by focusing upon his nudity. Instead, they all enthused widely, praising highly his non-existent outfit. This continued until eventually an innocent child spoke out, saying what all others were scared to say: “The King is in his birthday suit, he’s not wearing any clothes”.

Life in Zimbabwe has a very great similarity, in one respect, to that fable. Never endingly, for over 25 years, Zimbabweans have ululated with great ecstasy at many of the pronouncements of the country’s political leaders, irrespective of whether or not those pronouncements have any substance, and wholly disregarding the many occasions when the facts on the ground are diametrically opposite to that which the government spokesmen state.

One of the most recent instances of widely excited reception of assurances, promises and statements devoid of reality, occurred last week when the president addressed a gathering of war collaborators at the Zanu PF headquarters.

The crowd cheered vigorously at almost all that the president said, yet much of the content of his address demonstrated that his advisors and minions continue to misinform him as to what is genuinely the state of affairs in Zimbabwe. That was clearly apparent from the extent that he repeated unfulfilled, previously given assurances which are so overwhelming.

The president informed his audience that government was “working tirelessly” to address the socio-economic challenges created “by a combination of drought and sanctions” imposed on the country by Britain and her Western allies.

In practice, neither of these factors have been significant in the creation of the ever greater economic morass that has afflicted Zimbabwe for the past eight years.

Whilst it must be acknowledged that much of the country was the victim of severe drought conditions during the last agricultural season, the negative impacts of drought would have been relatively minimal had it not been for other governmentally-created circumstances.

The first of these was that government totally mishandled the land reform programme.

Founded almost entirely upon racialism (in conflict with the constitution, and with international norms of justice), which racialism has been confirmed by Minister Didymus Mutasa’s vituperative attacks on white farmers as being “dirt” and “filth”, government evicted almost all, provenly productive, white farmers from their lands. It then replaced them, in the main — but with some notable exceptions — with those grossly lacking in farming skills and experience, and equally lacking in resources.

It is little wonder, therefore, that agricultural output fell cataclysmically. Government compounded this by turning a blind-eye to widescale vandalisation of irrigation equipment which precluded the effects of drought to being overcome by crop irrigation.

In case this was not sufficient to destroy the agricultural sector and reduce much of the population to starvation, government then failed to arrange the timeous availability of agricultural inputs including seed, fertilisers, chemicals and insecticides. It has yet to explain why fertilisers made available after harvest time failed to enhance the harvest, or why an availability of seed for 650 000 tonnes of maize failed to produce 1,8 million tonnes!

However, the starving can take heart and comfort from the presidential assurances that necessary steps have been taken to ensure that inputs are available ahead of the forthcoming season.

He states that all required inputs have been, or are being, obtained, and will be available at the commencement of the season. Unfortunately, the information flowing from the suppliers is at variance with that “good news”.

One of the fertiliser factories is on the verge of closure as it has not been given foreign currency needed to source its manufacturing inputs.

Seed suppliers say that they only have a fraction of the volumes of seed required. Very little irrigation equipment has been imported — again due to inadequacy of foreign currency. And, although favoured over other consumers, farmers have received insufficient supplies of required diesel and petrol. Inevitably, irrespective of climatic conditions, Zimbabwe will not regain food sufficiency in the forthcoming season. (Not that, that should be a problem, for the president suggests that if the populace cannot eat maize, let them eat potatoes — shades of Marie Antoinette!)

Equally, there is no substance to the recurrent attribution of Zimbabwe’s economic woes to illegal sanctions imposed by Britain and her Western allies.

Neither Britain, nor any of its allies, have imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe — legal or otherwise. The only sanctions that have been imposed have been targetted sanctions against the presidium, ministers and deputy ministers, permanent secretaries and the ruling party hierarchy.

Those sanctions comprise travel bans, freezing of their banking accounts and other assets and, in isolated instances, barring access to education for children of those subject to sanctions.

Those are the only sanctions imposed, and they cannot be held accountable for Zimbabwe’s economic disasters. Admittedly, some countries and international non-governmental organisations have reduced or discontinued aid to Zimbabwe, but that is not because of imposed sanctions, but to government applying conditions to acceptance of the aid, or refusing to have the aid restricted to non-political purposes. Government’s unequivocal conviction is that economic sanctions have been imposed, despite that not being the case.

The president also advised the war collaborators that availability of fuel is expected to increase within “the next few days”. He said that 10 days ago.

But the paucity of cars on the roads, and the immense numbers of cars queuing at filling stations, notwithstanding that the tanks of those filling stations are empty, are evidence that the advice to the war collaborators were only wishful thinking. Moreover, the president said that the fuel supplies will gradually improve over the next few weeks. Hopefully, that will prove to be the case, but very few have any real expectations of that improvement. After all, very similar forecasts of adequate availability of fuel have been forthcoming from the president, his vice-presidents, various minis ters and the Reserve Bank for many months, without the foreshadowed fuel availability materialising.

If government is, as stated by the president, really working “tirelessly” towards restoring economic developments, it needs to redirect its efforts. One must doubt the contention of “tireless” working by government, for government rarely works at all, let alone tirelessly.

But if it is now, surprisingly, working at addressing economic issues, then it should work productively. That requires a substantive restructuring of the land reform programme to realign it with that agreed at the Harare Donor Conference in 1998, and again in Abuja in 2001, in order to put agriculture back on its feet.

It requires real reconciliation with the international community which requires restoration of genuine democracy or real justice, law and order.

It requires major cuts in governmental spending, starting with a reduction in the number of ministries, postponement of creation of the Senate, shrinking of the defence forces and much else. And it requires wide-ranging economic deregulation, concurrently with constructively supportive policies to complement the Reserve Bank’s monetary policies, instead of undermining them.

It also requires an unrestricted containment of corruption at all levels of government and within the private sector without fear or favour. And it requires a genuinely conducive environment for investors — both domestic and foreign.

If all this is done, Zimbabwe has a great future and ululations directed at the president and his government by the masses will be genuine, instead of faked, as they are at present — for fear of telling the Emperor that he is without his clothes.

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