Economic recovery sacrificed for votes

ZIMBABWE has over the past four years been locked in election mode. A referendum was held in 2000 and a general election later the same year. Then there was the presidential poll in 2002 which was followed by

at least half a dozen by-elections. In six months’ time Zimbabweans will go to the polls again to elect a new parliament.

Zanu PF has often tried to convince the world that there is democracy in Zimbabwe because elections are held regularly notwithstanding the criminally flawed process.

A democratically held election engenders a culture of unity in a country, which is crucial to achieving political stability, a pre-requisite in turn for investment and growth in all sectors. The perpetual state of electoral combat has drained the country of its energy to be creative and to expand industry and commerce, create jobs and ultimately reduce poverty.

Elections are important so long as they are held in a positive spirit. Other than effecting a change of leadership, elections are important as agents of social and political renewal. The pre-election period in most societies creates anxiety and tension, which is expected to evaporate after results are announced and the country accepts the popular verdict. Businesses wait for that period to pass before making crucial decisions.

The 2005 general election is just six months away. But given the poisoned political climate, the ruling party’s paranoid intolerance of opposition, and endemic violence, there is little likelihood of national consensus that is vital to recovery.

Zimbabwe will not weather its current political storm and move ahead to economic growth if the poll leaves the community fractious and hurting. Elections since 2000 have been held in an atmosphere of threats and coercion. The guiding principle for the ruling party has been to subjugate the opposition at all costs on the fatuous pretext that it is plotting to restore colonialism but in reality to teach it a lesson for winning votes in 2000.

Speaking at the burial of veteran nationalist and lawyer Eddison Zvobgo at the Heroes’ Acre last Sunday, President Mugabe swore that there would be no regime change in Zimbabwe. He qualified this by saying that change should only come from the people of Zimbabwe but we all remember the 2002 presidential bluster: “Tsvangirai will never, ever rule this country”.

That position has not changed and has become a major factor in determining electoral policy. Zanu PF is now pretending that Tony Blair is a candidate.

The drive by Zanu PF for political hegemony has vitiated the need for healing and attendant pluralism in the pre- and post-election period. The politics of elections has become the Achilles heel of economic recovery impacting on direct foreign investment and industrial growth.

Our elections have been characterised by lawlessness, violence, looting, and insecurity. With it, investors have taken flight and expansion projects have been mothballed. Unemployment has climbed while poverty and disease stalk the land. Any plans for social or economic progress have been sacrificed on Zanu PF’s altar of political survival and, with it, access to the public feeding trough.

Elsewhere in this paper we carry the story of hotel properties listed firm Dawn which fears there will be a slump in business in the period leading up to the 2005 poll. Businessmen know exactly what is hurting their businesses. Zimbabwe is carrying the bad-boy tag with uncanny pride. There is no need to drop the notoriety as long as the bad boy remains the talk of the town. But industry has suffered as a result and more people will be without jobs.

Dawn’s fears reflect the concerns of the entire hospitality sector. Economists forecast that Zimbabwe will again register negative growth in the year ahead. The election will, it seems, be a contributory factor in that slide as Zanu PF puts its followers on a war footing.

It was reported last week that Zanu PF politburo member and Anti-Corruption Programme mini-ster Didymus Mutasa led his supporters in attacking a rival who was hospitalised. He boasted to the press that his rival deserved what he got. What would a potential investor make of that?

In this unsavoury environment where key fundamentals are negative, Mugabe’s government has tried to create the myth that economic turnaround is possible in an environment of political uncertainty and social decay. There is a firm belief in official circles that that central bank governor Gideon Gono’s monetary policy has beaten a path to recovery and ultimately to prosperity.

While the Gono plan may work up to a certain point, prudent political decisions are required to attract balance-of-payments support, obtain grants and secure export markets. A government which does not demonstrate commitment to the tenets of good governance, including the rule of law and security of property, will invariably come short when it comes to implementing economic policies, even plans of its own.

We have to ask whether the Zimbabwe government was ever serious in implementing Zimprest, the New Economic Revival Programme and the Millennium Economic Recovery Programme?

Demagoguery has never been a tonic for sustained recovery. Any economic revival plan would turn to dust if it was not built on the pillars of trust, transparency, freedom and tolerance.

Zanu PF has sacrificed recovery for votes. But what will it do with the election victory it so brazenly touts? More of the same?

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