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Elections and the economy

Dr Alex T Magaisa

AS the nation approaches the general election in March, it is important to make a few reflections on the connection between politics and the economy.

rdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>This election is as much an exercise in determining the future leadership of the country as it is about mapping its economic future.

I have previously argued in this column that a necessary pre-condition for the revival of the economy is to sort out the political problems that have affected the country for the last five years. There is a close connection between politics and the economy and failure in one area is likely to negatively affect the other. Indeed, even the success of corporate governance is closely connected to success of good governance on the political front.

I argue that the forthcoming elections present a significant opportunity for the demonstration of the necessary political will that is needed to change the negative perceptions about Zimbabwe’s politics that has had such debilitating effects on the economy.

Firstly, there is no doubt that over the last five years the economy has declined sharply and people are worse off than they were in 2000. There are various reasons for this decline but two key factors with which this article is concerned, are the negative image associated with the country and the effective isolation of Zimbabwe by the international community.

Whether or not the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice is right about Zimbabwe being an “outpost of tyranny”, the single undeniable fact is that the image of the country in the international context is largely negative. In turn, this negative reputation arises largely from the fact that the political process has not been seen to be fair. In particular, the last two elections since 2000 have been tainted to the extent that the legitimacy of the incumbent government has been questioned.

The perceived lack of fairness of the political process has meant that the tag of illegitimacy has always been labelled on the current government. Lacking the necessary goodwill, Zimbabwe has been excluded in most initiatives on Africa’s economic development. This has also had a negative impact on the business sector and is likely to continue and felt more in future than is being witnessed today.

The process of globalisation has brought states and individuals into closer interaction both in time and space. In addition, technological advances make it easier, cheaper and quicker to collect and distribute information about events in any part of the world. Everything in any part of the world attracts attention and intense scrutiny. It is impossible to carry on in isolation. The multiple sources of information are relied upon by investors, tourists and other key groups that countries often wish to attract for economic advancement.

More than ever before, it is vital to ensure that every country develops and maintains a positive image. Countries that receive negative publicity are unlikely to attract these key players.

Zimbabwe has suffered greatly in this respect and despite various attempts to present a different picture the negative image has persisted over the years. Rightly or wrongly, Zimbabwe is considered to be a country characterised by political uncertainty and instability.

Political events in Africa often receive intense scrutiny because of the general perception that it is unpredictable and unstable. Countries that subscribe to norms that are generally accepted by the community of nations are capable of creating the necessary goodwill. Therefore, the best marketing strategy is to ensure that the political process is not only conducted properly, but is seen to be so.

The elections are a key part of this political process. The question of which party wins is subsidiary to the principal goal of ensuring that the process itself is conducted according to generally accepted standards. This includes giving political space to all contestants, refraining from unnecessary violence and creating an environment in which persons can freely express their will.

If the electoral process were to proceed in the same fashion as the previous elections that have generally been discredited by large sections of the international community, the tag of illegitimacy will remain attached to whoever wins. Consequently, the same problems that Zimbabwe faces today will become worse for the next five years.

One commendable feature about Zimbabwe is despite the difficulties and desperate conditions, the situation has not descended into armed conflict. This distinguishes Zimbabwe from a number of countries facing similar problems such as the Ivory Coast, DRC, etc.

The docile character of the people, which some choose to call cowardice has ensured that people generally refrain from taking desperate measures. If it had been otherwise, then Zimbabwe would be in a worse off position. The people deserve credit, and ought to be honoured by allowing them free political space to exercise their political judgement by the process that is generally accepted the world over.

This characteristic is a good selling point for the country and I strongly believe that should things become normal, Zimbabwe will receive a huge influx of investors, tourists, etc who have, but for the last five years, always regarded the country highly.

Many Zimbabweans in the diaspora have distinguished themselves in professional and business circles and even those who work in manual jobs are highly regarded for their good work ethic. These qualities have helped to paint a good picture to other communities whose only problem about the country is that the politics is not properly managed. The knowledge and experience acquired by the Zimbabweans in the diaspora is also likely to benefit the country in the long-run either directly if they return home or indirectly by participating in different ways from their host countries.

The attempts by the RBZ to source foreign currency through the Homelink scheme demonstrates the recognition of the value represented by the Zimbabweans abroad. However, what continues to hamper many people’s participation in these and other schemes is the disagreement over the political process.

Many people cannot be persuaded to place their trust and confidence in the schemes because of lingering fears about the security of their property rights, whether their personal information will be exploited and indeed as some have argued, whether they can also be allowed to vote in the elections. In short, unless the political framework is seen to be fair and just, participation in the national project will be severely limited, both among Zimbabweans and foreigners that may otherwise have an interest in Zimbabwe.

In my view, the key is to ensure that the political process is fair, just and reasonable. The economic fortunes of the country depend on political stability and the generation of a more positive image is necessary for purposes of creating economic activity that will enhance the country’s economy. Indeed, if people see that political governance is proper and ethical, it is likely that their personal and business affairs will also be conducted in similar fashion.

The days of measuring economic prosperity by simply pointing to figures of inflation, gross domestic product, etc are over. It is equally important to measure prosperity by evaluating the extent to which people enjoy civil and political rights in addition to socio-economic entitlements.

A good political image will go a long way towards improving the economic

fortunes of the country, which will help to enhance the living conditions and lifestyle of the people.

Proponents of the economic turnaround thesis will need to emphasise the importance of this political process at this stage. The chances of achieving this turnaround will be vastly-improved if the political process is fair, just and reasonable.

*Dr Alex T Magaisa if the Baker & McKenzie lecturer in corporate law at the University of Nottingham Contact at: alex.magaisa@nottingham.ac.uk

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