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Eric Bloch Column

It can’t be done on our own

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By Eric Bloch

ZIMBABWE, under the hammer-fisted rule of a government that is so self-centred and head-strong that it repeatedly blinds itself to realities and instead focuses upon its pronounced delusions, has by now lost the friendship of most of those who at — and since — Independence were proud and very willing to extend that friendship to the young and independent state.

At one time Zimbabwe could count on almost every one of the world’s countries as friends, as it could the major international organisations and associations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Commonwealth, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and many, many others. But today, Zimbabwe’s friends are few and far between.

Some have ceased to be friends because they cannot reconcile themselves to Zimbabwean government perceptions of good governorship. They espouse the fundamental principles of democracy, so succinctly expressed in 1941 by then President Franklin D Roosevelt, when addressing the United States Congress. He said : “…… we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want… The fourth is freedom from fear.” Despite its protestations to the contrary, the Zimbabwean government cannot credibly claim to believe in those precepts of democracy. If it did, it would not imprison the freedom of speech and expression with draconian legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act, resulting in newspapers being banned from publishing, and peaceful protesters barred from demonstrating publicly to voice their protests.

If Zimbabwe genuinely respected the second freedom, its President would not voice anti-semitic slights and then disregard all representations made to discuss them. If the third freedom had any meaning, four-fifths of Zimbabwe’s population would not be poverty-stricken, under-nourished, without healthcare, whilst those in control can acquire palatial residences, multiple farms, accumulate much wealth in Zimbabwe and abroad, and flaunt that wealth with fleets of luxury vehicles and recurrent shopping trips for themselves and their families to those few countries as will still admit them.

And if Zimbabwe had any respect for the fourth freedom (and therefore the fourth pillar of democracy) there would not be so many able Zimbabweans, desperately required to facilitate economic growth and well-being, who have gone into self-imposed exile, recognising the risks that would confront them if they had not done so. There are many such Zimbabweans as, for example, Nkosana Moyo and Strive Masiyiwa, to name but two.

Others have had to suspend their friendship until Zimbabwe transforms, and friendship can be restored. They include the IMF, whose support for Zimbabwe has been repaid by contemptuous disregard for almost all its advice, by failure to honour agreements to service debt, and by recurrent outpourings of vitriol and malice. The same holds good for Zimbabwe’s relationships with the World Bank, the European Union, the Commonwealth, and the majority of the world’s philanthropically disposed donor states. The latter have been forthcoming with immense largesse, given readily and unconditionally (save that their gifts should not be misused to promote political objectives). That generosity had been driven only by a desire to assist the fledgling Zimbabwe to develop and grow, and by humanitarian concern to aid those in need. With rare exception, Zimbabwe’s acceptance of such generosity has been with an attitude that it was Zimbabwe’s God-given right to receive the largesse, that it was wholly acceptable to select beneficiaries in the population amongst those politically supportive of the ruling party, and that corrupt misdirection of some of the largesse was naught but a legitimate, nepotistic tithe.

Yet others befriended Zimbabwe because, amongst other motivants, they foresaw opportunities of investment and of trade as consequences of friendly relationships and support. They included countries such as Malaysia, Kuwait and Libya. They are still friends, but the signs are clear that they are disillusioned ones, for the promised investment opportunities did not materialise. Those friends poured great amounts of critically needed foreign currency, petroleum productions and other goods into Zimbabwe, and were promised commensurate investments and Zimbabwean produce in exchange, but few of those promises were fulfilled. Superficially those countries are still Zimbabwe’s friends, but the warmth of the friendship has cooled markedly, and that it is so is not surprising, for broken promises are not the foundation of steadfast friendly relationships.

Until now, the loss or diminution of friendships has been of little concern to the government of Zimbabwe, for it has always been convinced that others were waiting in the wings, and so there have been, although ever less. Most recently acquired is the People’s Republic of China. In recent years that country has made tremendous economic advances, casting aside many of the long-proven to be unsuccessful socialist economic policies still foolishly worshipped by Zimbabwe’s politically powerful.

And at this moment of time China sees investment opportunities and trade openings as being ready for the taking in Zimbabwe. And, becoming devoid of friends who can rescue Zimbabwe’s fast-shrinking economy, government is welcoming China with open arms. But, if past experience is any guide, Zimbabwe will undoubtedly renege on much that it has promised, or will promise to China, and in time the newly-acquired friendship will become as rocky as so many others have done.

Government has frequently claimed that Zimbabwe does not need the rest of the world and that Zimbabwe can, should it be necessary, “go it alone”. Government unhesitatingly claims that Zimbabwe has no need for the IMF, the Commonwealth, the European Union, and many others. To express such contentions with conviction, the political hierarchy endlessly cites Malaysia as an outstanding example of a country which successfully transformed its economy without support from the world in general, and the Western world in particular. A prime target for dismissal is the IMF, closely followed by its fellow Bretton Woods’ institution, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (otherwise known as the World Bank).

And it cannot be denied that Malaysia did achieve the metamorphosis of its economy with spectacular success and without funding from the IMF and the World Bank. In the 20 years from 1982, when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed took over to 2002, Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by almost 350%, from US$27,3 billion to US$95,2 billion. Thirty years ago, 50% of Malaysia’s population barely survived, their income being below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). Now only 6% are in such straitened circumstances.

There are many similarities between Malaysia and Zimbabwe including that its head of government was reluctant to retire (but after 22 years has done so, in contrast to Zimbabwe’s president who, after almost 24 years, remains determined to continue in office until, at least, 2008). And both Malaysia’s former head of government  and Zimbabwe’s are renowned for controlling their populace with heavy hands, of brooking no conflicting opinions, of alienating the international community, and of practicing antisemetism. But there the similarities substantially end. In order to transform its economy, Malaysia was prepared to recognise where it had erred. The Zimbabwean oligarchy believes itself to be infallible. Malaysia vigorously imposed fiscal discipline, curbed corruption, privatised parastatals, shrunk itsgovernmental infrastructure, dere-gulated the economy and incentivised investment, job creation and exports.

And Malaysia had a highly-effective, very functional infrastructure. Moreover, although it did not have IMF funding or economic guidance, Malaysia did have a very great number of countries willing to invest in, or trade with, it. The number willing to do so with Zimbabwe is far less!

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