Editor’s Memo: Magician’s Tricks Exposed

I HAD a good chuckle after reading a Herald article previewing central bank governor Gideon Gono’s monetary policy statement which was delivered on Wednesday.

The Herald told us that in response to the biting challenges facing the country, Gono was “widely anticipated to wave his magic wand once more and bring relief to the majority of Zimbabweans experiencing varied economic challenges…”

I attended many magicians’ shows during my primary school days where one Linos Chamatunhu left us agape with his ability to juggle half a dozen balls and make them disappear into thin air. At one show, he even “stole” a bra from one lady teacher and deposited it in a groundsman’s pocket!

This was not only entertaining to our naïve souls but also scary.

If the man could steal the teacher’s underclothing, then he could do the same with our essentials.

Linos became a larger-than-life character because he had this ability to distort your perceptions.

He got us to perceive things that never happened, just like a visual illusion.

In reality the balls never disappeared, but he simply kept them in his hand while mimicking the gesture of throwing them into the air. The thing that fooled us was to follow with our eyes the non-existent balls fly into the air.

If we had looked at the magician’s hands instead, we were less likely to be fooled.

Last week we ran a story of mob violence in the Congo after certain medicine men were accused of stealing men’s private parts or making then shrink to embarrassing sizes.

There were people who believed that the supposed magic men could do this.

Magic is not a break from reality or a surreal adventure into the unknown — it is a planned sequence of unlikely events which appear fantastic when seen from the outside.

And that is all.

It would therefore be a surreal adventure to hire a magician to solve a problem, especially one as grave as our own.

Our government tried it with the diesel n’anga and the results were not only embarrassing but predictable.

It was just a trick.

I do not expect Gono to fall in this realm of tricksters because the country is not crying out for magic but a clear policy which deals with the reality on the ground instead of a juggling act in which the nation is tricked into believing that problems can just melt into thin air.

Gono this week made a bold move to liberalise the exchange rate after years of resistance in which he had declared: “No amount of devaluation will lead to planeloads, truckloads of foreign exchange flowing into Zimbabwe in a sustainable way.” So what has changed Mr Governor?

Perhaps that was the stroke of magic but the perils bedevilling this country have not left the hands of the juggler.

Shortages of food and foreign currency, low capacity utilisation in industry, price distortions, lack of clear fiscal policy, political intolerance, human rights abuses and so on have continued to weigh down this economy.

The tragedy with Gono’s policy is that it attempts to provide solutions to the national crisis albeit using solutions which have failed before.

He has found a convenient excuse for the failure of his “mother of all agricultural seasons” project by situating the national predicament in the current global food crisis.

His solution to conquer this formidable foe: more free money for farmers through Aspef, dam construction, on-farm infrastructure rehabilitation programmes, farm mechanisation and providing support prices to farmers.

We have heard this before and we have always argued that it is not the wherewithal to solving the current low productivity in agriculture.

An agricultural plan premised on cronyism and patronage produces very rich farmers who do not need to grow any crops as long as the central bank oils this benefaction through quasi-fiscal activities, a key ingredient in fueling inflation.

By the way, when are farmers getting their maize deliveries? Are the miners going to be paid at last?

Gono’s plan on agriculture almost sums up the fate of the whole policy. It is headed for more failure because the magician has failed to manipulate his environment to achieve any measure of success.

This is a plan that has been designed for a regime which has lost all legitimacy to govern because of failure.

It is a template for more disappointments for the nation as long as there is no real policy change in the way the country has been governed. But Gono has defended his plan.

“That is precisely the path that we began over four years ago in pursuit of our own national interest and we have not wavered on that critical path despite the untold misunderstanding, vilification and demonisation we have endured from across the political divide,” he said on Wednesday.

But what does he have to show for this consistency? Hyperinflation, a worthless currency and the fastest shrinking economy in the world.

He now sounds like an old record, the needle stuck in a groove, stumbling over the same discordant riffs, battering ears that have grown weary of the jingle.

When is he going to get real?