Candid Comment: Gono Could Have Learnt From UDI

GIDEON Gono’s self-seeking and rather pathetic efforts to deflect the scorn and ridicule which, he says, have been directed his way since the advent of the inclusive government are unlikely to bring him any respite or any comfort. And nor should they.


No amount of “explanation”’ or “justification” or public hand-wringing can possibly absolve him of the blame he so richly merits for the significant role he personally played in bringing this once-vibrant economy to the verge of collapse.

He boasts about his “sanctions-busting” achievements and about how he single-handedly kept the economy afloat, using his mantra of “unorthodox methods for unorthodox situations”. This is just plain nonsense.

During Ian Smith’s UDI, prior to independence, the country was subjected to a full United Nations-sanctioned economic blockade, rendered mandatory by a Security Council resolution.

The Reserve Bank governor at that time also had to resort to unconventional measures in order to circumvent the sanctions. His efforts, together with those of a competent Minister of Finance and other elements of the administration, year after year, saw the entire tobacco crop being sold off in Europe.

His efforts saw hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables, beef, pork and a range of dairy products exported to more than a dozen countries across the African continent — all in defiance of the international embargo.

His efforts saw the acquisition, by the local airline, and from right under the noses of the Americans, of three Boeing 707 aircraft and a DC 8 cargo aircraft.

Now, that was sanctions-busting! Using scarce foreign currency resources to generate more foreign currency. Import substitution wherever possible. Discretion and secrecy to acquire sensitive material.

What Gono did, instead, was the very opposite of what sanctions-busting is all about, and, his recklessness and incompetence — as a sanctions-buster — arguably hastened the evisceration of the national economy.

Faced with a situation where the country was denied access to foreign currency loans or any form of balance of payments support, but where exports of minerals and horticulture were still generating some foreign currency inflows, it was Gono’s duty to use those scarce resources as judiciously as possible: and, wherever possible, to use them to generate more foreign currency inflows and to promote domestic manufacturing wherever possible so as to lessen the need for imported goods.

What Gono did was to squander those scarce resources — at times in the most irresponsible manner possible — on programmes and projects from which there could never be any hope of forex generation.
Nothing could have been less “sanctions-busting” in nature or more damaging to domestic industry than his manic import programmes. Rather than allocate resources to the country’s automotive industry — the Quests and Willowvales of this world — Gono chose to spend millions and millions buying vehicles from South Africa. The impact on the domestic industry has bordered on the ruinous.

Rather than allocate resources to the country’s food-manufacturers — the millers, the bakers, the cooking oil manufacturers, Lever Brothers etc — Gono opted to import food hampers, again from South Africa. Millions and millions of dollars flowing out of the country. Not one cent of forex generated!

The haphazard manner in which these import programmes were implemented, with the wrong seeds, defective fertilisers and unsuitable tractors being delivered — either too early or too late to have any significant impact on food production — merely emphasise the incompetence of those in charge of the programmes.

Have all the millions and millions of dollars thrown into those programmes eased the food supply situation at all? Is the country any less dependent now on donated food than before the RBZ squandered all those millions?

An apparent complete lack of accountability, again, runs totally contrary to every tenet of the successful sanctions-buster’s Bible. Is there any detailed record at all of where all that money went? As the tractors and harvesters and Isuzu trucks were doled out, was any record kept? Were they loaned out? Were they just given out? Is there any form of repayment expected from those to whom these vehicles and other agricultural equipment have been handed?

We read that millions of dollars had also been “loaned” to government departments and Zanu PF bigwigs. For what, on earth? Is there any record of those loans — how much, to whom, for what purpose exactly, and, most importantly, on what conditions? Are those loans going to be paid back?

What Gono did, therefore, was literally to squander dwindling export revenues — scarce foreign currency — on schemes and programmes which had no prospect whatsoever of generating any foreign currency income, which had no discernible benefit in terms of import substitution and, in so far as the loans-to-bigwigs are concerned, little if any real prospect of repayment. His approach and his methods constitute the very antithesis of sanctions-busting competence.

  • Bazely is an independent researcher. 

BY SEWLYN BAZELY