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Indigenisation sinks to rent-seeking

REPORTS show Zanu PF’s controversial indigenisation programme is riddled with serious problems characterised by client politics — which have a strong interaction with the dynamics of identity politics — and corruption in the form of extortion, bribery, cronyism and patronage.

Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya

These reports intensify our persistent worries that although the empowerment drive is necessary, this current model has been discredited by its implementers who have reduced it to a rent-seeking campaign.

Architects of the indigenisation and empowerment programme claim they want to overhaul the economic structure and correct historical imbalances in economic ownership, control and benefit. They say it’s a transformational agenda which is an expression of the ideals of the liberation struggle that included land reform.

Engineers of indigenisation — who are also basically proponents of resource nationalisation — say the liberation struggle was not simply about majority rule but also economic freedom.

However, their critics argue that although the principle of indigenisation is justified, its execution and the motives of those behind it are questionable and must be interrogated. They fear that if implemented in an opportunistic and chaotic manner — in other words without a structural approach — it would destroy the economy struggling to recover from an unprecedented meltdown in the decade preceding 2009.

Critics also say the trouble with this model is that in its current form, it amounts to rent-seeking. They view it as some sort of a Ponzi scheme on a framework dependent on unknown events and calculations open to manipulation and corruption.

Those spearheading the programme are widely seen as opportunists trying to make money like Russian oligarchs during the end of the Soviet era under Mikhail Gorbachev, later Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.

The oligarchs — known by some as billionaires from nowhere — emerged as well-connected entrepreneurs who started from nearly nothing and got rich through participation in the market via connections to corrupt senior government officials during Russia’s transition from a command to a market-based economy.

In the Zimbabwean case, Zanu PF officials are trying to use their power and influence to redistribute wealth to themselves through political lobbying and collusion rather than creating new wealth and increasing overall efficiency of the economy, while creating jobs.
This is the trouble with this indigenisation process.

To start with, it is highly politicised and is designed to serve the political and specific electoral agenda of Zanu PF. There is nothing wrong with Zanu PF campaigning on that platform, but if the execution is seen as designed to benefit the triumvirate of the party’s elite, a narrow clique for that matter, their partisan business collaborators and military chiefs then it becomes a problematic issue.

Had it been well-articulated, sold to politicians across parties, business and the public in a non-partisan manner and explained in a way that it is seen as a programme to fulfil the people’s aspirations, it would have stood a better chance of being embraced on a national scale.

But Indigenisation minister Saviour Kasukuwere and his clique has tended to make inflammatory statements, undermining their cause while sending shivers down the spines of investors.

As a result, the indigensation debate has poisoned national economic discourse, with populists insisting they can build a new economy with a wide ownership base through an equity model while critics argue this rent-seeking approach to empowerment will not only fail to create new wealth, but also have a disastrous impact on the economy leaving the intended beneficiaries more impoverished and miserable.

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