As Zimbabwe turned 33 yesterday, it is pertinent to ask: why have we fared so badly on the economic front and yet we have been consistently ranked as one of the most promising emerging economies in the world?
Candid Comment with Itai Masuku
As we recently pointed out, soon after Independence, Zimbabwe enjoyed GDP growth rates of 11% in 1980 and 10,7% in 1981 before it stalled to 1,4% in 1982 and was a negative 4,2% in 1983.
There was again a sharp 9,3% growth in 1985 before another heavy retreat to 0,2% growth in 1986. In 1990, when, in the words of the former Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Dr Bernard Chidzero, the economy was “on its knees”, we adopted Esap (Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) whose main aim was to grow the economy by 5% a year over five years.
We did peak at around 7% in 1997 before Black Friday got us back into the negatives from 1998. We were in a tailspin until 2008, in what has been dubbed the lost decade.
Thereafter, we recorded growth (or was it more of recovery?) rates as high as 7,3% between 2009 and 2011.
Now, we’ve been constantly revising our growth rates downwards to below 5%.
The economic reasons for this are multifold and include, as pointed out by the IMF over the years, poor formulation and implementation of comprehensive economic adjustment and reform programmes.
These relate to, but are not limited to, poor public financial management and expenditure policy, poor monetary and exchange policies, the need for central bank reform and with it general financial sector reform and the provision of timeous macro-economic statistics.
Under public sector financial management can be included the need for public sector enterprise reform. The death of former British prime minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher brought this to the fore again.
To attempt to answer the question posed earlier, the answer is that we have never had consistent economic policy.
We half-heartedly experimented with the command economy in the first decade of Independence, then had a dalliance with IMF-sponsored programmes in the next decade.
We then adopted the Look East policy, but only did just that, look. In-between we had doses of the homegrown economics whose major components have been land reform and indigenisation.
The tragedy of all this is that this wasn’t inspired by economic imperatives, but by political expendiency. This is why politico-economic changes have been done in a piecemeal approach, damaging the economy, and with it the populace.
It would have been far better perhaps to get it over and done with, that is what constitutes revolution.
Imagine if we had radically followed the path of indigenisation and land reform 10 years after Independence? We’d have long learnt our lessons and by now we would know what’s good for us and what’s not.
Now after the next political election, we don’t know what our politicians are holding as their next economic trump card.
Perhaps it is about time we had independent economic think tanks who chart the way for the economy, irrespective of the political parties, in a way the Fed directs monetary policy in the US independently of sitting governments.