In 1979, the new leadership of China who had just taken over from Mao Tse-tung after 26 years of government by the men and women who participated in the March to Freedom in the late 40’s, understood that they had to change direction if they were to succeed where the “Veterans of the Long March” had failed.
With the death of Mao, they had a blank sheet of paper on which to write a prescription for the future. China was totally isolated diplomatically, desperately poor with tens of millions close to starvation and was an economic backwater with a crumbling infrastructure and old uncompetitive, even primitive industry.
Thirty five years later, we can hardly recognise China. It has become the manufacturing hub of the world, the second largest economy, lifted 70% of its population out of poverty, transformed the lives of over one billion people, and created a vast network of world class universities.
In addition, it has become a respected member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, a key player in the United Nations, is the leading state in Asia and has good working relations with all the major Western Nations. That’s quite an accomplishment, breathtaking in all respects.
China did not receive any foreign aid, there was no “Marshal Plan”, no American hand in its reconstruction, as was the case in Germany and Japan after the Second World War. China has few natural resources, is half desert and had to rely on its own ingenuity and the hard work of its people to achieve what they have been able to do in the past 35 years.
Zimbabwe became independent just a year after China began its “long walk to development”. It had good relations with the global community, received billions of dollars in aid in the next decade and was endowed with a diversified economy, good infrastructure and a school system that had produced some of the best intellects in Africa. It had no deserts, an abundance of natural resources and the second highest income per capita in Africa.
By 2008 Zimbabwe was in all respects a “failed State”, millions in abject poverty and dependent on food aid, the economy in shambles with the third lowest income per capita in the world, a third of its population displaced to other countries and the lowest life expectancy in the world.
Diplomatically we were a pariah State under economic and political sanctions.
Then came the Government of National Unity (GNU) and suddenly things were “better” — the economy recovered. Revenues to the state rose rapidly and all macroeconomic indicators were positive.
Our relations with the IMF and the World Bank that had been disrupted by our failure to meet our obligations to them in the period after 1997, were suddenly being restored.
The recovery and resumption of growth and hope came to an end when the GNU failed to deliver the reforms needed for a free and fair election and once again Zimbabwe was back in crisis.
It is my view that contrary to what the IMF and the Ministry of Finance are saying, that far from growing by 2 or 3% in 2014, the Zimbabwe economy contracted by 10 to 14% — equal to the decline in GDP in 2008, at the height of the previous collapse.
Between July and August 2013 there was only one change in our national situation — the political party known as Zanu PF resumed full control of the state.
So what did they do to bring about the sudden collapse in the economy? Not a great deal, in fact and that is the real problem. They did not change anything; they took over and went back to business as usual.
When Deng Xiaoping took over in 1979 in China he used two simple illustrations to describe how he intended to govern. First he said that when it came to ideology, he would not judge a cat by its colour, but by whether or not it caught mice. Does it work, does it deliver?
If not we cast it aside and try something else. The second principle was equally simple, he said that if you are crossing a river and cannot see the bottom – feel your way across with your toes. In other words, be pragmatic, adjust your strategies to meet the obstacles and problems you encounter in your efforts to achieve your goals.
The result is a highly devolved state with real power and responsibility devolved away from the capital to the provinces and cities.
The banking system is integrated with the world economy and able to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding private sector. Self administering schools and tertiary institutions, compete for students and resources and have produced the human resources that have driven the economic revolution.
Most of all, it has been a social, economic and political system that has transformed China in just 35 years.
What would Deng advise our leadership today? The first thing he would say is that you cannot go on doing what you have been doing all these years — it’s simply not working. So what should our leadership be doing? We need a work plan for 2015, one that will put this country back on its feet and on a path to prosperity.
The first thing to recognise is that the old team that has led us for 35 years has failed, totally. They simply cannot be allowed to continue in power.
We need a cabinet that will be able to meet the needs of the country, restore confidence in the business community and reengage with the international community as a whole. We need a new national cabinet that will bring into the executive our best brains and innovators.
Secondly, we need to recognise that our political isolation is in fact our central problem. We need to restore our relations with the rest of the world – a full blown Cabinet reshuffle will go some way towards doing that, but it’s not just a question of changing the Minister of Foreign Affairs, although that is essential in my view.
We need to sit down and agree on a programme of political reform that will restore our status as a democratic state which respects the rule of law, human and political rights and the need for good governance.
In essence, resume the transitional process started under the GNU and get the country ready for a truly free and fair election in 2018.
Thirdly, we need to put our economic house in order. Our banks are in shambles; our global banking relations are nonexistent. FDI inflows are tiny and dwarfed by the flight of capital that is going on all the time.
Please do not try and tell us that the land reform process just needs more time – it’s a monumental failure and anyone can see that. Speak to any business leader and they will tell you, without exception, that our indigenisation programme is simply not acceptable in its present form.
Ask any prospective foreign investor and they will say that after indigenisation the next major issue is security.
Without security in all its different forms, foreign capital is going to stay away and until you can engage the global market for access to resources, this ship of State is going nowhere.
These articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, President of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, cell +263 772 382 852
Eddie Cross is an economist and Industrialist, and MDC T Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South.