FIVE months after we attained our Independence, on September 29 1980, we formally became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This marked the beginning of our relationship with the Bretton Woods institutions and with it our unstated commitment to fully subscribe to the liberal world order principles on which these very institutions are irrevocably built.
The Brett Chulu Column
In recent days our local media has been awash with stories of spirited campaigns by local activists and politicians to lobby international circles of political influence to delay giving Zimbabwe much-needed new debt, understood to be in the region of US$2 billion.
It is said that the lobbyists want the rescue package to be delivered on condition that full political reforms are achieved. I am all for justice, liberty and fairness. I have no choice but to accept these three principles because as a Bible-believing Christian I am of the conviction that God reigns sovereign over all nations and Psalms 97:2 spells out clearly that God’s universal government is built on two principles: righteousness and justice. Thus corruption, oppression, violence, selfishness, injustice, cheating, abuses in all their hues and shades, lying , dissembling, forcing people to act against their conscience, and any other transgression that is an affront to the foundations that bind even God in governing His universe I ought to frown upon and condemn unreservedly.
One need not be political to condemn systematic violation of the tenets of righteousness (right-doing), justice and truth. So I am neither for nor against any political player in Zimbabwe. Stating this position unambiguously is necessary so that views presented here are not labelled as favouring a particular political formation.
I see three reasons why the current lobbying is unlikely to derail the Lima Plan.
First, it turns out that there is a subtle nuance about the liberal world order ushered at the Bretton Woods conferences of July 1944 that is not fully understood today. Though the liberal world order is divvied up into three tenets, namely, economic, political and strategic or international security order, the liberal economic order is the most important.
The political and international security orders are means to achieving and safeguarding the liberal economic order.
They are not ends in themselves. This point forms a critical ingredient in assessing how the international circles of economic influence look at our economic re-engagement process with bilateral and multilateral Euro-American entities of political and economic sway. If the current regime shows a strong commitment to abiding by liberal economic policies and moving beyond aspiration to actual policies supporting that liberal commitment, the support for the rescue package will swell.
History has shown us that the custodians of the liberal world order tend to give more weight to liberal economic reforms than political reforms. In our case, the international community will look at our constitution, a creature of political negotiation and, as flawed as it might be, as a reasonable foundation to advance political reform in the future.
In the scheme of things, it is more than likely that international financing institutions are more interested in Harare strengthening and deepening economic policy reform. The language and actions that will either scuttle or support the Lima Plan will be more about government balance sheets than the voters’ roll. As such, the failure of the Lima Plan will have nothing to do with political lobbyists — it will be about local politics derailing efforts to bring about economic policy reforms in line with the liberal economic order.
Second, it is often forgotten that the custodians of the liberal world order are more interested in their economic interests than sentimental camaraderie. All they are interested in is finding influential local politicians who are capable of accepting and advancing their liberal economic interests. It is the height of naivety to believe that these custodians of the liberal world order are eternally sympathetic to the opposition and are perpetually in tension with the ruling elite. Such a view is highly simplistic. It is a false dichotomy at best. Politics matters to them if it safeguards their economic interests as spelt out in the liberal world order.
In essence, it’s a confidence game in which what matters most is whether they trust the opposition more than the ruling entity to deliver on their liberal economic expectations. A term that aptly fits these dynamics is “frenemies” (I didn’t invent the term). Frenemies applied to international relations denotes that entities in bed together are potentially enemies and those groupings that are at loggerheads are potentially friends.
To assume that just because in the recent past the international community has been sympathetic towards the opposition and thus will not shift its sympathies elsewhere is a weak theory. The flow of sympathy is always in the direction of the highest commitment to serving the liberal economic order.
If our ruling elite forges ahead with economic reforms, demonstrate intolerance towards corruption, give unequivocal clarity on property rights, set fair and stable rules of playing the economic game, and assure free flow of capital into and out of the country no amount of political lobbying will derail the Lima rescue package. It’s always the economics before the politics.
Third, the game of political economy is like capital markets. In capital markets, investors price assets taking into account the likelihood of assets’ future performance. For instance, the share price denotes the present value of dividends the investors believe they will get in the future. We seem to have entered a period where international financial institutions seem to strongly believe that the future political market of this country will steer towards liberalisation and thus increasing the likelihood of any future government supporting liberal economic principles.
A strong lobby to delay giving the rescue package predicated on the argument that the current political market is pseudo-liberal may not gain enough currency. The international community just like investors is making a wager. That wager is valued at US$2 billion in the form of the Lima rescue package. It’s a gamble they seem to want to take.
Here is the sum of the matter: in the liberal world order, economics trumps politics. Politics is not an end. It’s a means to an end. If one doesn’t understand this, they may find it difficult to understand why international financiers may sympathise with arguments for political market reform and still go ahead to release funds. It’s the economy, stupid, Bill Clinton famously remarked.
Once a darling, always a darling is not how the international relations game is played. It’s not a game of sentimentalism and blind emotionalism. Ask China. Ask Japan. Ask Tanzania. If the Lima Plan tanks, it will not be because of any political mobilisation against it — it will solely be due to our ruling elite’s reluctance to bite the bullet and implement economic reforms that demonstrate without equivocation that they respect the liberal economic order. Welcome to realpolitik and realism.
Chulu is a management consultant and classic grounded theory researcher. He has published research in an international peer reviewed academic journal.