The perils of economic illiteracy

President Robert Mugabe was appointed interim vice-chair of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) this week, eliciting an amusing bout of self-congratulation from a glory-starved government and its faction-driven megaphones.

Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

Milking this “remarkable diplomatic feat” for all it’s worth, Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Simbanenduku Mumbengegwi waxed lyrical, hailing Mugabe for “bequeathing” Africa the “legacy” of industrialisation. Well, either Mumbengegwi knows a different definition of industrialisation than the rest of us or — as I suspect — he has not read the newly released 2016 Zimbabwe National Competitiveness Report.

The report, compiled by the government-controlled National Economic Consultative Forum, disproves Mumbengegwi’s claim that Mugabe has anything useful to teach Africa on how to industrialise. In fact, and as the public record shows, Mugabe’s ruinous economic policies have led to the catastrophic de-industrialisation of Zimbabwe.

Wider Africa is equally dismal. Here is a sobering set of statistics: Africa, a continent of 54 nations, has a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$2,24 trillion. France, a single European nation, has a GDP of US$2,42 trillion. You do the math.

In today’s Zimbabwe, where secrecy dominates over openness and the abnormal is normalised, one of the strangest myths that have shaped life as we know it, is the hare-brained slogan that “agriculture is the backbone of the economy”.

There is no better evidence of the Zanu PF government’s illiteracy on economic logic than this tired mantra which — if truth be told without fear or favour — has seen better days and is now being recycled in a scandalous ploy to hold hostage an entire nation.

Agriculture, thanks to unworkable policies that have decimated the sector, is now only 12,7% of GDP. The services sector is now 64% of GDP. Where on earth do Zanu PF mandarins get the fallacy that “agriculture is the backbone of the economy”?

Zimbabwe has a president who boasts seven university degrees. Almost everyone in Cabinet has a doctorate. And yet, when it comes to understanding and managing a 21st century economy, the whole lot is utterly clueless. Countries with uneducated leaders seem to be faring much better than us.

One of the attributes of a sound mind is the ability to distinguish folklore from reality. In that connection, the chief purpose of a government is to determine viable economic policies.

Our leaders resemble a modern-day Sisyphus who expends a great deal of energy trying to roll a boulder uphill, only to see it slip from his shaky grasp and flatten him. They repeat this futile manoeuvre, over and over again.

Frederik Bastiat’s incisive observation comes to mind. Zimbabwe’s rulers want to live at the expense of the state, and yet they forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.