IN a frank confession that has shone a spotlight on Zimbabwe’s multifaceted crisis, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa yesterday conceded that the country is considered “a rogue state” and this makes it difficult to mobilise international support for the troubled economy.
By Kudzai Kuwaza/Wongai Zhangazha
Addressing legislators in Bulawayo at a 2017 National Budget seminar, Chinamasa said Zimbabwe is reeling under high reputational risk, blighting its prospects of rescuing the comatose economy.
His remarks came a few hours after Chatham House, a leading think-tank close to the British establishment, warned that violence could flare up in the run up to Zimbabwe’s next general elections as the economic decline in the country deepens.
Zimbabwe’s economy is this year seen sliding into recession due to weakening regional currencies, falling commodity prices and poor governance. This has resulted in growing dissent against President Robert Mugabe’s 36-year rule.
Political experts now contend that only a transitional government could steer the country out of the woods.
The think-tank’s head of Africa programme and director of area studies and international law, Alex Vines, described Zimbabwe as “brittle and fragile”.
“My worry is the economy and I have talked to ADB (African Development Bank), IMF (International Monetary Fund), World Bank and investors, they are really worried about the economy,” Vines told the Zimbabwe Independent on the sidelines of a Southern African Political Economy Series (Sapes) policy dialogue forum in Harare to discuss a report co-authored by Vines titled The Domestic and External Implications of Zimbabwe’s Economic Reform and Re-engagement Agenda on Wednesday.
“This (situation) can probably muddle through into next year, but not indefinitely and that’s why I am not sure about this idea of a slow-burning fuse that will take many years of continued crisis (before it blows), especially if government runs out of money.”
He said Zimbabweans no longer have the resilience they had in 2008, with Diaspora remittances no longer buying as much as they used to because of the dollarised economy and the situation is aggravated by the current drought.
“This is a very brittle and fragile Zimbabwe now in a region that is also increasingly fragile, hence the worry,” Vines said.
He said if there was to be widespread violence with lots of bloodshed in the countdown to the 2018 elections, it would “set back everything in trying to find a soft landing for Zimbabwe”.
Speaking during the meeting, co-author of the Chatham report Knox Chitiyo said the country is at a watershed, facing its most serious crisis since 2008.
“This is really a race against time in many ways, at many levels,” Chitiyo said.
“Politically we are seeing political fragmentations that are occurring. Economically there is a massive crisis and socially as well.”
He told participants that although the re-engagement process was a “difficult dialogue”, it was important that it takes place now and not wait until after President Robert Mugabe leaves office or a new government is ushered in.
“At the end of the day, re-engagement is not about saving Zanu PF, it is about helping the people of Zimbabwe,” Chitiyo said.
“It is important that the international re-engagement needs to be complemented by a national engagement within Zimbabwe, among the Zimbabwean people.”
He said they were concerned about the 2018 elections, given the highly polarised environment in the country, which could trigger violence. Chitiyo said it is imperative that the 2018 elections do not derail the re-engagement dialogue.
International Crisis Group senior consultant for Southern Africa Piers Pigou warned that dialogue would not translate into action as evidenced by the failure by government to implement agreed reforms.
“Still, today a significant number, perhaps a bulk, of reforms, have still not been addressed notwithstanding progress with respect to policy development and frameworks,” Pigou told participants.
“We have been in this space before not only in Zimbabwe but elsewhere where a national commitment which is backed up by dialogue does not translate into tangible steps and action.”
Pigou said the reform agenda had no “backing of the government at all”.
“Do we hear any other government minister saying anything progressive about reforms, and the reforms that are needed?” he said. “We have heard this before from senior Zanu PF leaders. Why would Zanu PF introduce policy reforms that will essentially mean they are going to cut the limb of the tree they are sitting on and that they vote themselves out of power or put themselves in a situation where they are unable to control the electoral machinery?”
Prominent lawyer and democracy activist Brian Kagoro, however, criticised the Chatham report, saying that it was just “new grammar but with old and archaic ideas”.
Former Zanu PF politburo member and senior Zimbabwe People First official Kudakwashe Bhaskiti said negotiating with the current Zanu PF leadership is futile, likening it to dealing with new wine in old skins.
Interestingly, one of the participants at the meeting pointed out, however, that Bhaskiti represented “part of the old skin” he was referring to. Bhaskiti, in response, said: “People can be born again.”