Part 2 of the discussion on root causes of economic policy failure in Africa, Latin America and Asia revolves around intriguing questions: why the persistent failure of economic recovery in Latin America, Asia and Africa ?
By Masimba John Manyanya
Why the failure of states to demonstrate some semblance of ‘power to influence economic destinies’ of the 4 billion earthly inhabitants who languish in poverty and misery, when these 3 continents on their own have enough resources to, literally, feed 100% of the world’s 7 billion people? Prevalent tendencies, in Africa in particular, are about polarisation, inequalities, impoverishment, conflict and retrogression. Is the root cause of Africa’s economic failure as a continent enscripted deep in our DNA as African people? Is it maybe some imperialistic plot beyond our capacity to disentangle ourselves from? Or is this perhaps something to do with supernaturalism?
An economy can either be a tool for social transformation and human development, or a weapon of mass destruction. The difference lies in how the economy is managed, and in essence, managers will either be elected or assigned to their positions. Elected representatives, or politicians, are normally identified through Political Parties, which are organisations of would-be policy leaders, for lack of a better definition.
A politician is elected, and through their participation in Parliament, they impact on/influence the management of economic policy. But after all is said and done, the power and influence of a political leader is assessed through the wealth and prosperity that results from their work.
Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Economics and Finance Committees play important roles in shaping national economic policies; examples being at the introduction of ESAP in the 1990s, and recently, the introduction of bond notes. After having personally attended bond note meetings in Parliament (in the Public Gallery) in 2016, it practically dawned on me that Zimbabwe’s political leadership impacts significantly on the design and management of national economic policies. But the issues can be too technical sometimes.
The Reserve Bank Governor needed, as feedback from the committees, informed, meaningful technical debate around policy options, alternatives and positions. It is a fact that technical policy leadership around concerns of money supply for instance will be impractical without the relevant background education and training. This implies that ultimately, the challenge is for the electorate to choose leaders who are able to represent them competently regarding policy issues.
Granted that we live in an era when the economy is either a tool for human development, or a weapon of mass destruction, economic success becomes an outcome of the application of requisite knowledge, in the form of management interventions.
This is critical for the transformation of the gifts of nature into goods and services which add value, or meaning to day to day life experiences of humanity. “Management interventions”, broadly encompasses values, knowledge, skills, expertise or ingenuity that will make it possible for some people to survive in the desert, where others, for instance, perish. If we choose our leaders simply because we think they look handsome, or beautiful, or because they can sing well, then very soon we will regret when there is no clean water to drink or good food to eat, and there are also no quick answers. It is not just about economic issues, it is about electing or assigning qualified, informed people to lead or to manage in their specific areas because, increasingly, or perhaps ultimately, policy leadership is more a technical rather than political issue.
In Zimbabwe we seem to believe that if you are good at politics then you are good at everything. Which is a mistake, and the nation suffers immensely as a result. Zimbabweans are amongst the most highly educated and qualified people successfully leading the world’s institutions, but their own nation rots in the doldrums of mediocrity and incompetence. One sincerely hopes that the next election leads the nation into a new dispensation of qualified and competent leadership in all sectors of society.
This all helps explain why, with the 10% of the world’s natural resources that the African continent has in its sub-strata, the livelihoods of 4 billion earthly inhabitants are in perpetual jeopardy. With the turn of the 21st century significantly more Africans are fleeing countries of birth, crossing perilous seas, mountains and jungles to live in foreign countries, but which have substantially less endowments of land, mineral and other natural resources than their own continent.
The explanation for all this is in the capacity of African leaders to transform local resources, giftings and blessings into clean water, food, clothing and shelter for inhabitants of the continent. In Zimbabwe we used to have diamonds. We still have the platinum, gold, coal and other minerals though. Through democratic elections we can still fight the vices of greed and corruption, and get qualified people to lead. God’s blessings and gifts will never prosper a nation if placed in the hands of crooks and thieves to manage. As a technical process, “management” should start with the pertinent needs of humanity, and end with positive change in the form of prosperity. Management is not supposed to end with hunger, famine, potholes, fishholes on the roads, or other dilapidated infrastructure, or strife.
As noted earlier, management hinges critically on information and knowledge. The knowledge and wisdom accumulated by mankind over the centuries is an invaluable asset in bringing the earth’s riches within the practical day-to-day life circumstances of the earth’s inhabitants. People who do not want to go to school, or to learn, should not be permitted half a chance to lead others, because entire nations will be brought to ruin. But we hear that Africa has 10% of the world’s natural resources, valued at US$1,05 trillion, in its sub-strata. These resources translate into an appreciable per capita income, balance of payments, public savings, and significant reduction of the continent’s public debt. But we also learn that a mere 100 multi-national conglomerates (MNCs) dominate the continent’s extractive sectors. MNCs (who have descended in droves from China, the USA, and Europe) repatriate back to their countries income that is more than 10 times the GDPs of African countries. MNCs in Africa are also invariably always involved in intricate schemes to avoid paying taxes in real terms to African governments, just as they are also always actively associated with pollution, killings of citizens, population displacements and relocations, labour rights violations and many other anti-developmental activities. MNCs are able to do this because African citizens lack the necessary representation at policy levels by those constitutionally charged to do so.
Drs Godfrey Kanyenze and Daniel Ndlela (2017) advance the explanation of “weak states.”
Basically, a weak state is a national political /governance entity constitutionally charged with national development policy oversight, but that is at the same time incapable of delivering on its core mandates.
A weak state is an immense liability in the arena of development management, and national constitutions must seek to protect citizens against misdemeanours associated with public corruption or incompetence. According to Kanyenze and Ndlela, “A critical factor of a democratic developmental state is that state relations ..must …have an endogenous ability to use its autonomy to consult, negotiate and build consensus with social partners” guided by the goals of high rates of accumulation and industrialisation. (G. Kanyenze and D. Ndlela 2016). A democratic state is founded on consultation and negotiation.
The future will look different if Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, changes its vision of public policy leadership towards a generation that cherishes values of democracy, honesty, transparency, accountability and competence.
Manyanya is a Harare-based economist. These New Perspectives articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society, email, firstname.lastname@example.org and cell 0772382852