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Zim’s perestroika and glasnost

AFTER emerging as one of the two superpowers in the new bipolar world, together with the United States, following the Second World War, the Soviet Union — which helped Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence from Britain — became stuck in repression, economic quagmire and social instability in the 1980s.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, the country was reeling from authoritarian rule, economic failure and volatility. There was only structure-induced stability, which would soon be rocked by Gorbachev’s dramatic perestroika — restructuring — and glasnost — openness — policies that opened the floodgates for criticism, reform and change.

Gorbachev’s policies were revolutionary ideas in the stagnant Soviet Union that would ultimately destroy it. His well-intentioned political and economic reforms unleashed irresistible forces that led to the collapse of the empire behind the iron curtain — the notional barrier separating the Soviet bloc and the West prior to the fall of communism that followed the political upheaval in eastern Europe in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall collapsed beginning the end of the Cold War.

Gorbachev, the eighth and last Soviet leader, lost control of the volatile reform process and ended up ousted through a military coup.

On December 21 1991, the evening news bulletin on Russian TV began with a dramatic announcement: “Good evening. This is the news. The USSR no longer exists …”

A few days earlier, Gorbachev had lost control of states forming the Soviet bloc.

“Behind our backs there was treachery. Behind my back,” Gorbachev told BBC in 2016. “They were burning down the whole house just to light a cigarette. Just to get power. They couldn’t get it through democratic means. So they committed a crime. It was a coup.”

While a coup followed an attempt to reform the Soviet Union, in Zimbabwe it seems reforms are coming in the aftermath of a recent military intervention, which forced out failed authoritarian ruler Robert Mugabe after 37 years in power.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa yesterday announced his own perestroika and glasnost agenda; bold and far-reaching economic reforms, while spelling out a series of austerity measures which he hopes would spur sustainable economic recovery and growth.

Presenting a US$5 billion 2018 budget statement in parliament yesterday under the “new economic order” rubric, Chinamasa said the economy was struggling as shown by low production and export levels, as well as high levels of unemployment, and a continuing deterioration in macro-economic stability.

The minister then came up with a series of reforms and austerity measures which he said could lead to a 4,5% growth in 2018. He said government will adopt a major policy shift to re-engage with the international community, international financial institutions and attract investors.

Retrogressive laws like the indigenisation policy will be overhauled to improve the business climate. The ease of doing business and the special economic zones initiative will be improved, among other things.

“The new economic order, therefore, gears towards restoring discipline, fostering a stronger culture of implementation, supported by political will in dealing with the following: correcting the fiscal imbalances and financial sector vulnerabilities; public enterprises and local authorities reform; improving the unconducive investment environment; dealing with corruption in the economy; re-engagement with the international community; stimulating production, and exporting; as well as creation of jobs,” he said.

Government will also deal with state vehicles issued to officials, fuel allocations, foreign trips and business travel, the number of embassies and size of diplomatic missions, sub-contracting, tenders, corruption and land issues, among many other things. He said the current fiscal crisis was unsustainable.

Most of the things Chinamasa tackled are critical. The only problem is that he needs to go deeper into structural and fundamental reforms, beyond symbolisms and rhetoric. He also needs practical models and workable plans. For that to happen, there has got to be political will and commitment. But the question is: Will Zim’s perestroika and glasnost experiment succeed?

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