ZIMBABWE on Wednesday commemorated its 38th anniversary of independence from Britain in 1980. The majority in reality did not celebrate, but perhaps commemorated the important event in the history and life of the nation; for independence without freedom and prosperity is meaningless.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
Inevitably when such events come, they draw people’s attention to what is currently happening on the ground in countries like Zimbabwe, almost four decades into self-rule.
Books like Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa — a seminal work which remains a compelling read about the history of critical resistance to colonial exploitation and underdevelopment of Africa through centuries of slavery and colonialism — and The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, that grippingly explore the decolonisation process, come to mind.
Above all this, recent political events in Zimbabwe, including the critical juncture of a military coup which toppled former president Robert Mugabe, himself a liberation struggle hero-turned-villain, drew my attention to the acclaimed book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson. Acemoglu and Robinson’s work, which focuses on institutional change and its role in determining success or failure in economic development, deeply explores a variety of historical case studies across time and space, including Zimbabwe, and raises critical issues which affect the country’s current political economy. The book provides an evidence-based framework within which to understand the current situation in Zimbabwe. Most importantly, it provides a model on how the situation could be fixed.
Based on 15 years of original research, Acemoglu and Robinson dig and marshal extraordinary historical evidence from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States (US), and Africa to build a new theory of political economy with great relevance for the big questions of today around the world and small countries like Zimbabwe.
Brilliant and engagingly written, the book answers the question that have puzzled experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and disease, food and famine?
Is it culture, weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are?
Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, the book further asks, how would you explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest-growing economies and successful countries by African standards in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, are mired in corruption, failure and poverty?
Resolving the puzzle, the authors conclusively show it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success or failure.
They use different case studies to make the point.
For instance, north of the fence between the US and Mexico lies the American city of Nogales, Arizona; south of it lies the Mexican city of Nogales, Sonora. On the American side, average income and life expectancy are higher, crime and corruption are lower, health and roads are better, and elections are more democratic. Yet the geographic environment is identical on both sides of the fence, and the ethnic make-up of the human population is similar.
The reasons for those differences between the two Nogaleses, they say, are the differences between the current political and economic institutions of the US and Mexico.
The Korean peninsula is cited as another example. Korea is a remarkably homogeneous polity, yet North Korea is among the poorest nations on earth, while South Korea is among the richest.
Through rigorous research and a new narrative, the book concludes “countries differ in their economic success because of their different institutions, the rules influencing how the economy works, and the incentives that motivate people”.
This is what Zimbabwe’s leaders must understand and appreciate.
Slogans like “Zimbabwe is open for business” alone without new ideas and a sustainable economic development model don’t help anything.
It is leadership, poilicies and institutions that make or break nations.