Towards a developmental welfare state in Zimbabwe

The paradox that confronts Zimbabwe is that it is arguably one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources endowment and human capital and yet it is one of the poorest countries in terms of development as measured by per capita income. Instead of catching up with the developed world the country has regressed.

Prosper Chitambara,Economist

For instance, at Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had a higher per capita income level than China, India, South Korea. Furthermore, the country also inherited a robust and diversified industrial sector underpinned by a strong local currency at independence. Since then the country has witnessed a debauchery of both the industrial sector and the local currency. To sustainably address the structural bottlenecks the country is facing requires the reorientation of the state into a developmental welfare state.

A developmental welfare state combines both elements of a developmental state and those of a welfare state. Adrian Leftwich defines developmental states as “states whose politics have concentrated sufficient power, autonomy and capacity at the centre to shape, pursue and encourage the achievement of explicit developmental objectives, whether by establishing and promoting the conditions and direction of economic growth, or by organising it directly, or a varying combination of both”. An important feature that characterises a developmental state is low levels of corruption, state capture, patronage and rent-seeking tendencies.

Leftwich states that “all developmental states have been led by determined elites, which have been relatively incorruptible, at least by comparison with the pervasive corruption” found in most developing countries, especially in Africa.

On the other hand, Professor John Gal, defines a welfare state as a state that addresses the basic human rights of its citizens, as an integral part of their social rights. It offers social protection by assuring (at the very least) a minimum income; provides access to food security, health care, education, housing, employment and social welfare services to all of its inhabitants; and engages in efforts to reduce social gaps. These goals are achieved through cash payments, the direct provision of social services, indirect benefits through the tax system and interventionist policies.

A developmental welfare state invests in the capacity of its citizens and its economy. The development welfare state puts its people and their welfare first in the development process. A developmental state, therefore, prioritises investments in both social and physical capital.

A key priority of a developmental welfare state is the attainment of sustainable and inclusive development, development that does not leave anyone behind. Having a clearly articulated national vision and a strong and capable leadership are key to a developmental and welfare state. A developmental welfare state must develop a national vision that puts the people first. Strong leadership does not imply being dictatorial but rather a leadership that is able to build consensus and social cohesion.

A strong leadership is also a leadership that is open-minded and humble enough to accept new ideas. A developmental welfare state must be anchored on democracy and inclusivity.

What this then implies in the context of Zimbabwe is that the development and macroeconomic priorities should therefore be based on the attainment of socio-economic rights (basic needs), i.e. the adoption and implementation of a human rights approach to development that prioritises and ring-fences expenditures in sectors such as agriculture, water, sanitation, health, education, infrastructure, employment-enhancement, well-targeted cash transfers for households living in extreme poverty conditions such as child-headed families, persons living with disability, the elderly, and the chronically ill to enable them to purchase a basket of basic commodities. The development and macroeconomic policy framework must be strongly aligned with constitutional imperatives such that the bulk of resources are dedicated towards the realisation of constitutionally mandated people’s rights.

A development welfare state has weaned itself off donor dependency and has taken full financial and economic responsibility over its own development trajectory. Donor dependency is a “curse” that keeps countries in financial bondage. No country can sustainably develop on the basis of donor dependency. The development experiences of countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam bears testimony to this truth. None but ourselves can develop our own country.

No single country is responsible for the development of another country. As long as we are waiting for the IMF, World Bank, British and Americans to give us free handouts we will remain poor. Development welfare states use what they have to initiate development.

Developmental welfare states rely heavily on public enterprises and utilise unorthodox industrial policies that include directed credit, trade protection, export subsidisation, tax incentives, among others. The interventions are highly selective, specifically targeted, and conditioned on the eventual attainment of economic efficiency and international competitiveness. In countries such as China and India, even though they increased their reliance on market forces, their policies were highly unconventional.

A developmental welfare state must be able to identify and pick winners and champions and support them through industrial policy. Zimbabwe can also learn from its past when it strategically intervened in various ways to nurture and promote the industrial sector.

Developmental welfare states focus on attacking the binding constraints on growth rather than addressing many weaknesses simultaneously. This is because development success requires not a “big bang” approach but, rather, a selective, sequential, and often unorthodox approach that accounts for country-specific circumstances.

The beauty with development is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel, nations can learn from other nations that have developed.

However, while it is important to learn from other countries, no single road leads to sustainable development, and the “best” policy options are country-specific; policy changes should reflect existing gaps in development and will be influenced by broader institutional, historical, and cultural contexts. Development is neither a miracle nor an accident.

Development is the natural outcome of implementing the right policies that work in a given context over a given period of time.

Chitambara is a development economist, scholar, strategist and policy advisor based in Harare. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. E-mail kadenge.zes@gmail.com or +263 772 382 852.