LET us face it, the outcome of the elections will not be jubilantly accepted by everyone. Having said that, the reaction to an undesired election outcome through violence and the destruction of property has repeatedly proven to be an offsetting and regressive response. It can immediately destroy an economy that took years to build. In my opinion, one of the best alternatives, whatever the outcome, is to get involved in the building of better institutions.
By Cherish Ratisai
When it comes to marriage, preparation for life after the wedding is more important than preparing for that one day. Similarly, the elections on the 30th of July are important, but what matters more is charting the course of Zimbabwe, post-elections. For many, the elections are about simply placing an “X” on the ballot, but greater roles are possible afterwards; despite who makes it to state house.
In his book, Institutions, Economic Performance and the Visible Hand, economist Ashok Chakravarti argues that institutions, not resources, are the important factor in determining the economic performance of nations. Institutions govern the interaction and decision-making of economic agents and their strength determines the strength of the economy.
History shows us that, collectively, people have the power to influence institutions when they commit to having a clear and unrelenting voice. Many nations have had to go through transitions where they transformed their institutions and ordinary people played significant roles.
Thankfully, in the 21st century, the voice of the common man has been amplified through technology, giving the possibility of an even greater voice to apply pressure on governments.
History tells us that in Victorian England (17th – 18th century), the rise of the middle class, a group of more educated and affluent men (not of noble birth), paved way for reforms that enhanced the industrial revolution. Previously, the feudal system had created a stark division between the poor peasants and the rich rulers. However, the emergence of the middle class ignited pressure in the 18th and 19th centuries for reforms in parliamentary affairs. People began to reject the idea that success in society was based only on birthright and voting was for aristocrats.
Bankers, doctors, lawyers and other practitioners put their weight and called for reforms. In 1832, under pressure, Lord Grey introduced the Great Reform Act. Far from the total reforms that were being called for, the act at least relaxed property laws. By 1867, not only those who owned property could vote; those men that rented where now included. In 1846, the Corn Laws were repealed. They had kept the price of imported food and grain artificially high, benefiting the land owners, but harming the rest of the population through high prices. Although these laws took nearly a decade to repeal, had there been no campaign from the middle class, the reforms would not have come.
Of course, this is a simplification of the transformation that strengthened institutions and weakened the nobility; but the involvement of the people was the integral catalyst for transformation.
Back to the Zimbabwean story; strong institutions are not a naturally occurring phenomenon; hence pressure must be applied. Generally, to those in power, stronger institutions are viewed as the usurpers of individual power, which is undesirable. As the “middle class” of our nation, it will require emotional intelligence to organise and become intentional about applying pressure on various issues that must be addressed. It calls for being resolute, level headed, non-partisan (ideas towering above devotion to a political party), collaborative, non-violent and being devoted to the common good. Repealing of undesirable laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), changes in monetary policy, fiscal management, accountability, the ease of doing business etc. are a few of the numerous issues waiting to be tackled. Taking a leaf from history, there are three points individuals can adopt to push for sound reforms to transform the economy:
Become an advocate in your area of expertise. You do not have to become a politician for you to push for reforms. What we need are stronger bodies in various fields with stronger voices. Engineers, architects, lawyers, health practitioners, economists, etc. should strengthen their associations and speak aggressively on issues that require attention. There are existing bodies and associations, but many have been silent, are barely audible or have previously been used to push for political agendas.
A loud voice simply cannot be ignored. What the political transition in November 2017 gave us, is the ability to speak without the fear of death. Robust research, debate and interrogation of ideas (not individuals or political parties) must become the order of the day if Zimbabwe is to be progressive. Collaboration with academic institutions should allow for greater critical analysis and applications and publications specific to our society must be created.
The focus should now shift to the clear articulation of solutions, not problems. This will become the basis for the drive for policy and legislative shifts and increased collaborations. Recently, Eddie Cross, a pragmatic Zimbabwean economist and legislator, has been articulating solutions for the Zimbabwean economy. He has written on his views on monetary policy, water and sanitation, education, health etc. which is a better approach than simply stating the obvious. If many of Zimbabwe’s “middle class” begin to engage in well-researched and factual solution-based conversations, it will provide a refreshing alternative to the sometimes unproductive political grandiloquence.
The elections are just the beginning of a long journey for the Zimbabwean people to chart a new course, different from the past 38 years. I am almost certain that to those who were raised in Zimbabwe, you once had the vision to be part of the great development of this nation. Maybe somewhere along the line, the vision was militantly destroyed. But now, we have the chance to dream again. Reforms are not an overnight process, rather they are ongoing and there is room for everyone to play their part. Happy voting.
Cherish Ratisai is an economist. These New Perspectives weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, President of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES). Cell +263 772 382 852 and Email firstname.lastname@example.org.