Zim’s legacy of predatory economics continues

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THE transformation of Zimbabwe will require fundamental and revolutionary social, economic and political change through new institutional structures underpinned by a new philosophy and behaviours by its leadership both in the public and private sectors.

Since the ousting of the late Robert Mugabe, we have unfortunately seen the continuation of an economy that is essentially predatory and failing to transform to a more inclusive arrangement. The key reason for this is that the institutional architecture has not fundamentally changed nor the behaviours and mindsets that come with these institutions.

In addition, the continuing political dissonance within and among political parties has created a sense of doubt and increased perceived country risk in many circles, thus denying us the momentum towards the spirit of substantive change for the better which most of us felt in November 2017. The goodwill which came from the unity of purpose to get rid of Mugabe has unfortunately been lost and will be difficult to recover.

Conflict over political and economic institutions and the distribution of resources has been pervasive throughout the history of nations. If we are to create a modern developmental state in Zimbabwe characterised by inclusive political and economic institutions, we must find those practices and values that will cause the fundamental change we desire.

The key features of our predatory state are: autocratic rule; personality politics and the use of violence, fear and repression; erosion of formal public institutions; pervasive corruption; a disregard for traditional, customary or informal institutions; rewards for key collaborators, leaders and associates who use power for personal ends and establish a predatory coalition.

It is a fact that countries which have extractive political regimes do not develop at all because inclusive economic development is not on their agenda; they actually regress. Extractive political institutions are those institutions that limit political and economic freedoms as means to prolong their rule. They create a political elite propped up by a predator coalition whose main priority is not shared inclusive economic development, but concentrated wealth accumulation for a few at the expense of social progress for many.

Predator states will always have very high levels of resistance to fundamental political or economic change by predatory elites, including a high aversion to the institutional transformation. They tend to retain and cement those practices and institutions that entrench exclusivity, divisive patronage politics, corruption and abuse of state resources and a general lack of an inclusive national vision.

Despite the continuing talk of change, it is evident that we still have an inherent disconnect between the narrow and selfish political interests and broad national economic imperatives. The main reason being that we have not redefined a new reality as we continue to see essentially the same political mind sets pretending or professing to have changed for the better, but with no visible and tangible evidence on the ground. The deteriorating economic environment, increasing poverty and joblessness continue to affirm the idea that without political settlement nothing can or will change in the short to medium term.

As long as we fail to create a broad national consensus on the future we all desire, we will remain a fragile state without the necessary momentum towards creating a better future. In other words, no national consensus will exist on what a future Zimbabwe should look like and therefore no fundamental economic transformation or broad economic development is likely to happen.

Zimbabwe has had an estimated 14 economic development blueprints since 1980 and, 40 years later, we have nothing to show for it. Our economy is on its knees, unemployment is now common while our infrastructure continues to deteriorate and the country is effectively broke as the standards of living deteriorate at an alarming rate with an acute shortage of foreign exchange.

It is therefore critical that we expand the dialogue about the future amongst all sectors of our population so that we can all imagine what our economy and society will look like and what it will be like to live in that Zimbabwe. Without that, we are bound to remain in this vicious cycle of hopeless endeavour and survivalist economic activity which is now a common phenomenon throughout the country.

It is an open secret that our country is endowed with all the human and natural resources that we need and we can only unlock our full potential through a compelling national vision about the future that is inclusive. We seem to have this incessant inability to extricate ourselves from the circumstances which we have created by continually blaming exogenous factors for our economic decline. This has tended to disempower us in changing our circumstances.
In my opinion, as things stand now in Zimbabwe, I would argue that our country has ambiguous probable futures where it is quite difficult even to identify the range of possible outcomes. Contributing to this are the continuing political dissonance and disagreements and an economic vision that is neither as clear nor inclusive as it should be.

In my view, the best-case scenario for transforming Zimbabwe would be the stark realisation by Zanu PF of the profound need to change now. This change must then be led by an inclusive political process that seeks to build a new inclusive social architecture and new constructive relationships between the state, its citizens and opposition political parties. Whether this is possible or not remains to be seen, but history has shown us otherwise.

In his concept paper titled Predatory Leaderships, Predatory Rule and Predatory States published in 2011, Alex Bavister Gould from the Department of Politics at the University of York puts it very nicely by saying:

“Transforming predatory rule into a political order that is more developmental and that can address issues of growth, stability and poverty reduction is a challenging political process. For the people and politics of a country under predatory rule and, especially for its reform or developmental leaderships, it is not only a matter of reforming or changing government or a regime. It will also entail a slow and intensely complex process of establishing a new political settlement and devising the local appropriate institutional arrangements that will make the settlement arrangements that will create basic conditions for stable politics in a viable effective state.”

I want to believe that Zimbabwe can and should transform, but this will take some hard work and continued pressure on Zanu PF for them to realise that the future cannot be a continuation of the culture, behaviours and business practices which destroyed the fabric of this country under the Mugabe era. They must now be made to acknowledge that, without the participation of all Zimbabweans in shaping the future regardless of race or political affiliation, our country will remain at the precipice of economic disaster that can at some point in future explode in our faces.

I also want to believe that, in general, Zimbabweans want fundamental political social and economic transformation which results in more collaboration and cooperation among political players, cohesion, especially between government and business, to revive the economy and implement an urgent inclusive developmental agenda, increased freedoms and economic opportunities and finally a clear economic vision of a Zimbabwe we want. Of course, all this is indeed possible, but the challenge lies squarely in the hands of organised citizens and political leadership.

Vince Musewe is an independent economist. — vtmusewe@gmail.com. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past-president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society — kadenge.zes@gmail.com and mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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