Politics, economics: What can we do about them?


EDDIE Cross has just written an article about his telephone conversation with someone in the United Kingdom. They pointed out that they could not do anything about politics in the country, but could do something about economics. This is a view shared by many Zimbabweans. This is partially but not wholly true. Why do we hold such a negative view about politics? It is important for us to examine what we mean by politics and what we mean by economics.

The Lancaster House constitution defined politics for us. We largely accepted this definition. Former president Robert Mugabe, as the chief politician and political theorist for 40 years after Independence, added some of his own views to the inherited definition. His views were typically Machiavellian: he stated clearly that only politicians could say or do anything on politics, and that for them there were no applicable legal or moral rules and regulations.

He inherited the use of violence, torture and killings of political opponents from the Rhodesians. For the Rhodesian government, politics was an area where anything was permitted, as long they enabled you to retain power. Zanu PF inherited these Rhodesian systems, and practices them. Most of the police and judges obeyed these rules.

It is essential for all Zimbabweans to interrogate these definitions of politics, as well as the closely related issue of economics. We show weakness in blindly accepting definitions that lead us to poverty and destitution. We need to think through what we have inherited, instead of blindly emulating them.

The Lancaster House agreement was designed to give political power to Africans through one day of elections every five years. This was defined as “democracy”, with the details enunciated through the Lancaster constitution. The other Lancaster agreement aim was to ensure that the wealth of the country — the economy — remained in the hands of European settlers and foreign companies. This remained the case for the first two decades of Independence. When we tried to change it, we tried to do it through the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) and the Fast-Track Land Resettlement (FTLR) Programme. Esap was imposed by outsiders; FTLR was the brainchild of Mugabe, and lacked technical, professional and financial support. It also lacked legislative adherence. Despite these serious weaknesses, Zimbabwe embraced these policies.

We need first of all to define politics. Politics is defined as a science and an art about how to manage and rule a country.

There are almost 200 countries in the world and each of them has a different formulation of “politics”. It cannot be confined to one day of elections every five years. It is meant to provide Zimbabweans with the means to lead a good life, through choosing the best leaders to achieve this fundamental human right. Unfortunately, we have not defined what constitutes “a good life”. In the 1980s, we understood it to mean education, health care and a clean water supply for all, but somehow we could not maintain these services. Why and how did they deteriorate? We can put some blame on the elected leadership, i.e. parliament and cabinet.

We can also blame the unelected civil service, as it became filled with political supporters. They are grossly under-paid and do not earn enough to own a house, a car or to buy sufficient basic foods. One reason is that the number of government employees has doubled in the last 20 years, but the economy has not doubled. In fact, it has shrunk and is still shrinking.

Why is this electoral system dysfunctional? To get elected, you need money, so those with money win elections. When they win, they are able to gain more money and property through patronage, i.e. those in power can give you land and contracts.

It is essential that we look at the requirements for the selection of parliamentarians and ministers, to ensure that they have the qualifications and experience to do the job properly. Most of the work required today depends on engineering, yet few if any of our politicians know much about engineering. The whole area of governance depends on how we create more wealth and how we utilise this wealth, economics, yet we have very few economists and business personnel amongst politicians. It is time we looked at the qualifications and experience of decision-makers, and take steps to ensure we get the best politicians as well as civil servants who do the job on our behalf.

Why cannot the engineering association elect two engineers for the Senate? Why cannot the economics association elect two economists for the Senate? This would democratise the Senate and provide better expertise in these critically important areas.

What about economics? I think everybody will agree that the economy is not running very well. Why not? One reason is that the government employs so many personnel that they often spend 95% of the budget on salaries, yet these civil servants are badly paid. There are 550 000 civil servants, out of 816 000 people employed in the formal economy. Around 67,4% of formal economy employees are government employees!

Then who is responsible for creating wealth? Government is very important, but we also desperately need many more farmers, industrial workers and companies working to create wealth in both the formal and the informal economy. The economy is what creates wealth.

Another reason is government spends so much of the budget on employing people who do not have the tools, materials, transport and infrastructure to do their jobs properly. Another reason is the constant printing of money to satisfy government employees who invariably go on strike for more pay. But, of course, printing money — whether it is paper money or Treasury Bills (TBs) — does not necessarily create wealth. More judicious monetary expansion is needed.

Monetary expansion is clearly one of the most important responsibilities of government. But the increased TBs should be targeted at economic expansion. It is time that all those empty factories in Harare and Bulawayo are utilised to produce the goods needed in this country, such as small and lower-cost tractors. If the two million small-scale farmers could mechanise their farming, their productivity could double.

Last but not least, 5,7 million people are employed in the non-formal economy, and they have received little from government to improve the quantity and quality of their products. They presently produce most of the materials for the construction industry: what about providing more training and quality supervision for the informal economy? What about bridging the gap between the formal and informal economies, so that they can share their strengths? This will certainly increase the quality and export potential of the manufacturing industries.

Investment into the economy can be doubled by involving the diaspora in the economy: for every US$100 million provided by the diaspora in investment of their choice, government can complement by adding another US$100 million. This has been done successfully by countries as diverse as China and Ethiopia.

A competent government can give a big boost to the economy. The economy can grow without government: it is already doing so. But government can improve its performance by targeting investment both by government and by the private sector, particularly the agriculture and the manufacturing industries. Both of these will create enormous employment growth and economic wealth.

Dr Chung was a secondary school teacher in the townships (1963-1968); lecturer in polytechnics and university (1968-1975); teacher trainer in the liberation struggle (1976-1979); civil servant (1980-1987); former minister of education (1988-1993) and a UN civil servant (1994-2003). These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile +263 772 382 852.