IT was the best of times and yet it was the worst of times. If the gods would punish those who created false hope and high expectations, but later refuse to be neither accountable nor questioned, criticised nor guided by the very citizens they promised such, then, indeed, it would be to our joy and benefit.
VINCE MUSEWE: ECONOMIST
If, indeed, the gods were to look kindly upon our prayers we would surely be hopeful that things will change for the better. But as things stand, there is no hope or expectation of the Zimbabwe which we all imagined in that month of November to become a reality any time soon.
The high expectations and goodwill which reverberated, not only in our country, but outside our borders on that day in November 2017, have disappeared like a fog in mid-morning.
November 2017 was a month of hope and expectations that the ghosts of the past would once and for all be expunged and replaced by a new paradigm of an inclusive participatory democracy, inspirational leadership, probity, transparency, accountability, unity and ultimately success and prosperity for many.
And yet poverty has not left our homes, political divisions and insults of all sorts continue to plague us, continued dissonance among politicians of different persuasions has become a daily event, intrigue and internal power struggles are common, joblessness has become normal and the blame game of the root causes of our despair on exogenous factors and not on our acts of omission and commission continues unabated. We have become what we feared most — a nation divided and faltering.
It is to our advantage to be honest with ourselves, to call a pig a pig and for once, stop the empty rhetoric that all is well, that indeed we are progressing, that indeed we have our best brains engaged in matters of state. That would be a lie.
Zimbabweans have become worse off since November 2017 as many struggle to survive on a daily basis, as incomes buy less and yet they have not increased, as access to basic health services has become a privilege, as our teachers and health workers suffer and as those seeking gainful employment increase in numbers.
Our youths remain marginalised, increasing in numbers and unoccupied. Most of our pensioners are destitute while poverty has become normal and inevitable for a significant majority. We indeed cannot escape from this reality no matter how much we may wish things were otherwise.
The promises of November 2017, the expectations created and promises made have not been met.
Granted we have seen some progress in infrastructure such as roads; water and sanitation; information communication technology; aerospace; energy and power; irrigation; housing and office accommodation infrastructure.
We have seen a surplus from a deficit position when it comes to government expenditure (minus US$1,4 billion in 2018 to a surplus of US$311,2 million in 2019) indicating improved fiscal discipline.
Our fiscal deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product declined from -10,5% in 2017 to a surplus in 2019, and with almost balanced budget in 2020. The current account balance has improved as we have seen decline in imports indicating some import substitution.
We also have seen prices stabilise from a stable United States dollar rate. Regardless of what the numbers may say or what sophisticated economic models and algorithms may indicate, we can only measure progress by the quality of life of ordinary citizens. The question we therefore must ask is; are we better off and has our quality of life improved? The answer is no.
It is fact that the tangible social impact of the TSP has been somewhat minimal. While the numbers may seem promising, the fact of the matter is that the quality of life for most ordinary citizens has deteriorated. Any economic policy which does not improve the quality of life of ordinary citizens, the marginalised and the vulnerable, becomes a mere academic exercise, sterile and useless. We need to redefine what success is.
The fallacy in which we have been caught up in is that formal economic theory will produce the intended outcomes and yet we now live in a highly informalised survivalist economy which requires a paradigm shift in economic policy. The practicalities of day-to-day survival are significantly difficult and volatile because the majority do not have consistent stable jobs and incomes.
The foundations upon which any economy is built are the final determinants of its success.
According to the TSP announced in October 2018, the aspirations of Vision 2030 will be underpinned by a set of values and objectives which include:
l Improved governance and the rule of law;
l Re-orientation of the country towards an inclusive democracy;
l Upholding freedoms of expression and association;
l Promotion of peace and national unity;
l Respect for human and property rights;
l Attainment of responsive public institutions;
l Broad-based citizenry participation in national and socio-economic development programmes;
l Political and economic re-engagement with the global community;
l Creation of a competitive and friendly business environment;
l Enhanced domestic and foreign investment; and
l An aggressive fight against all forms of corruption.
I shall not waste any time in commenting on these key values and objectives for they speak for themselves. We are yet to be convinced that these values are indeed important to the government and political leaders because we have not seen any significant changes.
You see, the political paradigm has also not fundamentally changed nor have the behaviours since the end of the (Robert) Mugabe era of disenchantment and dictatorship.
Sadly, it indeed has become a dangerous occupation to be a journalist or an activist or an opposition member or a critic while the values enunciated in November 2017 of freedom of speech and association have merely become an improbable myth. It is indeed disheartening to note that many cannot say how they feel or see things for fear of incarceration. Many citizens feel stifled in expressing their honest opinions for fear of reprisal. It has become a crime to speak out. Freedom of speech and association remain but a dream.
Added to the above, the treatment of citizens by the police and army still leave a lot to be desired. Citizens feel they have no right particularly the right to peacefully protest without arrest or harassment. This is one of the cornerstones of a free society and we cannot say we are free as long as that freedom is limited.
It is evident to us all that we have dismally failed to effectively deal with corruption as promised. Zimbabweans are despondent, angry and sceptical that this government is serious in addressing corruption by applying the rule of law without fear or favour.
The economic environment has not improved to make corruption unattractive. The way to quick riches is admired and wished for by many and this has resulted in the death of business ethics and integrity.
Whether we accept it or not there is a huge trust deficit between leaders and the governed. That trust deficit cannot be addressed by endless speeches or well written policy documents on how things are getting better. They can only be addressed by sincere engagement, visible changes in behaviours, empathetic leadership, inclusiveness, accountability and seriously dealing with what makes everyone angry and continues to sabotage the economy; corruption.
Yes November 2017 was indeed the best of times and yet the worst of times.
Musewe Harare-based author and economist