HomeColumnistsBiti’s sensational take on state of the economy

Biti’s sensational take on state of the economy

DC-Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti painted a bleak picture of the state of the economy this week in what he called the “State of the Economy Address”. Many in Zimbabwe and abroad would find his take quite sensational, but may be that is to be expected from an opposition politician.

Twitter: @MuckrakerZim

His delivery, coming a few days before the presentation of the National Budget, was very likely meant to cast doubt on the figures Finance minister Mthuli Ncube would present.

Biti referred to an “economic malaise” borne of incompetence on the part of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to run the economy.

“The Zimbabwean economy is in an unprecedented tailspin and is suffering from massive headwinds across all sectors, whereby in 2019 the economy shrunk by a staggering 12,5%. What it essentially means is that we are back to depression economics,” Biti said. “This is in sharp contrast to what the government claims when they say that the economy is on the mend, that it will soon reap benefits for the people, which will subsequently lead to a middle-income economy by 2030.”

He also rubbished allegations that sanctions were affecting the economy, adding that the ruling party was just using them as a scapegoat for Ncube and Mnangagwa’s failures.

“The factors are primarily man made; the factors are primarily as a result of incompetence and cluelessness by the government. We are returning to depression economics, because the Zimbabwean economy is very cyclical, it loves these booms and slumps, booms and slumps,” he said.

But the African Development Bank has a different view. It says: “The economy is expected to recover with GDP growth of 4,6% in 2020 and 5,6% in 2021 if corrective measures are taken, especially to restore macro-economic stability. Recovery in the agriculture, mining, and tourism sectors will be backed by increased public and private investments.”

The World Bank Group also has a different take on the causes of the “economic malaise”.

“GDP expanded by an average of 2,6% over the past five years, but a severe contraction is forecast in 2020 as drought continues to affect agricultural output and energy production from hydropower and as the ongoing currency and liquidity crises hamper economic activity.”

Biti’s utterances have always needed thorough fact checking.

umours circulated on Wednesday that the government had closed schools due to the resurgence of Covid-19. This was after a number of schools recorded worrying Covid-19 figures. John Tallach School in Ntabazinduna, Matabeleland North, recorded about 187 cases of positive Covid-19 among pupils and staff. In Mashonaland West, Chinhoyi High School has also recorded a large number of cases; so have many other schools, though these have not yet been officially confirmed. The conclusion has been that schools have become Covid-19 hotspots.

The consensus countrywide, including among parliamentarians, is that the government boobed rather badly opening schools. Schools are always crowded places and children being the playful lot they are, would find it very difficult to practice social distancing. Incredibly, why the government did not think that bringing together, into a small place such as a school, hundreds of people from different corners of the country, would pose a Covid-19 hazard, daunts the mind.

After a commendable response to the first phase of the pandemic, now the government has something huge on its plate. And, it has to act quickly. It should lockdown the affected schools and turn them into quarantine centres. Most importantly, it must ensure the pupils are provided with everything necessary to treat and control the spread of the virus.

Covid-19 mystique

meanwhile, outside the schools front, official messaging on the pandemic is turning into something different from what it should be. A mystique has now been created around the disease and instead of educating people on the disease the air of mystery is leading to recklessness.

When people are made to be scared of something their behaviour becomes irrational. They begin to think that the thing they are scared of cannot be avoided and leave everything to fate. This is what has happened among majority Zimbabweans.

After the scare tactics of the first phase, they got inured to the disease and disregarded any other information coming from the authorities. This is why we are seeing crowds of people in the townships moving about without face coverings and sharing beer from the same containers. The informal sector is once more in full bloom with hundreds of people heaped in one location selling their wares.

If the messaging had not been sensationalised people wouldn’t have adopted the I-wouldn’t-care-less attitude they have. But how has this mystique been created?

Firstly, people are told not to touch their faces, noses and eyes. When we touch these parts of ours do we ever consciously decide to do so? Often we find ourselves attending to an itch on the face without even thinking about. The same happens with the other personal appendages. The eyes itch often, so do nostrils. So what kind of mystical disease is this that forbids us to behave normally with our bodies when most of people’s actions are governed by reflex actions?

The Covid-19 mystique is further heightened by that most irrational of all interventions: the curfew. People are supposed to be indoors between 10 pm and 6 am. What does that mean? Does it mean Covid-19 begins infecting people at 10pm and stops at 6am?

Due to this pointless curfew people’s freedoms have been impinged upon; they can’t go out to restaurants and bars as they please and they can’t go to the gym too.

All these myths about our hands, mouths and eyes and about curfews are what have brought the oft-used adjective “deadly” to describe Covid-19 when the reality is that it is the least virulent of all pandemics of the past century.

Interestingly, the government has not seen anything wrong with thousands of people crowding into Zupco buses as they commute to and from work. The message sent to people is that crowding in buses is not as dangerous as crowding at weddings or a church service or in a gym. This kind of inconsistency is what has led people to break the law and enjoy the thrill that comes with it.

Let’s remove the Covid-19 mystique and address the pandemic as rationally and as scientifically as possible. The safest way to prevent infection and spreading the disease is to wear face coverings. There is nothing wrong with people’s hands, but it’s useful to wash them regularly with soap and to use hand sanitiser if one suspects he/she has touched a contaminated surface.

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