HomeOpinionAfrican socio-economic plans, views

African socio-economic plans, views

Fay Chung
An amazing phenomenon is that nearly all African countries, with only a very few exceptions, are still seriously under-developed economies.  Zimbabwe is among more than 50 African countries in this category. It is important to examine why this is so.

Zimbabwe has been independent for more than 40 years.

This should have been enough to enable it to raise its per capita GDP, which was US$1 000 at Independence.  The per capita GDP is still at this level today.  Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s population has doubled.  Zimbabwe has an estimated four million of its people in the diaspora, and most of them have moved out to seek jobs.  Jobs are not available in Zimbabwe.

There are some achieved advantages such as primary education for almost every child and junior secondary education for half the age group, a big change from the past.  However it is generally recognised that whilst Zimbabwean education was of a reasonably high standard in the first two decades of Independence, the quality is now recognised as one of the more  mediocre in Africa.

Comparing African countries, as well as other under-developed countries in the world, such as in Latin America and Asia, the high level of poverty has its initial roots in the colonial-imperial system.

However, its survival four or five decades later needs to be  examined very carefully.  One reason is the retention of the colonial socio-political-economic system.  The establishment of the liberation struggle in the 1940s saw the challenge as fundamentally a racist one:  the removal of colonial racism.  But replacement of the European politicians by African politicians does not change the system.

The system remains the same and the system remains seriously problematic.

Zimbabwe’s socio-economic-political system has also changed in the last 40-50 years.  There was an initial disagreement between Zanu and Zapu in the 1970s, based not on the fundamental principles, but on the strategies. This disagreement continued after Independence, as demonstrated in the Gukurahundi episode, a fundamentally tribal assessment on all sides.

This disagreement was partially resolved by the 1987 Unity Accord, creating a one party State with President Mugabe as the Executive President. The 1980 Constitution was subsequently adjusted 19 times to strengthen the position of the Executive Presidency.

The removal of most of the Zanu PF senior leadership through the Willowgate corruption further strengthened Mugabe’s executive decision-making as he could now appoint junior and more obedient ministers, parastatal and government leaders.  Mugabe’s dictatorial leadership was strengthened by the decision by the party and Government to enable him to appoint his immediate deputies and successors, as well as the Politburo which comprised the whole party and ministerial leadership. It established a one-man dictatorship at a time when his first wife, Sally Mugabe, a clever and experienced politician,  died and the President was now in his seventies.  He remained in power until his nineties.  One-man decision-making has its challenges however brilliant the one-man can be.

Clearly some form of leadership consultation is essential for good governance.  It is not possible for one man to know everything in the country, whether this is professional, political or economic.  It is also not possible for  one institution,  however important it is, to know everything in the country.

This is true of both Cabinet and Parliament.  It also is true of leadership at all levels of the Zimbabwe value chain, including decentralised and professional.  Teachers know a lot about teaching, but know only a little about health and the economy.  The leadership  comprises the President, his deputies, the Cabinet, Parliament, national and decentralised leaderships, professional bodies, secondary and tertiary educational institutions, the popular press, etc. One of Zimbabwe’s challenges is one-man decision making.

However brilliant and experienced the one man is, it is bound to be a serious challenge.  Not only to himself, but also to the country as a whole.

Education, training and information are of critical importance in all decision making.  Zimbabweans love to obey.  As they were taught to obey under colonialism and imperialism.  We still love to obey and believe those who don’t obey are “sell-outs”.

We are terrified of being called “sell-outs”, which can lead to beatings and even to death.  All parties and organisations in Zimbabwe identify obedience with loyalty. They mainly beat up their own members, but also attack political rivals.

It is time that Zimbabweans participate fully at all levels of decision making that affect our lives, whether regarding schooling, marriage, personal and national affairs.  These all affect our lives drastically.  Without being aggressive and unreasonable, let us all discuss these issues fully, and balance personal, family, professional, economic and political decisions in a balanced way so that all these aspects are taken into consideration.

Decisions are being taken which affect us adversely.  We react irrationally and often violently, but are unable to analyse why and how these decisions are made and how they affect us so adversely.  One example is salaries.

It is wrong for us to complain about the low salary levels, without taking into account why our economy is of such a  low level that our salaries are so low.  Why is our economy so poor?

Why is the formal economy only employing 10% of the potential workers?  And why are 60% of the formal economy civil and security service personnel?  These are all critical questions which we should all understand, and be able to improve. The one-man-one-vote every five years is not enough.

One of the most important issues is the economy.  Most of us don’t take much interest in the economy. We think it just runs itself.

We blame corruption for everything that is wrong in the country, and because there is a lot of corruption, this is  not a surprising  analysis.

Corruption is there, and was there before the economic collapsed 20 years ago.  Of course it is larger now than before. It indeed should be eradicated.  But by looking at this as the only issue is wrong.   It is too superficial an answer.

Economic reform is absolutely critical.  One change is that the government should stop taking a passive attitude, expecting the economy to run and correct itself.  The government, as the State in charge of the country, has a crucial and decisive role to play to ensure the economy works and grows.  The country has been going along without State problem solving for more than 20 years.  Meanwhile leaders have been looking at how they can benefit from the State, but the State economy has not increased for 20 years.

Quite a long time without progress.

A few instant changes are possible.  In the first 20 years of Independence, there was economic growth and poverty alleviation.  This was possible because the government provided small grants to  district councils, local government, hospitals and clinics, schools and colleges, and the university to establish infrastructure.

A return to these modest grants would be an instant success, and would at least return the country to the growth it achieved in the 1980s and 1990s.

For greater economic growth and job creation the country and government will have to form partnerships not only with local institutions as pointed out above, but also with regional governments, countries, and  private sectors, as Zimbabwe is a small country which must work with a few of its close neighbours such as Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa which can provide both export markets and export routes for the isolated Zimbabwe.

Investment will come from the Zimbabwe State, the private sector and private citizens and the regional governments, as well as outside donors and investors.  All of these do depend on the Zimbabwe government and State as the first investor into its own economy.  Neighbours and outsiders won’t invest unless we begin to invest ourselves.

Last but not least, the economy is always moving, whether it is up or down.  Ours has been going down as a result of utter neglect.

We used to devote more time to policy and decision making in the first 20 years of Independence.  We should return to that procedure.  Both capitalist and socialist development must be combined for progress. Rhetoric is not enough: we need to look at the processes and  implementation details of decision making.

For example how much has been devoted to national, district and project infrastructure, compared to salaries.

One problem over the past few years was that we devoted as much as 90% of the State budget, for example for education, to salaries, and nothing for equipment, materials, and supervision.

Yet the teachers were badly paid and children had no textbooks.  And the economy did not grow.  And poverty was not reduced.

  • 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 (1988-1993); an UN civil servant (1994-2003). These weekly New Horizon articles published in the Zimbabwe Independent are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES) and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — kadenge.zes@gmail.com and mobile No. +263 772 382 852.

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