The First 100 Days

It may be difficult to believe but on Monday next week, the MDC would have been in government for 100 days. On Tuesday the Prime Minister will address Parliament and on Wednesday he will launch the next 100 day programme at the International Conference Centre in Harare.

The day before that he will address Parliament for the second time and give the country an overview of what has been/has not been achieved in the first quarter of the two year Transitional Government. I expect the next election will be about June 2011 and we have therefore 10 quarters of this arrangement of which the first has come and gone.

I was a part of the 'transition team' established by Morgan Tsvangirai in January 2008 when it was expected that we would win the March election. As everyone knows we did win but were again denied the right to rule because of fraud and the regional community. So when we eventually did get a deal - over the dead body of the South African President, it was a rather nasty compromise that tied us to Zanu PF in a close embrace that is not appreciated by either Party.

Secretly each of the two Parties looks over the shoulder of the other towards the 2011 election and thinks only of what they have to do to win. For Zanu PF it is quite simple - hold onto what they have left and no compromise on anything that might ease their grip on the electoral process. So they have spent the past three months simply stonewalling the MDC in all the critical areas linked to the electoral process. They have no wish to demonstrate who plays the best cricket, they feel they just have to filibuster the MDC until they get to the point where they can go into an election where the same mix they have used to win and hold onto power for 30 years can be brought into play. First prize for them is the collapse of the GNU, second prize is a flawed election that they can win in 2011.

These areas of conflict have become labelled by Tendai Biti as the 'toxic issues', described as such because of their potential to destroy the GNU and undermine the success of the transitional government.

On the part of the MDC we have sought to make the deal work and to try and get the situation in the country back to normal - whatever that is! So you have seen the Prime Minister leaning over backwards to accept his Zanu PF colleagues as such and to work with and not against the President. While we have stuck with the demand that the GNU be fulfilled in full and in spirit, Zanu PF has simple refused to back down on any issue that might threaten their hold on what remains of their State power.

This has made for an uneasy relationship and an uneven record of achievement and failure. We had worked hard on the issue of macro economic stabilisation and on our future relationship with the multilateral institutions before the new government was formed. Because of this we were able to agree and adopt Sterp within two weeks. This stopped world record inflation in its tracks. We amended the exchange control regime and lifted certain regulations and adjusted import conditions. The results were startling; food came into free supply, market conditions recovered and after a couple of weeks, prices began to fall.

We went out on a limb and decided to halt all quasi fiscal activity and take the fiscal crunch with cold turkey. We paid the civil service in hard currency and told all Ministries they could only spend what they had in the under the mattress. In four weeks we produced a new budget, tore up the old one and slashed government expenditure by two thirds.

The patient survived - but only just. People found they could buy things, workers could get on a bus to work, had real money in their hands, not piles of useless paper. Business found that the huge sums of money they had in their accounts were actually just paper and when the cyclone of change had swept through, they had virtually nothing left. Banks had no customers, building societies no bonds.

Everybody found themselves on the floor, bruised and battered but alive and we all watched the sun rise slowly over the dawn horizon of a new day. Cyclone Gono was gone, but the evidence of its passage was everywhere.

So now we pick over the rubble and try to rebuild our lives. Food is in free supply, but expensive, the emergency services are feeding the really needy and health services are meeting basic needs. Clean water is scarce and shelter is still a problem even though our population was sharply reduced by the cyclone.

We still face major threats and problems. Pirates and gangs of criminals roam the countryside looting what remains and exploiting the chaos and lack of legal norms and institutions. The authorities are slow to respond and have little capacity to protect the rights of the population. The previous government was destroyed by the cyclone because they failed to prepare for its arrival and passage. It will be two years before we get a chance to elect a new government; in the meantime we have a weak and inadequate administration that is only partly functional.

At the Victoria Falls retreat four weeks ago we took what comprises our temporary government and asked them to map out the future and develop a 100 day programme to start our long road back from disaster. On Wednesday the results of that process will be published, warts and all and government Ministers will then be judged on how they perform against their own benchmarks.

We survived! But at what a cost and many are now asking 'would we be better off dead or living elsewhere'? Things are tough, very tough. Prisoners and long term patients in State hospitals are dying of hunger. Child mortality remains high and human flight to other countries remains at unacceptable levels. Our population and our economy are still in sharp decline.

Given the world crisis and the political problems surrounding aid flows, we are going to have to rebuild the country using our own resources and efforts. This may be healthier in the long term but it will take longer. In the meantime the most important priority of the people is to determine how to keep the pirates and thieves out of the next government to be elected in 2011. If we can and do, then we can pick up the pace of recovery and look forward to better days and a real future.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 4th May 2009