Looking Back and Looking Forward

I think everyone in Zimbabwe will agree that 2010 has been a very tough year for all of us. Money has been tight, business conditions very difficult and the political scene has never been so complex or confused. Despite this it is essential to look back on the year and to try and ascertain if we made progress and if so in which direction? No point in doing that if you do not look forward at the same time and try to see what lies in store for us in 2011.

Firstly the economy; nothing works if you get the economics wrong. Although our basic economic recovery has been slow, an astonishing feature has been how the informal sector has come out from the closet and economic activities that were going on suddenly materialized from nowhere. All the pundits reported growth rates of about 7 per cent, but when the IMF came to measure economic activity they were astonished to find us approaching a GDP of $8 billion compared to $4,2 billion in 2008. That suggests growth of 40 per cent or more in 2010.

When all of this is said and done, Zimbabwe will be a fascinating study for future generations of economists who will be able to analyze how we managed to wreck an economy that had survived 15 years of sanctions and 18 years of war in just 10 years after the international community had lent us $6 billion in soft loans and given us $5 billion in grant aid in the previous 20 years. This will show how we, in the face of the targets set for 2015 managed to reduce national incomes by 70 per cent, raise all social indices to the level where we were clearly a society in crisis and drive a third of our population out of the country as destitute refugees and another quarter to an early death from a myriad of causes.

How we broke an education system that had given us the highest literacy rate in Africa so badly that in the last few years two thirds of all girl children were not in school at all and those that were, came out illiterate and innumerate. How we wrecked an advanced health system that had doubled life expectancy in 30 years and succeeded in wiping out all those gains in a short decade. It will also be a study in human perseverance and grit as people whose lives were being destroyed struggled to stay alive and keep business afloat. The new estimates of GDP are not fiction, the Ministry of Finance is collecting $250 million a month - divide that by our traditional estimate of tax from GDP of 30 per cent and you get a GDP of $10 billion.

This huge leap in real GDP is not due to recovery or new investment, it's simply Zimbabweans coming out of their fox holes in no mans land after the cease fire and starting to go about their lives again. It's the product of the determined free market strategies of the new government and the abolishment of all controls over economic activity and exchange control. The use of the dollar as the main means of exchange has helped. So have remittances and the persistent role of the Fishmonger Group who continue to make resources available for key needs.

Politically, we have gone backwards. There has been no major reform in 2010, no major move towards the rule of law and respect for basic human and political rights. The partners in the GPA have been unable to agree on just about anything, resulting in stalemate and confusion. Who is in charge? Really in charge? No one can tell you and every day brings contradictions.

Just take the past fortnight for example - On Monday the three principals failed to meet. On Tuesday the Cabinet met and made substantive decisions regarding the implementation of the outstanding issues in the GPA, on Thursday Mr. Mugabe stood up at the Zanu PF Conference and slammed the major western powers and threatened to nationalize all British and American companies. He ranted against the GPA saying it had run its course and he wants out. Let's finish this thing and go to an early election.

Then on the Monday following, he meets with the other principals and they hold a joint press conference where Mr. Mugabe praises the GPA and says that elections will follow the full implementation of the reforms in the GPA - confused? You should be.

In a sense we are still frozen just where we were after the GPA was signed in Harare in front of African leaders in September 2008. We are no nearer getting the essential conditions in place for a free and fair election and no fundamental changes have taken place except for the forced macro economic reforms that followed the absolute collapse in 2008. We have played about the edges - but nothing substantive since then. In fact much of the progress has been stultified by the rapacious activities of a minority of powerful figures in the administration and Zanu PF who insist on pursuing their activities even if it paralyses investment and economic recovery.

But it has not been altogether negative, Zanu PF, which has had the power field to itself for 30 years, has been forced to share power in a Cabinet where they are in a minority and in a Parliament where they cannot force a vote. They have also discovered that at last Africa has a voice and that African leadership is standing up to its bullies and tyrants and saying enough, behave yourself. Events in the Ivory Coast substantiate this shift as does to new consensus evident in the SADC Leadership on issues affecting Zimbabwe.

While progress seems slow and inconsistent, Mr. Mugabe and his more radical colleagues are discovering that there are limits to the patience of other African leaders. He was the only Head of State in Africa to congratulate the outgoing President of the Ivory Coast for his 'victory'. In recent meetings, the President of South Africa has made it abundantly clear that Africa supports the GPA and wants it implemented and then an election that will pass muster in the international community. That is a death knell to Zanu and they simply do not know what to do about it.

It is this that will determine what 2011 will hold for those of us who call Zimbabwe home and want to see it back on its feet and playing its rightful role in the community of nations. In the meantime, it's a slow walk back to sanity from the insanity of the front line and those nasty little foxholes we used to survive the battle in 2008.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 29th December 2010