The Price of Bad Government
I was one of a small minority of white Zimbabweans who had fought the fight to secure equal rights and the vote for the majority in Zimbabwe. I actually joined the political struggle in 1966 and in April 1980 I found myself sitting on the podium at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare behind the Prime Minister of India and just a few metres from the Prince of Wales and the new Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. I was there because I had made a small contribution to that moment in time. It was hugely moving to watch units of the armies that had been involved in the war of Independence, on the Parade Ground in front of us and a capacity crowd in the stands.
Next week it will be 34 years since Zimbabwe was created and the Zanu PF Party took power. Ian Smith governed the country for 16 turbulent years. The whites had controlled the State since 1923 when Rhodesia had been granted Dominion Status; that is just 57 years. I think Zimbabwe is now old enough for us to judge how our leadership has done with the mandate they were given in 1980.
They took over a country with virtually no debt, a small but self sufficient economy which was able to sustain a reasonable standard of living for its people, albeit in a very unequal and skewed manner. The country had received virtually no external assistance in the previous 60 years, had been at war with itself since 1964, with a real war from 1972 and had been operating under the most severe system of United Nations Sanctions ever mounted by the world community, since 1967. Mr. Mugabe took over a country with a small but honest and efficient administration, a well educated minority and a people who, despite all the struggles and conflicts of the past, had the second highest standard of living in the Southern Africa after South Africa.
At the same moment in time China emerged from its long night under Mao tse Tung – its economy was at about the same stage as that of Zimbabwe, 30 per cent urban, the rural poor in a desperate state with millions dying from starvation each year, low incomes – perhaps half that of Zimbabwe and barely able to stand up in the global community. Isolated and shunned.
Had we adopted the approach taken by Deng Zhao Ping in 1980 (“it does not matter whether the cat is black or white, does it catch mice”) and our economy had grown at 10 per cent per annum for 34 years, our GDP today would be sitting at over $200 billion. That is nearly half that of South Africa and Nigeria. Average incomes would be $17 000 a year and we would be approaching developed country status. We had the potential – well educated elite, rich natural resources, good climate and soils and a large regional market, as well as open access to world markets.
Instead we have one of the lowest incomes per capita in the world, all our social indicators are negative in regional terms (infant and maternal mortalities etc) and right now we are unable to pay our Civil Service in any kind of decent way. Our public administration is viewed as one of the most corrupt in the world and is bloated and inefficient.
If we forget what we might have become with different policies to guide our society and just examine what we have done with the resources we did control through the past 34 years then we see an equally dismal story. In the first 20 years of our Independence we borrowed over $10 billion from the International Community and the multilateral financial institutions. We had an open door to very soft loans and by 2000 we had become a heavily indebted Country. But our record was much worse than that – I estimate that by 2000, we were systematically taking out of our economy a third of GDP in various forms of corruption – this amounted to billions of dollars. Price and exchange controls were used to fleece the private sector and transfer billions of dollars of revenue and income from the private sector to the State. Inflation from 2000 onwards did the rest and by 2008, all savings accumulated from 1896, were wiped out.
All Banks and other financial institutions were virtually bankrupt by 2008 and despite inflows of 30 to 40 per cent of GDP from remittances and foreign aid, the country was unable to feed itself or pay for the most basic services. The productive sector had shrunk to 30 per cent of what it had been in 1980. Zimbabwe was in all economic respects a “Failed State”.
South Africa, concerned about the effect that the collapse in Zimbabwe was having on their own society, moved to try and stop the deterioration in our society and economy. The result after two years of tough negotiations was the GNU in 2009. That brought some sanity and relief with the economy bouncing back strongly from 2009 to 2012, only to grind to a halt again in 2013. The election results of July 2013 put the whole economy into reverse and by the end of the year revenues to the State were in decline and the banking sector was once again in crisis and unable to pay back its depositors.
This situation has not improved and the economic situation in the country is again driving the reform and change agenda. If we do nothing to restore confidence in the State and to engage the International Community and unlock our economic potential very soon, we are going to be in big trouble by the end of May 2014. Everyone knows that, but they do not know what to do and the people who have the power and the responsibility are basically incapable of doing the job. As we have been so often in the past, we are again in crisis and it is difficult to see how we can get ourselves out of the hole we have dug for ourselves. Radical measures are needed and it’s urgent.
We were all so hopeful that this year, we would have something to celebrate other than empty memories of past liberation war achievements and sacrifice. The reality is that we have nothing to celebrate. We have failed our people and for all those who had so much hope for Zimbabwe, it is a sad day.
Right now the BBC is showing a short clip of Mr. Mugabe speaking about Zimbabwe’s natural resources and saying that we will never again allow foreigners to control our land and our minerals and then being saluted by the Generals. That sums it up for his regime, empty rhetoric and pride. He needs to be reminded that his cat does not catch mice, never did and will not do so in the future. It is time to change the cat; it might be the only way forward.
12th April 2104