Crisis as an Opportunity

Political societies do not seem to be capable of making the decisions that are necessary to put their governments or countries onto a self sustaining path to prosperity and stability. It took the Second World War to put Germany and Japan on the road to becoming democratic and progressive societies. In China it took decades of shambolic, “red revolution” and Marxist ideology to persuade its leadership that they needed a new way.

In all three cases the results have been dramatic and have produced societies that have grown rapidly in economic terms, established a stable form of political consensus and give their people a much higher quality of life overall. We could argue that the conflicts and crisis in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century created the European Union and that this remarkable alliance of many countries is delivering a generally higher quality of life to Europeans within the framework of stable political and economic systems.

The unending decline in Zimbabwe following the transition of power from the Rhodesian to the Zimbabwean government in 1980 is the product of 35 years of poor governance, bad policy, corrupt administration and self seeking power. Despite their atrocious record in government and the operation of a “democracy” with elections every 5 years, the oligarchy that holds power here remains in control with no signs that it is about to relinquish power any time soon.

It was only the crash in 2008 associated with 250 million percent inflation and the complete wipe out of all savings and the near total collapse of economic activity that brought about the conditions where the regional super power, South Africa finally stepped into the ring and demanded change. The GNU from 2009 to 2013 was the result and brought about a brief respite for the people of this country. Regional leaders failed to follow through with the initiative and to insist that the Zimbabwe government make the changes required to establish a functioning democracy. The partners in the GNU spent all their time trying to outwit each other and Zanu PF simply concentrated its efforts in making sure that once the GNU was dissolved, it would be able to take back absolute power.

That is what happened and ever since the funeral like atmosphere in Zimbabwe has been maintained and the crisis conditions that forced the GNU into existence in 2009, have resurfaced. I have been saying for some time that the economy contracted in 2014 by between 10 and 14 per cent. In the first quarter of 2015 the decline has, if anything accelerated. 40 per cent of our banks have failed, the government is running an unsustainable deficit and today a local news paper carried the headline “the State raids private bank accounts”.

Between 2009 and 2013 we ran a small budget surplus but in 2014, expenditure ran at $4,8 billion and revenues declined from $4,2 billion in 2013 to $3,8 billion in 2014. This $1 billion dollar deficit is simply unsustainable and if not addressed soon, will create a full blown fiscal crisis that could cripple the State and lead to serious social instability. The budget for 2015 is set at $3,5 billion – well down on 2014 and yet it now seems as if even this modest target will not be achieved.

Unlike 2008, we now also have a full blown political crisis in that the Party that is in power and holds a two thirds majority in Parliament has disintegrated. The deterioration in the health of our aging President has left a power vacuum at the top of the Party and in the absence of any planned and managed succession, a struggle for power has ensued which has torn Zanu PF apart. Grace Mugabe, the President’s wife, who is very much responsible for the chaos in the Party has suddenly fallen ill and it looks very serious.

Those who are taking over the reins of power and control do not have a stable and secure power base and they have made enemies of just about everyone and do not have any democratic credentials. They are trying to get to grips with things but the patronage fueled gravy train and its many thousands of passengers are defying the new order. Street fighting between gangs of young people in one camp or the other is now common.

There is clear evidence that the emerging social crisis is compounding the impacts of the economic crisis and there are many elements in the country who will try to take advantage of the situation. The abduction of Itai Dzamara two weeks ago and his subsequent disappearance has heightened the tensions and riots at the Universities and Prisons over food and other conditions, could be a sign of things to come.

There are signs that the regional power house, South Africa, is at last waking up to the situation to the north of the Limpopo. Any sudden further deterioration here, associated with violence, will have immediate repercussions for South Africa. Our tourist industry has been seriously affected by the Ibola outbreak in West Africa even though it is thousands of kilometers away and this shows how sensitive global sentiment can be. The last thing South Africa needs right now is a full blown collapse and crisis in Zimbabwe.

But the one thing this situation offers is another opportunity to put this country back on its feet and onto a trajectory that will make it possible for the people who live here exploit the massive potential that we undeniably have. But it could also deliver us into the arms of the devil and the outcome would then be a small, rather nasty, militarized State in a strategic location in Central Africa with a North Korean style government and a failed economy.

This potential is clearly understood by the major players on the international stage including China, the USA and Germany. It may be understood by regional States but for all these players, the real question is “so what?” What happens in Zimbabwe is of no consequence to any major power, to regional States who may secretly admire the antics of Robert Mugabe, the issue is “are we next?” They all want stability and it is only the threat that the wheels might come off here that keeps them on alert and concerned.

My own view is that this particular ship of state is being driven onto the rocks and that some sort of intervention is now almost inevitable. To avoid what is coming we need the intervention of South Africa and general agreement on the way back to sanity. Then we need hands on management to ensure that this time, the deal is fully implemented before we go back to the polls and give all Zimbabweans the simple right to choose their next government.

Eddie Cross
Harare 26th March 2015