Lets have a Peek at 2016

2016 looks like a really interesting year already. We will have a new President in the USA and Britain looks as if its going to make a fool of itself over Europe. We may get progress in Syria and with China at last appreciating the limits to growth, the whole world economy is going to have to adjust its sights downwards. On top of this, the phenomenon of global warming with its impact on weather is going to act as an accelerator in all other spheres of life.

The race to the White House this year is the most uninteresting in years, what choices are really in front of the voter in the USA. The Republicans have a decent line up of young talent which is being totally eclipsed by the maniac called Donald Trump and if the Party does not dump Trump before the Convention, they threaten to self destruct. This has been coming, many would say, pointing to the Tea Party faction and the crazies on the right of the Party, but there is no future for the Republican Party away from the center.

For now there is only one man in the race and its a woman, Hilary Clinton. She has carefully stayed close to the center as she can without giving the left wingers in her Party any scope for a serious challenge. She has only one real contender and he will not get far once the process to choose a candidate gets under way. I have a lot of admiration for Mrs. Clinton, she is one tough lady, intellectually she is out of the top draw and she will be a strong President. Right now, thanks to Trump she is a shoe in for the next President of the USA.

I will be sorry to see the end of the Obama era. I think as an African American first President, he has been a great success. He leaves office with his family intact, not a hint of scandal or any other misdemeanors; we will all miss those fantastic speeches. I am busy reading a book about the situation he inherited from G W Bush and I am constantly surprised by the difficulties and complexities he faced from day one. The most important task of any Chief Executive is not to screw up too often. He certainly will go down as a steady hand with a gorgeous wife.

By contrast the present leadership of the UK is completely devoid of any redeeming features. I can well recall the debate when Britain moved to join the European Union in the 60s and early 70s. It was a painful and convoluted debate which common sense won. The UK has no future outside the Union. So the new debate and the demands that the rest of the European Union must dance to the tune played by the UK, even it is totally out of sync with the rest of the EU is simply suicidal. I could go along with the decision to stay out of the Euro London is after all, the banker to the world, but the arguments for membership which were so overwhelming in favour of joining the Union in the 60s and early 70s are even more valid today.

The Commonwealth is no longer a club worth belonging to and when the UK joined the EU and tried through the ACP Group of States, being the former colonies of the Members of the EU, to protect what was left of the symbiotic relationships of Empire, it was inevitable that the focus and the meaning of these historical ties should fade into the background. One of my first jobs as an economist with the largest trading group in Zimbabwe, was to examine the implications for us of the entry of Britain into the EU. My conclusion at that time was that the dissolution of the bonds of Empire would have little or no affect on us here in Africa.

We have just come through one of those phases in history that happen and are not likely to be repeated. This is the transformation of the China of Mau, into the China of today. Over a breathtaking 40 years during which Chinas economy grew hell for leather at over 10 per cent per annum. The result was the longest boom in commodities in world history and the enormous transfer of wealth from the Old World to the New World. I think this process can be likened to a runaway train that is travelling too fast to stay on the rails in the long term.

The key issues for China, face all of us who have been living in the wake that has followed its rush into the future. Can they grow and clean up their act in the process, or does the runaway train of the Chinese economy drag all of us into a warmer world with growing climate uncertainty? Can China evolve into a democratic State based on the will of their people and the rule of law? The jury is still out on this issue and the prospects do not look good. Should this train derail, it will damage all of our futures.

Right now I sit in my office in Bulawayo, it is as hot as Hades out there and there is no sign of rain. The South African weather situation looks terrifying hot and dry.

The key farming areas are still without planting rains and a near total crop failure looms. I can remember when experts told me in the 80s that Johannesburg would run out of water in 2015. Then it seemed a long way away today it is a reality.

The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone came down this week into the north of the Zimbabwe and brought widespread rain and localized flooding. But before this we had very little rain with unusually high temperatures. Is this the first real impact of global warming? A serious drought and regional water shortages are going to make all our other problems that much worse.

Already, before all this, I was anticipating that 2016 would see the continued reduction in overall economic output, further bank closures and a shrinking national budget. All of this will be exacerbated by the weather and this is likely to further reduce incomes and increase poverty across the country. The problem is that we have no reserves, no capacity to meet emergency needs and the physical capacity to import the millions of tonnes of basic foods that the region will need in the next 18 months, is simply nonexistent. We are in real trouble, yet again.

South Africa is reeling from a series of blunders made by its collective leadership. The Rand is headed for the hills with street traders in Bulawayo saying that they will be selling Rand for 22 to 1 in the New Year. Like Zimbabwe there seems to be no succession plan. Jacob Zuma will go down as an unmitigated disaster and in the present global economic environment I really cannot see the kind of growth in South Africa that they need to keep the ship of State on the plane above the turbulence below.

But heck, we have all been here before. There is nothing really new in the World and all it takes is leadership to get countries out of the hole that they find themselves in from time to time. We need just to remind ourselves again that we are all in this together and if we help one another, look to the future through the lens of faith and work hard, there is really nothing we cannot achieve.

Warm Christmas greetings from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Eddie Cross
20th December 2015