A New Uncertain World
I cannot recall a New Year’s Eve that held so much uncertainty. In the United States we have an unstable, completely untested, novice about to take control of the most powerful government, economy and military machine ever created. You can almost hear Putin salivating. In Europe we have the emerging forces of the right who may unsettle the European Union. The United Kingdom has not been able to clarify its future outside the Union; Brexit remains an ill-defined threat to the future.
China, which has driven global growth for the past 40 years, is suddenly looking decidedly wobbly, the thought of the most indebted State in the world with combined liabilities of US$250 trillion entering turbulent economic waters, is deeply disturbing. I have argued for years that the Chinese economy is a runaway train and if it is not managed very carefully could derail the entire global system. There are signs that economic fundamentals are no longer working in favour of rapid growth in China, we have all become dependent on China as a source of growth and any real slow down will have far reaching implications.
India, which is the other mainstay of global growth, is also suddenly in trouble. A decision to withdraw some forms of currency from the market has had unexpected impact. The authorities seem to have underestimated the scale of the informal sector and its dependence on cash for transactions. Economists and managers of monetary systems have to be so careful that their traditional prescriptions will work in the real world. Mistakes can have very far reaching consequences.
Here at home we face a year that is simply loaded with uncertainties. Commodity markets are depressed and this is impacting on all regional economies. Zambia and copper, Botswana and diamonds, Mozambique and oil and gas, we are all struggling with low demand and prices with rising costs.
In South Africa they enter the New Year with greater uncertainty than I can recall. The ANC is under threat, Jacob Zuma looks like a lame duck President and his successor is by no means evident. Meanwhile the forces that created so much mayhem in 2016 are still present and waiting for the New Year to again disrupt normal life and confidence. I cannot see anyway that the demands of the students and unemployed young people can be met or assuaged.
And as always and with depressing regularity, Zimbabwe looks like the most serious problem in a region beset by problems and difficulties. For three years we have waited for Mnangagwa to stand up and challenge Mugabe’s ambition to remain State President until he dies. As the old man of African politics has steadily deteriorated in his capacity to do his job, no movement has been made and no changes have emerged in any way. We watch helplessly as the centre that controls hard power in Zimbabwe continues to be dominated by an aging geriatric who is increasingly unstable.
Instead of dealing with the problem, the entire leadership of Zanu PF stands by as Mugabe draws US$6 million in cash from a broken and bankrupt Reserve Bank and goes off to Singapore for an extended holiday. If he is away for the normal 30 days, he has taken an allowance of US$200 000 per day as petty cash. He leaves behind a nation where 14 million people cannot draw enough money from the banks to meet even their most basic needs. What hold does he have over this motley collection of local leaders, who know what the problem is and what the solutions are and yet remain paralysed by something none of us can understand?
But unless we use violent means to begin the process of change, unless we are prepared to use unlawful tactics to disrupt the status quo and force change, no changes are likely and the conditions that beset us in 2016 will persist into 2017 – a shrinking economy, declining revenues to the State, an unsustainable budget deficit. To this miserable mix we must add the use of printing cash as the sole available means of funding the fiscal deficit, as a new factor. They are obviously aware of the dangers that lie ahead and are going to ridiculous levels to try and maintain the fiction of parity between the new local currency and the US dollar. But the fiction simply cannot be maintained and inevitably all Zimbabweans must brace themselves for inflation and the decline in their real spending power and incomes.
But the greatest uncertainly in Zimbabwe is one that we can, all of us, do something about. This uncertainty is whether or not Zimbabweans can expect in 2018, to be able to vote in a real democratic election for new leadership. In this way Zimbabweans will do what our leadership in Zanu PF has not been able to do, which is deal with the delinquency of Mugabe’s leadership. Our greatest problem is that no one here thinks that the July 2018 elections will in any way be free and fair. There is no faith in the system or in the determination of regional leaders or international organisations to force compliance to international rules and norms.
This is our challenge for 2017and everything depends on the outcome. Anyone who wants to see Zimbabwe set on a new course, under new leadership and start the long journey back to prosperity and stability, then this must be the goal we all set ourselves and determine to achieve.
There is so much wrong with our democracy that a fix will not be easy or quick. It begins with formally establishing the right of every adult Citizen of Zimbabwe to vote in the election. The reality is that the whole system is very carefully manipulated to deny certain classes the right to vote. Then there is the entire registration system and how the voters are recorded and identified. If the international Community is going to help fund the adoption of a biometric system then they must insist on being involved in the whole process of registration and recording. Access to the new roll must be totally transparent and every person should hold the right to inspect the role to confirm his or her status.
The playing field urgently needs attention if Zimbabweans are going to make an open and free choice. Radio and TV are totally controlled and are used as propaganda instruments – in my view radio is especially important. The only independent radio service we get is Studio 7 from the VOA and this is very limited and tries to give a balanced view. The reality is we need VOA to be in the opposition’s corner and nowhere else while the local situation is so controlled. We also need more time – three short slots at 19.00 hrs is simply not enough, keep up the standard of Shona and Ndebele but do not neglect the English medium.
More difficult is physical access to the rural areas – especially the former commercial farming Districts. These are no go areas for the opposition and this simply cannot be tolerated and access must be non negotiable. The same pressure needs to be placed on developing no go areas in the Tribal Lands and in peri urban informal housing areas. Some sort of observer mission to monitor such access and activity would be critical – not in 2018, but now.
Then we need help to cut off supplies of corrupt money from the Zanu PF machine. In 2013 they had access to hundreds of millions of diamond money to fund their activities. The Israeli team that manipulated the voters roll and voting and counting were funded from the Registrar Generals Office using money diverted from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The Zanu PF Party today gets most of its ready cash from the fuel pipeline that supplies Zimbabwe with bulk fuels. By my estimate they get US$400 million a year from this source – organised by a British Company called Trafigura – a large international trading company. Let’s use some of that magic the USA used against FIFA and fix this leak, it should not be difficult.
Harare 30th December 2016