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A fascinating but strictly academic Zimbabwe recovery plan

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

A gentleman by the name of Norman Reynolds has been thinking hard about how Zimbabwe could be pulled back to relative normality. I read his “How to put Zimbabwe back on its financial feet” in the Business Day (SA) of August 21st 2007 with fascination.

But the article also brought a grin to my face, because it completely discounted the many political factors which would make his plan unpalatable to any Zimbabwean government, and the many social and cultural factors that would make it un-implementable if tried. The components of his plan that would also require the South African government’s cooperation are also straight out of political fantasy land.


Over the next 10 years, the international community will have to pour vast sums of money into Zimbabwe. Immediately, Zimbabwe requires at least R900m just for food. To also cover fuel, electricity, medicines, other essential imports, and to fund rand civil service payments, the figure would be about R8bn — until December. The Zimbabwe “bill” for humanitarian and recovery costs will come to at least R300bn from next year to 2012.

If Zimbabwean refugees were welcomed and used in SA for the next three years to build our faltering economy and services, and if there was a proper currency, transfer and payment system to Zimbabwe, they would provide about a quarter of that R300bn bill direct to their families inside Zimbabwe.

If SA plays a leading role, it can restore the New Partnership for Africa’s Development vision and the promise of the African Union. It can demonstrate a “failed state” programme able to be used elsewhere in Africa, including in SA’s marginalised townships and rural areas, and provinces such as Eastern Cape, which still hold the majority of citizens as economic prisoners.

Below, I outline a humanitarian and recovery plan prepared by a colleague and me for the Zimbabwe United Nations (UN) Country Team in 2003. It uses all foreign aid and transfers strategically to rebuild the modern economy, with the local rand equivalent supporting a community-based economic and social rights programme of the kind recently approved for SA by the government under a new Local Economic Development programme. The programme is called the Sustainable Community Development Programme.

Citizens are invited to mobilise and to register in community trusts formed at village, neighbourhood and street level. They are then given resources enabling them to act as partners of the government and business in development and service delivery…

Strategic use of the considerable foreign exchange (forex) provided by the international community and the Zimbabwe diaspora would be managed through a series of forex “windows”. The first window would aim to back exporters, so that the forex provided is first multiplied. For instance, tobacco used to earn $12 for every $1 it took to grow the crop. Mining, tourism, some industrial production and all of agriculture earn forex. The funds in this “window” would not be auctioned — they would be “sold” at a price agreed on by the donors and the reserve bank.

Any forex surplus to the first window would be passed to a second “window” through which national essentials such as fuel and medicines would be bought. This would act to keep the cost structure of the economy, and inflation, down. Any further forex surplus would go to a third window, which would auction it for use by domestic producers. A fourth window would auction small surpluses for private use .

The use of economic and social rights programming, within a strong “localisation” model to balance “globalisation”, would allow Zimbabwe to come under a form of United Nations/African Union economic and social trusteeship. It would guarantee that all citizens were economically active and secure .

Dr Reynolds is a development economist.

Well, it’s hard to know where to start enumerating all the reasons why his plan would not fly in the real world. But I am not even going to do so in a detail, because I wonder if the whole exercise was not at least partly tongue in cheek!

The idea of Zimbabweans “working off” their refugee status in South Africa and the remittances to be formally repatriated to Zimbabwe: There are elements of this idea that make sense, but it would be such political anathema in the pan-African political environment that it would never get off the ground to even consideration stage. Plans of any sort that do not take into account the political milieu they are proposed for are of little use except perhaps as academic exercises, which Reynold’s very much is.

So is the idea of Big Brother South Africa running a “failed state” programme for the benefit of Africa! Much of Africa may very well need some variation of such a programme and all else being equal (which all else definitely is not!) South Africa may well be equipped to try administering it. But again, the idea that it could be called such and be acceptably run by South Africa is absolutely cuckoo! I’m sure Reynolds must know this, which is why I am a little reluctant to react to his article as a strictly serious piece.

We now know from the countless “development plans” that have been hatched by “experts” over the decades that workability is not necessarily a strong point in the conception of these schemes. I’m guessing Reynolds was bored one weekend and decided to take out that boredom on Zimbabwe by hatching an entertaining recovery scenario like this one.

It’s a pity the setting of his plan is in dream land rather than in reality. Parts of it are quite innovative and just plain make sense, such as partnering groups of citizens in development initiatives together with government and business, and the idea of forex allocation based on productivity and multiplier potential. But even so, many versions of these fine-on-paper ideas have been tried and failed across Africa because they paid insufficient attention to their operating environment.

An interesting read, but strictly from an academic, theoretical point of view…

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