Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Zim recovery’

Biti risks falling into Gono trap of claiming mantle of latest Zimbabwean economic ‘miracle man’

Posted by CM on February 15, 2009

Just – appointed MDC minister of finance Tendai Biti has started  his tenure with a bang. He is seemingly everywhere in the media, with admiring, sympathetic and sometimes even heroic portrayals.

The understandably Mugabe-reviling BBC particularly likes the fact that Biti sometimes wears a British-style bowler hat and is apparently a fanatical supporter of a British soccer team! “Phew,” you can almost hear the BBC sigh with relief, “finally we get some Zimbabwean officials who are openly favourably-disposed to things British!” Mugabe and Co. have been merciless in their rhetoric against the British media and political establishments.

The excitement is understandable. It is incredible that the day has come in Zimbabwe when an ‘opposition’ politician occupies such a key portfolio, and under Mugabe! (Never mind that with the new unity government, Zimbabwe technically has no opposition for the moment.) It is indeed a historical development in Zimbabwe’s politics.

Apart from the political significance of the appointment, many are pinning their hopes of an arrest and reversal of the country’s economic decline on the MDC occupying this key portfolio. Their hope is that the party has access to the tap of Western largesse, both in terms of the lifting of sanctions and in terms of attracting aid and investment. We shall see.

Biti is clearly is enjoying his moment in the sun, and appears to have as much of a penchant for publicity as central bank governor Gideon Gono, who just  five years ago was hailed by some (and by himself!) as the Zimbabwean economy’s Mr. Fix- It. “Failure is not an option” boasted Gono at the time, with the local media eating up his every word for months to come, until disillusionment with him begun to set in as the economy continued its free fall, and inflation to skyrocket.

Gono over-sold himself as a ‘turn-around expert’ with a miracle cure and he under-estimated the importance of accompanying political and diplomatic reform for the success of his many attempted schemes to “save” the economy. The reform that was required of the politicians simply didn’t happen. Gono has gone from popular Mr. Fix-It to being one of the most reviled public officials in those five years.  The messianic media portrayals have long been forgotten, even in the obedient state media.

The early signs are that there is a high risk of Biti falling into a Gono-like ego-trap. There is the similar basking in media attention, when a more low-key profile might be more prudent. There are the many too-early pronouncements about what he is going to do, when it would be better to speak in generalities until he gets his feet wet and has a more realistic idea of what is possible. He has continued to issue hot-headed statements against the MDC’s governing partners ZANU-PF as still being ‘unwilling to share power.’ That may well be true, but that line now sounds odd coming from someone so firmly embedded in the government. That is the type of  statement that should now come from another MDC official, not Biti. It is simply not to his advantage in his new position to be creating even more enemies than he has now amongst jittery, resentful ZANU-PF officials who are likely to be doing all they can to trip him up personally and politically.

There are the boastful failure-is-not-an-option-style statements, at the very least prematurely raising hopes of economic recovery amongst some long-suffering Zimbabweans willing to grasp at any straw of quick relief. Yet the fact of the matter is that there are still many factors completely outside Biti’s control that could result in failure for him that could be every bit as spectacular as that which the once-lionised Gono is now blamed for.

For the sake of Zimbabwe I hope to be proven wrong in my concern about what appears to be a certain rashness on Biti’s part that is unbecoming of a finance minister, and I wish him well in his difficult portfolio.  Perhaps he will quickly get over his youthful excitement and avoid the ego-and-publicity-before-results trap that was partly Gono’s undoing in terms of public esteem.

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After deal-signing, forwards or backwards for Zimbabwe?

Posted by CM on September 20, 2008

Normality and stability in their broad sense are obvious outcomes all Zimbabweans hope for after the recently signed political deal between the country’s political parties brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki.

But there seems to be no unanimity about the details of the nation Zimbabwe seeks to now become, beyond obvious things like goods in the shops at reasonable prices, low inflation, more employment opportunities and so forth. None of these are minor goals to aim for, and a government that is able to deliver any of these in  the next few years would have done very well.

Prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangrai began his term of office by pleading for international aid. No doubt a lot of assistance from the world will be needed for years to come. But by making this his first serious indication of what his orientation is to problem-solving, he suggests that he has no vision of Zimbabwe as anything other than a donor-dependent banana republic, on a continent already full of such weak, under-achieving states.

There are many examples in Africa of countries that are darlings of ‘the donors’ for one reason or another, but that are not substanitally ‘developing.’ That requires hard and smart work by the public and private sectors working together, as we have seen from the many examples of real ‘development’ in Asia.

Africa has become so donor-dependent structurally and psychologically that aid has become one of the most insidious ways of preventing African progress, rather than of promoting it. The continent’s best and brightest and its most powerful, people like Tsvangirai, spend more time and energy trying to figure out how to get ‘aid’ from Europe and the U.S. than they do on how to make their economies more productive.

Robert Mugabe’s many sins and errors are well known and do not need repeating here. But one of his legacies will be daring to try to effect the idea that Africans must be masters of their economic destiny, and that they need to contemplate possibly enduring hardship to overcome the interests who would rather keep them dependent and weak. That ideal was soon over-run by cronyism, cynicism and the sheer failure to achieve the noble goals that stirred the hearts of many Africans (and enraged many Westerners for all sorts of reasons.)

But if Mugabe the man is now fading into political oblivion, rejected as a despot, a failure and an anachronism, his original focus on genuine African economic empowerment still rings as true as ever. Due in large part to his own excesses, it will take a long time for the positive parts of his legacy to be separated from the negatives and the failures, but it will happen eventually.

Tsvangirai’s conventional, dull vision of aid-dependent recovery may bring relatively quick relief from the deep economic pain being suffered by Zimbabweans. If so, he will receive the accolades of grateful Zimbabweans who have been reeling from a rapidly imploding economy for a decade. And he will be a hero to Westerners uncomfortable with Mugabe’s sharp, continuous recantations of the need to address the many lingering aspects of the unfinished business of colonial exploitation and oppression, which is ‘ancient history’ to Westerners but very much a part of their present-day reality for Africans.

A West relieved at the exit or (hoped for) sidelining of Mugabe will certainly back up its gratitude to Tsvangirai with all sorts of aid. It will be partly humanitarian, partly ‘thank you Tsvangirai for getting rid of or weakening Mugabe,’ and also a way of making sure the new government is malleable.

But this route to ‘normality’ will not and cannot address the underlying structural economic and developmental issues of countries like Zimbabwe. Who really owns the wealth of the land? From what date in the past do we effect ‘the rule of law’ (such as who owns what land?). What is an ‘equitable’ sharing of riskand profit between citizens and foreign investors? And so on and so forth.

Mugabe made his answers to these sorts of questions very clear. His answers and the way he tried to effect them delighted many Zimbabweans and Africans, as much as they frightened and enraged many Britons and other Westerners. For a whole host of reasons, Mugabe’s populist answers to the deep questions of the post-colonial era have not in the short term translated to the hoped-for results.

This makes it easy for Tsvangirai to come in with ‘I hold the keys to Western aid’ as his main trump card. Even among those who recognise the dangers of this approach, disgust with Mugabe and despair at the hardships of recent years has meant many Zimbabweans look to Tsvangirai’s implied promise of aid-funded relief and ‘recovery’ with anticipation.

This is quite understandable, but it does not in any way solve or remove the underlying difficult issues that contributed to Zimbabwe finding itself where it is now. After the euphoria of achieving a kind of ‘normality’ has abated, these questions will arise again, along with the ghost of Mugabe.

We have the strange situation where in the short recent term Zimbabwe has been very rapidly sliding backwards. Yet in forcing the society to ask difficult questions that go far back into the past with a view to finding answers for the future, the society was setting a stronger foundation for that future. A strong economic foundation partly rests on more risk-taking and wealth-creation by Zimbabweans; more ‘ownership’ of the process of ‘development’ by the locals than we have generally seen in a weak, donor-dependent Africa.

Mugabe largely failed to back up his empowerment rhetoric with practical, successful examples of it. But it is to take the wrong lesson to abandon the dream, rather than to pick it apart for where it went wrong and try to fix it. Tsvangirai would be relieving the immediate problems by attracting a lot of ‘donor aid,’ but not addressing the long-term issues of how to overcome the complex legacies of colonialism (land ownership patterns being just the most obvious one), and how to spur true ‘development’ and empowerment based on production-led economic growth.

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The pitfalls of aid that is designed to weaken and control a nation

Posted by CM on August 10, 2008

EU representative to Zimbabwe Xavier Marchal was the guest of honour at the recently held annual congress of the Commercial Farmers Union, the representative body of the majority of Zimbabwe‘s white farmers.

In his speech he talked about the dire food situation in Zimbabwe.


Agriculture has collapsed. This year’s harvest of the key crops has been catastrophic. Rural communities have faced extreme political violence, and their assets destroyed. Commercial farmers have been brutalised, their farms grabbed for the wrong reasons. Zimbabwe is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with extremely poor prospects for the next agricultural season.

Marchal goes on to mention how much money the EU has provided in humanitarian assistance in the last several years of economic decline, and of the commitment to provide more in the next several months of expected widespread hunger.

He then repeatedly mentions how much more assistance could be forthcoming, ”When and if normality and legitimacy are re-established in Zimbabwe as a result of a fair political Agreement, endorsed by the European Union.”

Just by that simple, innocent-sounding phrase, Marchal shows the great pitfalls Zimbabwe faces as its politicians sit down to try to work a way out of the deep hole the country is in.

I do not question that the assistance the EU has provided and is prepared to continue to give and even increase is out of genuine humanitarian concern. But the cleverly couched hint of a bribe and a threat in Marchal’s message is also unmistakable. It is a clear-cut testament to what a double-edged sword Africa’s deep donor dependency has become for the continent.

What I read in Marchal’s statement is ‘your country’s agriculture is on its knees and you need the help we are willing to provide…if you come up with a political agreement which is acceptable to us.’ In this Marchal was merely re-iterating what other EU and Western officials have said.

The problem is that it seems quite clear that these countries are giving themselves the right to decide what they believe is in Zimbabweans best interests in the current negotiations. A political agreement could well include compromises that no one would be completely happy with, but that is what coming to the negotiating table to resolve an intractable problem may take.

If the MDC reluctantly accepts an agreement in which Mugabe remains president, this would be the worst outcome for the EU, as they have made quite clear. Many Zimbabweans would also be dismayed at this. But if, just if, all accepted this as the price of getting Zimbabwe to halt its slide, on what basis would the EU have to not accept this outcome?

The EU’s heavy-handed, racist stance on this issue should make us think anew about the very high cost of donor-dependency, whether it is humanitarian, well-meaning or not. This is a reminder of how even when aid is well-intentioned, it is also inevitably an instrument of control.

Zimbabwe will need all the help it can get to recover. Yet the kind of aid dangled by the likes of Marchal is assistance that seeks to weaken and control us in the long-term, even as it assuages pain in the short term.

Unfortunately, I have zero confidence in the ability of a possible MDC government to manoeuvre between getting assistance and remaining ‘sovereign.’ The MDC is so deeply in the pockets of the Western countries that Zimbabwe would revert to the model of client state fed with aid in exchange for never again entertaining ‘Mugabe-like’ notions of trying to be in charge of its own destiny.

This is part of why I do not share the excitement of many others about the outcome of the on-going talks. Zimbabwe has no prospects of getting out of its economic hole when powerful Western countries are so determined to close off all doors to a Mugabe government, quite apart from the man’s cruel despotism. Yet there are many indications that the Tsvangirai government that would make those Western countries happy and eager to prop him up would be on the model of the spineless, pliable donor-dependent governments we see all across Africa.

The destruction of so many systems in Zimbabwe has had catastrophic effects. But that actually gives a new government the opportunity to start afresh with some new ideas to problem-solving, the like of which we have seen too little of in Africa. The many needs may seem to indicate the necessity of getting any help from anywhere. But instead of reacting in a panicky, knee-jerk ‘anything you say baas’ way to aid dangled in patronising, ultimately dis-empowering ways, this should be the time to think hard about how to avoid the seductive aid traps that have helped Africa in short term ways but also failed it in the long term, leaving it weaker and more compromised than ever before.

Radio VOP

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Human rights abuses: justice versus reconciliation

Posted by CM on July 24, 2008

For a long time there will be a lot of people in Zimbabwe who will want retribution against perpetrators of violence and other kinds of abuse in the last several years.

Many policemen, soldiers and members of various militia who are responsible for all sorts of abuses are widely known. In the event of a political settlement soon, what to do about them will be a thorny issue. Why the answer is not easy is yet another illustration of the complexity of The Zimbabwe Crisis.

“There can be no lasting political solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe without addressing past human rights violations,” Amnesty International is reported as saying. The report further said the international human rights group maintains that negotiations on power-sharing between the ruling and opposition parties should not result in pardons for human rights abusers.

On the surface it is hard to fault such a reasonable call for justice. For more than a century, as Rhodesia and more recently as ZImbabwe, the country has been a place of scattered, mostly low-level but vicious violence by one controlling group or another. At the negotiated end of each of the many stages of violence, the tendency has been to simply sweep the many lingering hurts and resentments under the carpet instead of giving them some kind of public airing in the interests of healing and true reconciliation.

As a result, the society now has generations of walking wounded whose psychological scars are un-recognised but which affect the country in many ways. The friendly, mild-mannered nature of the people that foreigners often remark on co-exists with the anger, resentment and many other effects of the many layers of oppression, brutality and violence the population has lived with for decades.

It is now widely recognised that individuals who have undergone severe physical or psychological trauma need intensive therapy to live ‘normally’ again. But the same logic is not always applied to groups or nations, perhaps because how to apply that therapy to them is not an easy question.

It seems obvious that part of the process of entrenching the sacredness of the idea of human rights in a society is to show the high costs of violating those rights. Clearly a worrying trend of official impunity has built up over the many decades of violence and official oppression by one group or another in Zimbabwe. Rights abusers have now got used to the idea that whenever a lull in one or another of the society’s orgies of violence is negotiated, it will almost automatically include amnesty for them.

A break must be put on this sense of impunity that the society has begun to take for granted and yet suffered so much from in many ways that are difficult to measure. But given Zimbabwe’s messy history, how can this be accomplished exactly? How far back do we go in calling perpetrators of violence to account for their actions?

The recent violence is the easiest to call for justice over, simply because of its raw freshness. But what about soldiers who took part in Gukurahundi massacres in the early 1980s? Should they now be called to account, or is that considered too far back, and if so, why? Should “we were just following orders” be grounds for absolution, or could it be argued that someone can go above and beyond “following orders” in his cruelty in a way that makes him personally accountable for abuses, rather than be covered by the ‘normal’ rules of conflict?

What about known perpetators of atrocities and other human rights abuses in the 1970s’ liberation war? That wasn’t that long ago, and many of the masterminds and actual commiters of abuse could still be tracked down, like Israel still does with Nazi war criminals from WWII. On what basis would rights abusers of today be prosecutable and those of previous ones in recent memory be left scot free?

I know the now very wealthy, now respected business family whose patriarch was given my late grandfathers’ many cattle in the first half of the 20th century when mass land and livestock dispossessions took place under the Rhodesian government. I wouldn’t mind joining in the call for justice if violence and dispossession going back that far was included.

Impunity is bad. Rhodesia and Zimbabwe have had too much of it in ways that harm healing and progress for the country. But that does not mean that agreeing on how to achieve a sense of ‘justice’ is at all easy. In weighing the relative merits of justice and moving forward, the latter is more important, even if doing so successfully partially depends on being seen to have achieved the former.

At the very least those many who have been abused, oppressed and dispossessed need to have their pain acknowledged in a way Zimbabwe has never seriously tried to do. But if ‘justice’ is taken to also mean ‘punishment,’ then Zimbabwe’s history is so messy and bloody that some of those who are very quick to insist on punishment may find they are thereby opening up a complicated can of worms they might well wish had been kept shut.

This is just another of the many difficult ways in which a final resolution of The Zimbabwe Crisis will take so much more than simply groups of politicians making deals with each other. If the many underlying long-term issues are not at least acknowledged, it is doubtful that a political settlement alone would be enough for Zimbabwe to make an abiding great leap forward in achieving true peace and reconciliation.

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On Tsvangirai’s Wall Street Journal article

Posted by CM on April 7, 2008

Putative but not yet installed president Morgan Tsvangirai has recently become quite the writer, with recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and in today’s The Guardian.

Let’s see what might be picked up from his thoughts in the WSJ of March 21, just over a week before the recent election, in his opinion piece headlined “Freedom for Zimbabwe.”

Mr. Tsvangirai starts his article off with a bang. “Daily, the representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the political party that I lead, are harassed, tortured, imprisoned without trial and even killed,” he writes.

There is no doubt about the onslaught the MDC has been under for years, and I don’t doubt the harassment increased in the days and weeks before the election, despite this also being lauded as a fairly peaceful election even by the MDC itself. It is important to remember “peaceful,” meaning here the relative absence of systematic, wholesale violence, does not necessarily imply the “free and fair” conditions that we so often talk about without precise definition.

But writing for a distant US audience, the wording of the sentence I have quoted suggests that torture and murder of MDC representatives are daily occurrences. Any death linked to election violence would be one too many. But any evidence of a pattern of daily murders of MDC members would be a pogrom that Zimbabweans would surely be widely aware of, and that the world needs to be provided evidence of. Mugabe’s regime is brutal, but I have not heard even the MDC claim that its officials or members are being targeted for murder in the way Tsvangirai’s wording suggests. No one I know of from any quarter has claimed that there have been any election-connected deaths at all in the run up to the just ended election, although I certainly stand to be corrected.

The average Zimbabwean reader would understand that Tsvangirai probably did not mean to imply the daily targeting for murder of his officials that the sentence could be intepreted to mean. But I think that is precisely how the primarily American audience of the WSJ article are likely to have understood it. Americans have not only been primed to think that Zimbabwe is a war-zone, they are already conditioned to think the absolute worst about Africa. And of course in this case, this fits in with the ogre that Mugabe has been painted to be, which far exceeds the reality of his still oppressive rule.

Overstating things in the way Tsvangirai does in the first part of his paragraph is probably considered fair game in the propaganda war against Mugabe, who is himself not above these sorts of tactics. And it allows a Tsvangirai who had expected to be sitting in the presidential palace at this point after the election, to cast himself to the Americans as a particularly brave fighter against the image-battered Mugabe.

Tsvangirai is indeed brave but pandering to American ignorance and prejudices about Africa in this way is a most unfortunate way to wage his propaganda war against Mugabe. The way this careless kind of tactic feeds American stereotypes about Africa and distorts the reality in Zimbabwe does at least as much long term damage as whatever benefits it might win Tsvangirai in the short term.

Before I am beyond the first paragraph of an article I am hoping will give me helpful insights into the thinking of a man who hopes to get my vote and to be my president, I am already asking myself, “What is he trying to do with this kind of language?” Assure and woo potential investors from among the WSJ’s prestigious readership? Ingratiate himself with the US political establishment? Rally the support and sympathy of Americans for his fight against Mugabe? Whichever it is, I am already very uncomfortable that he so makes his point by the kind of careless distortion implied by the phrase in his article I have picked on, whether the implication of a campaign of systematic daily murder was deliberate or just an “innocent” slip.

Having lived in the US, one of the things that would make my blood boil most frequently were just the kind of often crude stereotypes about Africa that pertain there, and that Tsvangirai walks right into by overstating the security situation in Zimbabwe at the time of writing his article. So after paragraph one of the article, I am not feeling too favourably disposed towards my possible future president.

Maybe I’mjust uptight, overly sensitive and critical of Tsvangirai and need to give the man a break. Let us move along with his article.

Tsvangirai then spends the bulk of the rest of the article highlighting Zimbabwe’s main problems over the last few years, Mugabe’s role in bringing them about and in broadly outlining how he and the MDC propose to address them. The way he identifies the economic issues and his prescriptions no doubt were sweet music to his WSJ readers. The article displays a faith in classic IMF-World Bank-US style thinking about how nations should get ahead.

…committment to protecting persons and property…compessions for those who lost property in an unjust way…balance between reconciliation and accountability…restoring the independence of the judiciary…slashing bureaucratic red tape…will open economic opportunity to all Zimbabweans…taming the government’s appetite for spending…reduction of the number of ministers to 15…government will have to live within its means…Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe must become independent of the government…Most state-owned companies are woefully inefficient, will be privatized or shut down…

Most of this sounds harmless enough and is the kind of non-specific campaign rhetoric one would expect from any politician following the script of the reigning paradigm of how the world is currently economically structured. Tsvangirai gives no indication that he recognises that there has been a raging debate across the world about the effectiveness and benefits of classic IMF thinking about how to alleviate poverty and foster widespread economic growth in developing countries. Many of the most dynamic developing countries actually owe their progress to discarding classic IMF-style advice which assumes free markets that all economies have equal access to, to give just one example. The need to slash public spending, another central tenet of that kind of economic dogma is now questioned by many economists.

However, even for those of his broad recovery proposals I am not completely at ease with, I still grant that countries that intend to get ahead economically must just be pragmatic enough to accept that they must master the rules of the game as it is played in the world today, rather than hope that they can first change those rules. This means finding ways of manouvering around the many parts of that game that are “unfair,” rather than just whining about the unfairness. This is a big part of the lesson we can learn from the emerging economies of Asia.

But I have the uncomfortable feeling that Tsvngirai is pandering to his American audience, trying too hard to impress and win over a foreign audience before he has won me, a Zimbabwean, over. The WSJ is surely a prestigious publication to get an article published in, but how relevant is that for a person running for president of a country in southern Africa? When last did Mr. Tsvangirai write an article for a Zimbabwe-dedicated website or publication ? Or even for any publication primarily read by Africans, whether on the continent or abroad. My point is not at all that he should not have written for the WSJ, but that this to me is a further reason to worry about his whole orientation.

I do not want another president who is a paranoid isolationist in the mould of Mugabe. But I do want a president who is more careful and smarter about his engagement with the Western world than I believe Tsvangirai to be. That for me partly means being cognisicant of Africa’s history and how being patted on the head as a good boy by Western powers can be an initially flattering blessing that may come back to haunt a naive politician. I want a president who has a deep knowledge of African history and of Africa’s present day aspirations to engage positively with the West, but with a cool, wary head, not a childish sort of over-excitement.

I know I am only supposed to be concerned about how the country can effect its rejection of Mugabe at the ballot last week. I am choosing to look ahead beyond that to try and say, “Tsvangirai, beware;watch your back.”

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Gideon Gono’s star starting to fade

Posted by CM on December 30, 2007

by Chido Makunike

The last few weeks have not been good for Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Gono featuredly prominently at the ZANU-PF congress at which President Mugabe somehow arranged yet another ruling party endorsement as its sole candidate in the elections scheduled for March 2008. We saw images of Gono grinning broadly, seemingly basking in the glow of Mugabe’s approval. He got tongues wagging with a tough speech in which he accused un-named high ranking government officials of being behind many of the nefarious “black market” activities that led to phenomena like the current perplexing shortage of Zim dollar currency notes.

Gono has never made secret of his personal closeness to Mugabe, which reports have traced to his being the president’s banker, dating from the days when Gono was chief executive of the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe. Gono parlayed his revival of that once floundering bank back into solvency into a reputation as a “turn around expert.” It is that image he carefully cultivated over some years that eventually landed him the RBZ top job with much fanfare in 2003.

His closeness to Mugabe made him automatically an object of suspicion to many. But others hoped that he could use it to make Mugabe “see sense” about measures needed to right the economy’s many wrongs in a way the president light not have been prepared to do with previous economic advisors.

There was a circus around Gono’s taking on the job of central banker. The media was roped into hailing him as a conquering hero who had come to slay the dragon of high inflation, the country’s then first experience of local currency shortages and all manner of other economic ills.

If the media seemed to adore him, he clearly loved the media attention just as much. His “monetary review statements” were broadcast live, and his every word was treated as gospel. In the Gono-euphoria that erupted, cautions that the country’s deepening economic problems could not be separated from governance, political and diplomatic issues were swept aside. Gono promised to “turn around” the economy in short order, confidently making inflation-lowering and other targets which the country has come nowhere near to achieving, and vowing “failure is not an option.”

Four years after all the hype surrounding his appointment and all the high hopes in his tenure by many, the December 23 2007 main headline in the Zimbabwe Standard was a harsh summation of how far Gono has fallen in public esteem. It screamed, “Gono labelled ‘No. 1 saboteur.’

Citing the thousands of Zimbabweans who had to spend the end of year holiday season in long queues for cash from their bank accounts, the story quoted Elton Mangoma, an opposition party official, as saying, “Gono is clearly the biggest saboteur of Zimbabwe’s economy. He is simply playing politics with a serious national crisis that needs immediate attention from a central bank governor who takes the people’s suffering seriously.”

The MDC, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and economists, all said the cash crisis was ample evidence that the RBZ had failed in its mandate to provide liquidity, the story continued. The critics said it was “very cruel” of Gono to plunge the ordinary people into the crisis in a miscalculated move “to fix” people whose identity he knew.

Critics said blaming cash barons was a diversionary tactic designed to mask the incompetence of the central bank. “There is no money from the so-called barons because if the money was there, the parallel market would be booming,” said Dr Daniel Ndlela, head of an economic consultancy firm. “This fellow (Gono) is not only heartless, but he does not understand who he is punishing. The people in the queues are not barons.”

The Standard’s story continued:

Mangoma added: “The people are not failing to access their cash because of the cash barons but because of Gono’s policies which have eroded people’s confidence in the banking system in this country. No reasonable person would put their money into a bank when they know they will fail to access it the following day.”

Ndlela said Zimbabweans could be in for more suffering “as long as we have a poet” for a central banker. “He has totally failed. If he had a bit of professionalism and dignity he should have resigned a long time ago,” he said.

This is unprecedented harsh public criticism for Gono. Until recently, he had somehow been able to straddle the awkward twin roles of being an intimate insider of a floundering, unpopular government and yet also able to cast himself as a “man of the people” folk hero. That bubble seems to have burst in a way that some cynics may say was inevitable.

Defending himself in The Herald in an interview which was gently but still unusually critical in the tone of the questions asked by the state’s primary propaganda newspaper, Gono said “The cash shortages that we see are a mere symptom of much deeper and greater fundamental misalignments in our economy than the ability or inability of the central bank to provide adequate cash.” In this regard, it was unfortunate that all the blame had been heaped on RBZ, the newspaper quoted Gono as saying.

Went on Gono in the interview, “We are back to economic fundamentals which we must tackle head on… It’s about sanctions whose debilitating effects on the economy and on the ordinary lives of our people must be a matter for which we must all speak with one voice as Zimbabweans to see that these sanctions are lifted. It’s about the productivity of … every form of economic activity in the country. We must raise the bar of productivity to underpin our commercial transactions.”

“It’s also about economic and pricing distortions, which we must deal with decisively. It’s about economic patriotism. It’s about discipline. It’s about building a corrupt-free economy. It’s about international relations. So don’t take a simplistic view of the queues and simplistically place 100 percent responsibility on the central bank or the Governor, however easily tempting or fashionable it might be.”

“That’s my interpretation of the cash queue. In the absence of a disciplined approach to our economic affairs, to corruption, hard work and economic patriotism, the winter of discontent with cash queues will not go away. “

Everything Gono says here is true, of course. But it was all just as true four years ago when he somewhat over-confidently boasted “failure is not an option” amidst warnings that the country’s problems were deeper than could be addressed by monetary measures. For instance, the lifting of sanctions and issues of international relations are beyond the purview of Gono and the RBZ. Yet they are critical components to Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes, and to Gono’s own success as RBZ governor.

All these points had been repeatedly made by many long before Gono came onto the scene as central banker. Some who had made similar points to those Gono is now making were accused of being traitors to the country and forced to resign their positions for publicly stating unpalatable truths. The hope had been that Gono’s reputation as a “favoured son” who enjoyed the particular attention of Mugabe’s ear would give him more leverage than others before him had.

While Gono has clearly been the most powerful central banker yet, with unprecedented latitude to try all sorts of economic experiments, he has met the ultimate brick wall: that there will be no solution to the country’s hyper-inflation or its cash, fuel and other shortages without going back to production, diplomatic, political and other basics which the ruling authorities have shown no inclination to do over the years.

In a way Gono is a victim of his own initial hype and over-promising of what he could achieve in the prevailing political environment. In taking the RBZ job, he gambled that he could influence Mugabe and the politicians to take measures they had resisted before, or alternatively, that he could use his wide-ranging powers to bring about economic improvements even without reform of the rest of the system of governance. The increasing criticism from all sectors of the media and the public suggests many people believe that he has lost his gamble.

Without giving details, in the Herald interview he promises to solve the immediate cash problems in the next several days. But this would seem to contradict his point in the same interview about how the cash queues will not go away without the country addressing a comprehensive raft of other issues than just how much currency the RBZ releases into circulation. Certainly his credibility is at its lowest ebb, even if he still enjoys the fickle Mugabe’s support, which I am not sure anyone knows for certain.

So what next for Gono?

Hyperinflation and the Zim dollar’s depreciation continue unabated, so two major reasons for the current cash shortage will still be in place no matter what he does to assuage the public’s anger about the shortages. The low farming/industrial productivity and international diplomatic isolation issues will likely continue for all sorts of reasons that are way beyond Gono’s ability to do anything about.

With his repeated “failure is not an option” mantra, resignation is not an easy option. I wonder if it is even an option available to him at all. In return for his unprecedented power, prominence and latitude of action as RBZ governor, he may have had to make personal concessions which may not make it possible for him to walk away unless Mugabe now wishes him to go. He may be too deep into the system as the author of many unorthodox interventions to attempt to stop the economy’s slide in the last four years that being seen to abandon the Mugabe ship would not be looked at kindly at all!

Could Mugabe, on reading the public mood of rising disaffection with Gono, be ready to sack him, in a way giving Gono the easiest way out of a continually sinking ship?

This is not unthinkable for a crafty Mugabe who is a master at finding and nailing scapegoats for problems that are ultimately his responsibility. But it is probably unlikely.

Whatever his faults, Gono has indeed worked very hard at a series of unconventional interventions to try to tame Zimbabwe’s economic melt down. Gono has also very carefully always made a sometimes almost slavish loyalty to Mugabe clear.

Unless Mugabe is now ready to go “conventional” in regards to economic management and international relations, he needs someone like Gono who is tireless at trying unconventional measures, no matter how half-baked some of them may be. In an economic environment even worse than when Gono became RBZ governor, it is hard to imagine Mugabe finding anyone as bold and hard-working at trying new things as Gono has proven himself to be. A more conventional economist at the RBZ would recommend to Mugabe the same conventional political and economic measures that Mugabe has found so unpalatable over the years.

Gono will therefore likely continue at the helm of the RBZ and the economy beyond his current term, but with no more illusions on anyone’s part of a dramatic “economic turnaround” on the horizon. Out of frustration at having failed to achieve it, as well as having lost the public and media adulation he wants enjoyed, he may become an increasingly bitter and capricious economic tsar. In the manner of his boss Mugabe in the political sphere, Gono may continue to be “in power” to issue warnings, threats and decrees to various sectors of the economy, but make little difference to the country’s economic slide.

Gono as RBZ governor rose to dizzy heights in public affection on the alluring but dangerous, fleeting back of a masterfully conducted public relations campaign and charm offensive. The only way to have kept that unrealistic momentum was for him to have then produced the kind of economic results which were not possible under an environment in which his boss continued to make statements and decisions that neutralised Gono’s efforts.

Those decisions are often influenced more by short-term populism and patronage considerations than what is in the best interests of the country. And so farms and implements are given to the political elite than to those best able to use them, with the attendant results on productivity, and ultimately, on inflation and the value of the Zim dollar. It is a waste of time to deal with the economic symptoms without addressing the political root causes.

Ditto for the current cash crisis. It is a waste of time to scapegoat a “cash baroness” who is simply a messenger of well connected and protected political players who are the real black marketeers. Gono says he knows most of them, but appears not to want to rock the political boat by naming them. That may be understandable, but the point is that being politically hamstrung like this makes nonsense of his economic efforts, dooming them to failure. Apart from nailing even the highly placed politicians and others who are “fueling” the black market, there is also the fact that only measures that make such a black market un-necessary will eliminate the problem, even if those measures go against Mugabe’s own brand of ideological orthodoxy.

Gono continues to run from pillar to post, trying this and that cosmetic measure to deal with the symptoms of deeper problems he increasingly shows signs of accepting are beyond the ambit of the RBZ to address. The carefully scripted story of his dramatic professional and public-image rise make for gripping melodrama, but his current floundering is also sadly predictable and depressing given the unchangingly negative political environment in which he chose to try to make a lasting positive impact as RBZ governor.


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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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