Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Zim's Economic Woes. Beyond Anger and In Search of 'Base and Superstructure'

By Takura Zhangazha*
Discussing the national economic situation in Zimbabwe is a highly political exercise.  There is always the one main actor or cause of the dire situation, namely government.  Reasons, arguments are either around the fact that no country is going to help us as long as the current president is in office or the allegation that the entirety of government is corrupt.  The politics continues further with arguments about how the ‘economy cannot be rigged’ or how the market will eventually force either a collapse or resignation of government. 

Enter the bond notes and debate goes from loud to near apoplectic for reasons that have been explained in many a column since their introduction was announced.  When there are revelations of alleged corrupt activities/tenders/ at parastatals or in government, the debate, though not as apoplectic, hones back to politics and the politically connected elite. 

There are however no big demonstrations against the corruption, for now, save for those organised by the mainstream opposition MDCT against bond notes.  

Smaller actions such as that of activists staging sit/sleep ins at Africa Unity Square or protesting at the Rainbow Towers hotel against Vice President Mphoko’s long duree hotel stay have made waves on social media and the internet. 

All of these actions are a clear sign at a simmering popular anger about the state of the economy. Or at least at specific issues related to the economy. Even if that anger has not translated into more effective action that forces the government to rectify its policies.
What we have however not been doing is to analyse our national economy more holistically. Both in ideological and performance measurement terms. 

Those of us from the left have been trying to review the economy from what we would call its realistic prism.  Ever since government announced that its economic priority is ‘the ease of doing business’ it has become clearer that ours is a free market economy. Largely by default but also by way of announced policy intention.

Its primary characteristic is outsourcing state functions to private entities and ensuring that primary social services, such as health, education are privatised. It also follows the dictates of th World Bank/IMF with regards to monetary policies (including the quantiative easing that is the bond note introduction) and tends to be highly dependent on their expertise of how the economy should be run.   Furthermore it is an economy in which the emergence/rise religious fervor, gambling and individualism are actively encouraged.

 As a result it comes with all the signs of social breakdown and the emergence of personality/celebrity style politics.  Money and patronage become the functional cornerstone of politics. And while we rail against imperialism and the sort, we remain highly reliant on foreign aid in times of natural disasters such as the current drought we are experiencing. 

This is essentially where we are as a country. And one would be forgiven for thinking or stating that’s a little too much to put on one plate. Or that this is the preserve of economists and intellectuals.
On the contrary this should be everyone’s debate and analysis. At least until a clear alternative that can be democratically applied to our context is widely accepted.  

What the period of the inclusive government indicated was that the free market/neo-liberal economic template adopted by both Zanu Pf and the MDCs, can temporarily lead to a bubble that once again has burst in the context of the cash crisis, the increase in poverty and the failure fo the state to provide affordable social services to the majority of its citizens.  

And what we have also seen is a tragic failure to articulate a comprehensive and holistic alternative by those that are in pursuit of political office.  

Its not as if there are no alternatives. Both at home and abroad there have been various attempts to find a contextual social democratic approach to our national economy. This is where the combination of retention of the state in basic social service provision occurs in tandem with observation of an open, transparent and democratic culture that takes greater priority over the market.  In this, innovation and wealth will not be predicated on corruption as is the case today. Instead it will be based on at least everyone being given a fair start and a fairer life as a Zimbabwean.  

It’s a debate that we should be having.  But where we allow it to appear in pockets, our anger will reflect more an intention to address symptoms as opposed to the actual ailment.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.ocm)

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Second Act, Scene 2, Zim War Vets in Zanu Pf Succession Politics

By Takura Zhangazha*

Recent media reports in the last week indicate that President Mugabe continues to have key differences with one of his key pillars of support, the veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war.  He has accused them, in part at least, of seeking to function outside of their mandate within the ruling Zanu Pf party. 

Especially where and when statements officially  attributed to them indicated that they support one of the current vice presidents, Emerson Mnangagwa,  as their chosen successor to their party's leadership.   

The president also made what I consider to be regrettable references to that most tragic period of Zimbabwean post independence history that has now come to be commonly referred to as the Gukurahundi It was a period in which thousands of civilians in the southern parts of our country lost their lives in a civil  war that remains officially unexplained.  

The statements attributed to the president have not come out of thin air with regard to the factionalism that is within the ruling party. They occur against a backdrop in which the war veterans have had their current chairman removed not only from cabinet but also from any roles within the party.  This after their demonstration was crushed by the police as well as after an indaba they had with their patron, Mugabe, who appears to not be on their side.  

And its all about succession in the ruling party for sure.  On that, the mainstream Zimbabwean and global media is correct.  Even if they spin it a little bit.  There, as is said in British parlance, no smoke without fire.  From the dismissal of the former Vice President Mujuru through to that of their current chairperson, Chris Mutsvangwa from government, theirs’ remains a struggle for influence based on what they consider their historical contribution to the liberation struggle and by dint of the same, retention of key pillars of state power.  

It is also a narrative that suits the interests of war veterans, particularly those that were part of  the phase where and when the struggle became most militarized.  This majority  batch of comrades feel they have not been given enough recognition for what they consider their efforts in not only fighting for liberation but also for protecting and keeping the ruling party in power in post independent Zimbabwe.

Even if they were given the War Victims Compensation Fund which was to be riddled with allegations of corruption and cronyism, they still feel they have a stake in the politics of the country and in direct relation to the ruling party, its nationalist discourse and its claim to not only  liberation struggle history but also its victory.  This is despite the fact that they have varied definitions of what complete victory has meant and continues to mean.Or even what their roles in civilian politics should be.

What is important to note is that the war veterans are rallying together in order to follow their own understanding of sequential acquisition of power within a state they virulently claim to have finally established.  

From a personal perspective, I am persuaded that they tend to exhibit a characteristic of entitlement to the state.
It is therefore least likely they will  be open minded about succession in the ruling party.  They have what can be considered as a sequential approach to leadership recognition or succession.  They look at the history of their party and argue that it is now time for at least someone who was at the war-front to get closer to assuming political power.   It is their historical expectation.   By way of their own perceived and real sacrifices for the liberation of the country.  

In this they were never going to be selfless.  Even though it is few of their ilk that have benefited from state largesse.  The greater majority still, even after the fast track land reform program do not have access to basic humanitarian needs let alone post war palliative care.  

The only catch with the still living war veterans is that they are in no way desperate.  Instead they appear determined and are intent on holding their own.  They will fight, at least metaphorically, their own corner.  And in so far as they have retained a continued control of levers of state security, a few ministries in government and the greater part of the ruling party’s political campaign machinery (by way of  political cultural habit), they still seek to claim greater control. Especially if you place controversial electoral victories since 2000 into the equation.  

The sad truth to it all is that their own nationalist and liberation struggle legacies may be lost in the midst of their cutthroat ambition for state power.  It is their own sons and daughters, myself included, who will without a doubt ask more questions than they can democratically give answers. Moreso given the fact that democracy and the liberation struggle will always be historically intertwined.   Even if they wanted to wish democracy away.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Monday, 6 June 2016

Panic, Shock and Abandon: Bond Notes and the State in Zim

By Takura Zhangazha*

Currently there is a familiar sense of panic in the major capitals of Zimbabwe.  It has been induced largely by the announcement by the governor of the reserve bank that by October 2016, government shall introduce  bond notes as  a medium of exchange of goods and services.   So there has been a rush to the banks by the rich, those in what remains of the formal economy, the informal sector and pensioners to sweep up whatever US dollar savings or salaries they have in their bank accounts.  The more entrepreneurial/ manipulative have set  up a parallel money market attempting to sell hard currency at a profit.  

All of this makes for economic drama, panic and tragedy that is somewhat reminiscent of the financial crisis/collapse of 2007-2008. Except that this time there is no Zimbabwean dollar to talk about.  It is the  invidious bond note that has taken the latter’s place.  And matters have not been helped by the fact that very few Zimbabweans understand the rationale being put forward by the government.  Or even if they do, they simply do not trust the government and the banks. 

Despite this lack of trust, panic and inevitable shortage of the US dollar, government does not appear to be particularly ruffled.  Cabinet ministers have been fairly nonchalant about it.  Parliamentarians’ hardly understand whats going on save for the portfolio committee on finance chairperson asking for assurances that the bond notes are not going to be printed/minted in Zimbabwe. 

The opposition has organized, thus far, two marches against the new measures to limited impact despite a credible show of numbers.  The common refrain has been to say to the ruling party, ‘you cannot rig the economy’, a statement that belies more a wait and see attitude than it intends to seize the moment.  Nor does it signify any fundamental differences in approach to the national economy.

What is clear is that there is no broader debate about the economy in and of itself. This betrays a certain comfort that key stakeholders have with our current neo-liberal economic framework. Particularly for government and international financial institutions.  Hence the World Bank or the guarantor of the bond notes, the African Export and Import Bank are not decrying the introduction of these new measures.    So long the economic fundamentals of the ‘free market’ are not challenged.  

The realities for a greater majority of Zimbabweans is that they have to contend with difficult economic conditions with or without the bond note. In desperation, they will accept whatever eventually comes their way.  Especially because of the current drought, endemic unemployment and the increasing politicization of everyday occurrences in light of either Zanu Pf factionalism and/or opposition mobilization for the 2018 elections. 

So while there is panic, there is least likely to be any change to government policy and the introduction of bond notes. Cabinet assumes that eventually there will be grudging acceptance of the medium of exchange.  Just as was the case with bond coins. 

What government, big business and the global financial institutions are very pleased about is the fact that their policies are inducing an acceptance of neo-liberalism as what the Zimbabwean public considers as the panacea to their economic challenges.  The atomization/individualization of how to address an economic challenge essentially means that there will be less organized protests or social movements  against the evident state abandonment of citizens in relation to the economy.  

It is essentially something that has been tried in other parts of the world with dire consequences.  The steps, though differing in context relate to how ruling elites, even where they do not understand what they are doing, are inevitably steamrolled by global capital to shock, awe and disempower their citizens. Especially within the context of natural disasters such as the one we are undergoing in the form of the current drought.
Zimbabwean society has essentially been reconfigured to function on the template of each man/woman for herself and everything else follows the market, real or imagined.  

We should be questioning more the fundamentals of our undemocratic economic dispensation even as we see the real and contrived panic over bond notes.  Such questioning would include tackling issues of state sanctioned/led corruption, externalization of money, and the privatization of social services.  

Furthermore, we must have a broader ideological debate about what we perceive to be the democratic role of the state with regards the national economy.  What we have at the moment is a state that has abandoned its primary obligations of protecting the basic economic livelihoods of the people to the market. Bond notes and all.  We need to stem this.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blgospot.com)

Monday, 30 May 2016

‘Keep on Marching’ Zimbabwe’s Not So New, Partisan Political Pre-Occupation.^

By Takura Zhangazha*

There are some not so new sounds of footsteps on the streets of  some of Zimbabwe’s biggest cities.  

In the last month, the main opposition and the ruling party’s supporters have taken to the same to express above all else, their support and loyalty to their respective leaders.  The opposition will deny this initial assertion and argue that it was ‘real issues’ such as the missing US$15 billion announced (ironically) by the ruling party’s leader to be missing from the national diamond revenue state balance books that made them place peaceful boots on the ground.  

 The ruling party’s marchers will, contrary to their counterparts, argue that they have no problems demonstrating on behalf of their long serving leader’s ‘lion’ status on the African continent (and in their view,  beyond our continental land mass). 

In other instances, the religious movement has also held a march against what government refers to as the ‘national pledge’, This is combined with references to the latter’s failure to recognize the importance of the Scripture Union in primary and secondary schools in building a Christian national culture.

And it may come as a shocker, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, with some judicial persuasion (also read as orders) eventually let all of the non-ruling party’s marches proceed as planned. 

Some state newspaper columnists have lauded this not so new era of marchers on our city streets. This by exhorting a previously reluctant state security sector to allow the marches to go ahead. 

Social media pundits have generally had a jolly good time asking when these marches will all end.  They argue that if one march is held in Harare, another in Bulawayo we might as well proceed to having a national ‘march and numbers' competition. 

In all of these attempts at claims to political superiority via numbers on the streets or good-natured humour as to the meaning of it all via various media platforms, it is only fair to say that whatever one’s own personal political persuasions, it is good to have Zimbabweans marching.  Whatever the cause, whatever the reason.  So long it is done peacefully, fairly, justly and transparently (which remains a hard ask in the country).

It’s not that Zimbabweans were not marching before. They were generally beaten up and arrested for it if they differed with the ruling party.  And protected if their causes were in politicized congruence with the latter.    

It’s the newfound  ‘march cause’ and its new impetus that needs a bit more scrutiny.  The MDC-T marched in Harare. Zanu Pf also marched,  at least two weeks later, in Harare.  And recently the MDC-T marched, again, in Bulawayo.  The churches haven't done so, at least recently.  They have just limited themselves to social media for now.  

All of these marches can be argued to be driven by these mainstream political parties being in a conundrum as to how to continue or begin to capture the popular imagination in pursuit of either retaining power or acquiring it.  For this, they all need to meet Zimbabwe’s young, voting generation’s ambivalent desire for a new radical, and sadly so, benevolent politics with borderline religious, charismatic fervor.

What is increasingly emerging in our nation’s collective quest for some sort of inevitable political change is an understanding that we have all been marching and demonstrating in pursuit of one cause or the other.  

The labour movement, as led by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)  marched against Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).  The war veterans marched against the failure to have their pensions paid. The students marched against the removal of student allowances as led by the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) and the Womens’ Movement also marched against many (many) discriminatory laws and practices  in various feminist and gender equality struggles.

All of these marches have met and continue to meet police resistance, especially where they were/are not affiliated to the ruling party.

In contemporary times. The national police force is  a bit more understanding and permissive thanks to the sterling efforts of  Zimbabwean civil society.

What however remains apparent is the fact that the current marches in favour or against the ruling regime are mired in protecting and promoting the reputations of individual leaders before they are about explaining what the urgent, broader national concerns are.

This does not make the marches in any way misplaced.  While they are a reflection of popular sentiment of support for either the ruling or the mainstream opposition, depending on whose side you are batting for, the remain a pantomime show of numbers. All with 2018 in sight.  They however do not reflect a popular understanding of the complicated political realities that a majority of Zimbabweans (political or non political) will have to face.  With  or without cogent explanation from their respective  national leadership.  

From bond notes to  African Union leadership (and legacies), national pledge issues were always going to be issues that catch the populist political culture we are now confronted with as a country.  Especially where and when it is integrated with our newfound political materialism. 

What we must however accept as Zimbabweans is that either way, in this moment we are better off with our fellow citizens taking to the streets for their various causes.  Even if we disagree with them.  Even if we are more worried about the state of the economy or how some of us are trying to get the next foreign job placement with all the risks of human trafficking that our government has dismally failed to deal with. 

So, if I was to be asked my personal opinion I would say,  "go ahead Zimbabweans of every hue and persuasion.  March on. To whatever corner suits your fancy. Even if just for political catharsis. Let your marches be learning processes or phases. That better things can happen if we find common ground, believe in our country, believe in our common humanity, understand the necessity of eventually coming to terms with not only our repressive colonial past but also our post-colonial repressive legacies. Warts and all."

^Please also see 'Keep on Knocking. History of the Labour Movement in Zimbabwe. 1904-1997'  http://www.amazon.com/Keep-Knocking-History-Movement-Zimbabwe/dp/177909003X edited by Brian Raftopolous and Ian Phimster 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)