By Takura Zhangazha*
At the risk of stating the obvious, the ‘ease of doing business’ is an inherently political term. Not merely because the ruling Zanu Pf party’s leader and current president of the country, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is using the term in each and every one of his major speeches. Locally and internationally.
It is a phrase that is always sweet music to the ears of global capital and by default, its local mimicking versions.
Not because of their political affinities but because of what it portends. In keeping with neo-liberal fashion it means that the political leaders of the country are seeking favours from private capital. Political ones before they are economic.
And private capital appears to be catching the bait. Economic pundits are talking about how the number of investors that are enquiring about Zimbabwe are in their numbers. Even the Zimbabwean Diaspora is setting up initiatives to cash in on governments laissez faire policy.
And so far a couple of what the state controlled media refers to as ‘mega deals’ have been signed or revived with a sense of urgency. The Russian foreign secretary paid us a visit with such deals in mind. Other promises of investment also keep popping up especially after government announced its intention to amend the Indigenisation Act. Or where the minister of foreign affairs announced a new creature (at least to many Zimbabweans) called ‘transactional diplomacy’.
So there is no doubt that the Zimbabwean government is on a neo-liberal path. And that capital likes ‘free market’ environments.
But because there is an election scheduled for this year (2018), we have to ask a rhetorical question of who needs who more than the other? And why?
The easy reply would be obviously the ruling Zanu Pf party is desperate for capital (almost any form state and private). This would be in order to succeed in its quest at retention of power in the scheduled elections. Except that it has too little time between then and now to produce the ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ that its leader Emerson Mnangagwa has been promising in his speeches.
What the government wants is a promise from capital for guaranteed investment in the event of their electoral victory and therefore longer tenure in globally recognised power. And this where the catch is. Because capital loves stability (never mind democracy), it is clearly keen on a government that is talking its language to stay in power. So any ‘mega deal’ signed in the run-up to the 2018 election is akin to an electoral support pact.
Private capital knows this. So they are circling the bait (unlike say the Russian or British government related capital). But in order to be in with a fairer chance they will invariably take all sorts of risks to be in good books with the incumbent administration. And this is in the event that the latter wins the election.
This leads to the bigger question how much of private capital is backing the current ruling establishment in expectation of ‘favours’ after the elections? In 2013 we know that the Meikles Group helped purchase campaign vehicles for the ruling party and that went a long way in changing the complexion and undoubtedly influencing the final result, controversial as it was.
It is from this example that we can get tell tale signs of the undemocratic relationship that the current establishment has with capital. As President Mnangagwa attends investment conferences, sends his ministers and emissaries to various countries and global capital events/meetings I would not be surprised if the whispered request would be, ‘support us in the next election and we will support you after with your (ease of doing) business.’
Again in neo-liberal lexicon this would be what would be referred to as a ‘win-win’ situation. The ruling establishment wins the election and private capital is left to roam the ‘free market’.
This unwritten but likely electoral pact between the ruling establishment and private capital will soon show itself as the electoral campaign gets into its rancorous full gear. If you are a neo-liberal (including those in the mainstream opposition) this is the stuff that dreams would be made of.
If you are to the left of social democracy as I am, you would be aware what an undemocratic pact between unaccountable private capital and a resurgent ruling and repressive establishment can bring. A withdrawn state, privatisation of social services and a singular dominant (almost electorally undefeatable) political establishment that has a revolving door between ruling party and capital. And as always with a sprinkling of formal opposition.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)