Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Zimbabwe’s Not So New Oligarchs and the Decadence of our National Political Economy.

By Takura Zhangazha*

A couple of years ago, I wrote on the quiet transformation of Zimbabwean society. It was not only a transformation that has dominated our language of pain and suffering due to the phenomenal downturn of our national economy.  It was a transformation that, when I wrote about it, was informed more by the evident change in the character of the Zimbabwean state. From being one that was imbued with an understanding of our shared and equal humanity as citizens, to being one that was increasingly to be defined by an unprecedented pursuit of survival and individual wealth via politics and proximity to political power as opposed to democratic values or principles. 

The only difference between 2007 and seven years later, in 2014, is the reality that the system of self aggrandizement without any obligation to a 'collective social contract' within our political economy is now more systematically entrenched.

Whereas, in the first decade of the millennium, our politics was in part driven by contestation by major political parties and economic players to place politics on the popular pedestal of serving the ‘need’ of the majority, with the passage of the inclusive government and the default one party state we now have in 2014, the major elements of our political economy are now primed to serve the ‘want’ of the few. 

And the timeline can be discerned beginning with the mustard seed of the now existent colossally disastrous system with economic structural adjustment (ESAP) in the 1990s. 

The subsequent effects of ESAP have been well documented, particularly within the context of global economic knowledge production.  What was however not done with as much concerted effort has been the negative impact of the same on our economic value systems.  Especially to the majority poor. 

So while initially, a decent education was seen as the path to economic prosperity for a majority of Zimbabwean families, it eventually turned out that even that did not matter as much as the informal sector of the economy.  Success in the informal sector however was to rely heavily on proximity to state power, or at least an ability to shadily circumvent a lot of its red tape requirements. 

By the time we arrived at the politics of the new millennium and the existence of a labour backed opposition, the political economy had shifted from expecting the state to protect the many to protecting the few. 
This, even in the context of the new land acquisition programme that occurred from the year 2000 to present day which has been touted as a revolution. (It is turning out more to be replacement land ownership than it is transformational.)

Where the analysis is extended to the lifespan of the inclusive government, what stands out more is that the latter sought to return the national economy to the ESAP period, except this time with a multi-currency exchange system.  The end effect has been a mini-scramble for state tenders or permits either in outsourced functions of parastatals or in the individually  lucrative sectors of  mining, safari hunting/tourism and importation/ retailing of finished goods. 

In most of these endeavors, the functional principle was and has not been that of feeding into a broader national economic development programme or value system. It has been about maximizing whatever little profit could be had at any given time and by a majority of individuals with a direct link to the state.   Or as our socialites would call it, ‘living in the moment’ without a care for any long term considerations on key aspects of the economy such as employment, social welfare provision or equitable infrastructural development. 

So what we now have obtaining in Zimbabwe are multiple oligarchies in all facets of the national economy. And in being almost omnipresent in these, they have now created a new undemocratic societal reality. It is a reality that does not cede to the rule of law, separation of powers nor respect the people as the final arbiters of who should govern the country.   They can now enter politics with evident monetary impunity and almost literary purchase their way up political leadership ladders.  Or even that of national sports associations. 

And because they straddle both worlds of politics and the economy, the media stories over and about their alleged corrupt activities rarely lead to any significant legal action against them. Instead, as protection mechanisms, they continue with their tried method of not only proximity to political power, but also to creating mini-gods of themselves at grassroots political levels through the distribution of largess.

It is to this extent that the politics of economic desperation then becomes self evident in Zimbabwe.  The state has been gradually abdicating its role of socio-economic responsibility in favour of individuals that have benefited from its resources at the expense of the majority. 

Sadly, this has led to no one really expecting the government to do anything serious to help their plight. Even in man-made disaster zones such as the Tokwe Mukosi basin.  Instead for a majority of Zimbabweans, the only hope tragically resides in semi messianic figures who, if they come from your home area or are your relative, distribute obscurely acquired wealth .

So our national economic value system no longer obtains popular relevance.  We scamper from one oligarch to another for services that should be directly acquired from the state.

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