Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Perspectives on Zimbabwe’s Economic Recovery.

A brief presentation  to the Sustainable Economics Forum (SEF)

 by Takura Zhangazha
Wednesday 10 September 2014.

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation (FES)  Zimbabwe, Head Office, Harare

Discussing the economic prospects of Zimbabwe has invariably had to be linked to the state of our politics. Mainly for two reasons. The first being that the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) that began in early 2000 (by default) led to some sort of economic shock therapy. 

While what was more apparent on the minds of many pundits of political economy was the infamous ‘ Black  Friday’ on 14 November 1997  where the Zimbabwe dollar tumbled heavily after the awarding of ‘unbudgeted for’ increases in the allowances of war veterans together with the expensive military assistance we gave to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997 , the latter’s structural impact on the economy would have been short-lived. 

It was the FTLRP that changed, in part our economic outlook, not least because it directly affected our economic base, agriculture, but because it also had other economic consequences which would include economic sanctions on the state and companies directly linked to government business. 

The second reason is because of the intentions of our political leaders.  Especially where these are linked to electoral prospects and  retention of political power.  They have also had a tendency to approach the economy from a centrist command point with five year economic plans that are essentially a throwback to our initial years of independence where the state was intended to have an historically grounded role in social and economic development of a repressed black majority.  

The major ideological motivation for this has always been nationalistic before it is based on much more structured ideological frameworks such as socialism or capitalism.   And this was probably deliberate in order to court foreign direct investment from the then and now re-emergent  Cold War global divide. 

So the essentials of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis reside primarily and for now, in the nature of the structure of the state and the intentions of its political leadership.

The character  of the state in relation to what has been referred to the ‘enclave’ and ‘dualism’  in a recent collaborative study  by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) , Alternatives to Neo-Liberalism  in Southern Africa (ANSA) and the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute, Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ).   

This is with specific reference to the inherited legacies of the Rhodesian settler state political economy which according to the study cited above, was racialised into the formal and informal.  It is a dichotomy that exists today with most formal economic activity being the preserve of major cities and in the hands of the elite while a greater majority, particularly women remain in the informal and rural components of the economy.

The intentions of the political leadership in so far as they have, since independence, sought to change the enclave and dual nature of the economy. Furthermore, whether in the process of seeking to do so, their intentions were in any event intended to be revolutionary or ended up mimicking global economic models without proper application to context. Both in the short and long term. 

While this paper cannot go through the structural details of various economic policies that have been implemented by government over the last 34 years, it would be instructive to note that key structural and ideological tenets that inform our contemporary political economy have neither been revolutionised or holistically and organically changed.  Both in relation to a more efficient economy or in enabling the same to serve to the greater extent the livelihood needs of our country’s majority poor. 

Where a big departure was expected through the formation of the SADC mediated inclusive government in 2009, that government’s policies became more keen on a return to a ‘stable’ economic past in the midst of the FTLRP.

 Its intention was to return the Zimbabwean economy to acceptable global practices while at the same time avoiding holistically dealing with structural challenges that have afflicted the Zimbabwean political economy since independence. 

With the advent of a two thirds majority in Parliament and an attendant local government and presidential election victory (contested as it is) for Zanu Pf, again we would be forgiven for assuming that the economic trajectory would at least look up. 

Not least because the incumbent government is not as contested as the previous one but also because a holistic overhaul of the predications of our national economy have been long outstanding. 

In saying this, I am aware that mainstream economic thought on how to develop not only the Zimbabwean, but African economies, is long standing and continually being renewed. Both at the instance of independent academics but largely with the influence of global financial and economic institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to a limited extent leftist institutions/governments.   

The key question has been our relative African and in particular Zimbabwean government’s ability to harness these globally generated epistemologies to our own local contexts.  This has been the bane of our domestic economic policies.  From the neo-liberal Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes of the late 1980s through to contemporary state capitalist models of árrival’ or permanent hegemonies, such as China and closer to home, Angola, we have failed to grasp that mimicry alone is not adequate especially where it has no domestic social democratic context.

In our immediate context, this is the primary challenge of the much lauded but little implemented new economic blueprint, Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Social, Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).  Not only in its typical mimicry of the economic blueprints of countries that are perceived to be friendly but in its ideological impetus which would have us all fawn at the alter of state capitalism ala carte China, Angola. But more because it has no ideological or revolutionary intention to the structural challenges our national economy faces.

It is essentially a programme that  continues to pursue the path of not only externally sourced modernisation programmes, but also retain the structural tenets of a neo-liberal economy imbued with elitist and hegemonic aspirations of existent ruling classes or bourgeoisie.  Both in terms of ideas as well as material investment.

So when one analyses the recent visit by President Mugabe to China in order to seek bilateral agreements in line with ZimAsset, the key issue is not so much to seek repetitions of cold war rhetoric.  Instead it is to measure how these bilateral agreements are contextual and in line with the specific economic challenges that the country is facing.  Furthermore, it is to examine not only the economic model of state capitalism, which is what China has implemented since the late 1980s, but to scrutinize its relevance to our own national context.

As it is, the model of state capitalism, which is the basic ideological premise of ZimAsset, is primed at primarily entrenching a specific hegemonic era in Zimbabwe wherein a ruling party related comprador bourgeoisie  virtually runs the state like a personal business.  In doing so they appropriate state resources in pursuit of making wealth that is predicated on their being in power while at the same time keeping the masses at bay. Preferably by way of quasi performance legitimacy but primarily through benevolence and repression.

So the prospects for the national economy are bleak, especially if one uses social democratic measurements.  There will be some forms of FDI but largely of an infrastructural kind in order to fortify the ruling party’s benevolent but repressive rule.  The realisation of social and economic justice be it in relation to historical grievances such as land distribution or basic social services will  be continually subjected to elite capture and the creation of vacuous public private partnerships.  And in this, politics will again be a key determinant as to what direction the economy takes.

To conclude, I would posit that we perhaps need to begin to attempt to think beyond what we have leanrt as mainstream economics and models of economic development.  I know that there have been attempts to do so, particularly through local, regional and international think-tanks that have called for what they have referred to as the “democratic developmental state”.  It is by and large a proposition that fits into the ‘third way’ framework as has been discussed in the West. 
It is a noble idea except for its assumption of internationalisation and immediate fitting into the lexicon of the Non Profit Industrial Complex.  

The primary challenge is for African states and Zimbabwe in particular not to escape direct ideological questions that are required in order to frame holistic solutions to the economic challenges that we are faced with. And even more-so that these definitions stem from contextual historical, political and economic analysis.

It is therefore imperative that in order to improve the prospects of our economic  recovery in a holistic fashion we undertake the following steps:
  • 1.      Embarking on contextual knowledge production and exchanges within the ambit of greater academic freedom and promotion of innovation.
  • 2.      Determining clearer contextual  ideological praxis upon which our economic development models are formulated and implemented with a bias toward a social democratic framework.
  • 3.      Dismantling the dual/enclave state primarily through addressing our land reform programme’s challenges around the  bifurcation of rural and local government, bio-agriculture, security of tenure, mining, the environment, wildlife
  • 4.      Concertedly integrating the provision of social services (health, education, transport, shelter and food) to the majority poor at little or no cost altogether into all alternative frameworks that are produced.