Tuesday, 6 January 2015

No Room for Abstract Optimism: 7 Realities of Zim's 2015 Political Economy.


By Takura Zhangazha*

There are many ways of dealing with dire political/economic circumstances. The first is always optimism, some of which will be patently false but predicated on loyalty to someone/something to eventually make everything miraculously alright. Even if for  a period as short as twelve months.  The second is to deny that specific circumstances are evidently difficult and are in need of redress. This would include stubbornly and blindly insisting that whatever previous (but obviously ineffective) formula to solve the long standing problem still works. 

The third is to claim a decadent realism/pragmatism.  This entails making do with whatever corrupt, inefficient system is in place, which would include evading the state and possibly joining the bandwagon.

In some academic circles this is referred to as ‘disorder as political instrument’ where those with power or proximity to it profit from dire political and economic circumstances.  This has been the general tendency of a majority of our political leaders, those closely connected to them and those that have vested business/livelihood interests in the maintenance of the status quo.

The fourth but sadly rare approach is that which actively seeks to construct an alternative framework to solving the holistic challenges presented by a specific national context.  This is a preferable approach but would require a firm understanding of context and reality minus the intention to profit from it. 

Where we look at Zimbabwe’s political economy for the year 2015 there are about seven broad realities we will have to confront. These can be explained as follows:

a)      Mainstream political developments will not improve the economy: Normally it would be expected that any leadership changes to a ruling party or even mainstream opposition means the beginning of a general shift in the political economy of the country. In our case this will not turn out to be a given. The leadership changes at the recently held Zanu Pf congress are no indicators of a change in broader economic policy let alone implementation of what obtains on paper. 
The same can be argued for the mainstream opposition wherein changes to the leaderships of either factions have not meant a new economic impetus let alone intention to redress issues as the emerge and affect the majority poor in the country. Or even the new constitution and all the outstanding realignment of laws.
b)      No one is going to give Zimbabwe a ‘Marshall Plan’: If in 2014 there was talk of Russian or Chinese  ‘mega deals’ these are not going to materialise in any way similar to what the USA did for Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. Neither are any of our neighbors going to try and ‘bail us out’ in the short term except only if we demonstrate tendencies of political instability.  So yes there will be signing ceremonies of agreements but there will also be no money or visible improvement in peoples livelihoods because of the same.  The seeming evidence of investment progress will remain in road rehabilitation activities, which the truth be told, are not ‘progress’ but a restoration of the ‘old’.
c)       Elitist accrual will become further entrenched: The haves are going to continue having with impunity.  Even though because those in Zanu Pf have been reconfigured to demonstrate loyalty to their leader, they may initially be a purge but this will be temporary.  The trickle down effect will mean more state tenders, mining concessions, council land will be in the hands of fewer mafia like elites who are closely linked with the political and security system.  Unfortunately, because they do not run their businesses professionally even after acquiring tenders/permits in unclear ways, the trickle down effect to ordinary people through the creation of jobs will be minimal.
d)      Government will force privatization of social services: This will take the now familiar form and phrase of public private partnerships where deals are deliberately vague and also generally lead to shoddy services. The major target for privatization will be water via local governments and the central ministry of environment and water.  Pilot projects will be pursued in Bulawayo, Harare and Mutare.  Health services will be the next target, again with local government health services being outsourced to private operators and rising steeply in cost whilst being accompanied by a largely ineffective municipality medical aid scheme. All of these will not be people centered nor alleviate challenges of access and availability.  They will however no doubt make those that win the tenders very well off.  Education will continue being a cash cow with students/graduates continually being churned out at great cost to families only to remain unemployed or to pursue teaching as a fall back profession. 
e)      Land ownership and usage will be further politicized:  the issue of multiple farm ownership will emerge continually within the context of the reconfiguration of patronage with the ruling Zanu Pf party and the granting of 100 year leases to multinational corporations for either bio-agriculture or massive mineral extraction (as is the case with Darwendale). The landscape will also be re-imagined through the eyes of the former colonial state with the peasantry being displaced for largely elitist development projects such as the Tokwe Mukosi irrigation project in the south east. 
f)       The informal sector will continue to reinvent itself: As was the case last year, the informal sector will refuse to be harnessed by a state it remains highly suspicious of. Efforts to tax, control and even provide facilities for it will not be taken up with enthusiasm.  It is here to stay and will get more complicated as the processes of privatization continue and poverty bites.
g)      Young Zimbabweans (generically speaking) will continue to seek escape:  Youths will continue trying to leave in order to find jobs (no matter how menial) in the region. Particularly in the informal trade sector. Secondly they will also try and  seek a basic survival salary in the civil service (teaching, local government) and then work on further survival from there. The third option will be joining the security services (police, central intelligence, army).  If they are to engage in political activities it will be to either fit into the already existent patronage system.  There may be one or the other rare occasion where some of the young Zimbabweans may decide to pursue bringing the state to account on the basis of social democratic values, principles and objectives. 

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