By Takura Zhangazha*
It was never going to be an inspirational state of the nation address. President Mugabe rarely does government speeches that way. Briefly but carefully crafted to assuage the fears of the international community, this state of the nation address appeared more like a somewhat politically correct business plan. Hence the ten point plan that indicates what should be pretty much obvious in government planning the world over.
Despite this, the speech by the president to our parliament is of national importance given the fact that it outlines governments policy intentions. At least for the next twelve months.
There were no controversial references to the issues of sanctions, indigenization and the fast track land reform programme. Instead the language was an attempt to present an organized government that is working systematically to make the national economy ‘business friendly’ or as the president put it, to ‘enhance the ease of doing business’.
For radical nationalists, indigenization supporters this speech will therefore be a disappointing one. For liberals and free market advocates, it will be sweet music to their ears because it confirms what those of us on the left have always feared. This being that government's economic template is essentially neo-liberal. This with the added caveat of state capitalism as exemplified by China and more closer to home, Angola.
The broad focus of government therefore appears to be that of creating an economic environment that suits or at least lures foreign direct investment. The familiar intentions of establishing public private partnerships was to be found in the speech indicating a planned processes of commercializing public services. This will largely be undertaken through the reforms that the president stated would be done to state owned enterprises (parastatals). This would also include reviewing the salaries of the heads of these enterprises, a point that one would be forgiven for defining as closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The phrase and term ‘modernisation of labour laws’ was rather interesting given the fact that we have seen the loss of jobs by thousands in recent months. Apart from stating that there shall be the amendment of the current Labour Act to remove its common law provisions, the president did not take what would have been the populist side of the workers. Instead he claimed that government would seek a win-win approach in labour relations between the employer and the employee. Again, an indication of the clear plan to make the ‘ease of doing business’ apparent for investors. These investors tellingly and according to the President include the Diaspora which he implored to invest in the country.
On social service delivery, the President mentioned with gratitude how health services provision has been assisted by the Chinese government through a special loan. He however did not mention the extent to which government would act beyond this particular loan to address the high costs of medical treatment and the continual lack of modern medical equipment in our hospitals.
The reference to the digitization programme in the speech is an important one in relation to the envisioned changes to what remains of Zimbabwe’s media industry. The $125million dollars that government has committed to this is the largest investment in telecommunications infrastructure in our country’s history. Perhaps out of international necessity but one cannot doubt that government regards the media with great importance. Media stakeholders would be well advised to follow this particular development keenly as it will eventually deal with issues of media ownership, media content expansion and regulation of cyberspace. The signs are already there in relation to the tiff between mobile phone company, Econet and Minister Mandiwanzira over the sharing of infrastructure.
The other issue that is important to flag out was the president’s reference to climate change as one of the key causes of our frequent droughts and maize shortages. What was however lacking was an explanation of governments climate change policy and solutions to these frequent droughts. Especially given the fact that there is the global conference on climate change scheduled for Paris, France this November.
There were however important national issues that were starkly absent from Mugabe’s speech. These include his governments plans for the young people of Zimbabwe as well as how it intends to make the new constitution more democratically relevant to the country’s citizens.
In the final analysis, the state of the nation address, brief as it was, reflected a government keen on pleasing international investors more than the people of Zimbabwe. And this is the stark reality of its neo-liberal intentions under the aegis of state capitalism. We would do well to ask for social democracy sooner or suffer the burden of our ongoing economic downturn coupled with general political repression.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)