Neo-Liberal Economic Blueprints versus an Urgent Pursuit of Contextual Social Democracy
A Presentation to the Media Center Roundtable Discussion
By Takura Zhangazha*
Tuesday 29 September 2015, Harare.
Thank you for inviting me to this particular discussion on the matter of economic blueprints as they have been presented to the people of Zimbabwe largely through the media. I specifically mention that they have been presented mainly through the media because of their technocratic and inorganic origins. This is because they, to all intents and purposes, have been drafted in boardrooms and with the general intention at demonstrating knowledge of global economic trends and serving what would be referred to as the Zimbabwean ‘market’ on a platter to international investors. Sadly that platter is not at all silver.
Perhaps this is understandable given the commandist structure of our political culture. Things generally come from the top and by way of instruction or coercion are given to the masses as concluded frameworks.
The main political party economic blueprints can be outlined as Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zimasset- ruling party Zanu Pf) or the alternative ones Jobs Upliftment Investment and Capital (Juice, MDC-T); Holistic Programme for Economic Transformation (Hope, PDP); Access to Resources, Control, Transformation, Innovation, Organised Institutions, New Technologies and Sustainability (Action-MDC) and of late Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development (BUILD-Joice Mujuru).
There is one that was recently announced by the pressure group Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition referred to as Zimbabwe Social Market Agenda for Recovery and Transformation (ZimSmart).
The one common thread in all of these blueprints is their indubitable praise of the neo-liberal economic template that is commonly referred to as the ‘free market’. So one will find common phrases in these documents such as ‘foreign direct investment’, ‘public-private partnership’, ‘beneficiation’ and ‘property rights’ and of course ‘the market’.
A peculiar difference between governments Zimasset and the alternatives proposed is that the former does not specifically laud ‘good governance and democracy’ which appears to be integral to all the others.
What is however particularly interesting is the fact that there is general agreement, probably by default, that the way to go with Zimbabwean economics is to embrace neo-liberalism. For the purposes of clarity, neo-liberalism refers to the ideological template in which the role of the state is generally diminished in favor of the free market in all spheres of economic activity including social service delivery. This is the same philosophy that informed economic structural adjustment and continues to guide the Word Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its dealing with not only Zimbabwe but the world.
Only one manifesto directly mentions its neo-liberal intent, and that is the BUILD one done by Joice Mujuru. The others, have varying forms of commitment to neo-liberalism. In the case of government via Zimasset, it has decided to embark on a state capitalism version of the same. This is where the state functions essentially as a private business entity. In the process it creates a new state and ruling party affiliated elite businesses and investments accompanied by political control and in most case direct repression of dissenting voices. For an example of such a system, one need look no further than Angola.
The other variation which has been in vogue for some time now and is largely a revisionist ‘third way’ approach that is facing resistance in parts of Europe and north America. It is referred to in some of the alternatives under scrutiny at this meeting as the ‘democratic developmental state’. This concept as referred to in some of the manifestos that are being proffered as alternatives refers to a state in which there is the embrace of democratic values as a functional pretext for free market economics.
A key component of such a state in Africa’s context is that of public private partnerships and foreign direct investment for infrastructure building and agricultural development. Transparency and accountability are touted as key components of this model but in the final analysis it falls squarely into the fold of neo-liberal economics that respond more to capital than the needs of the people. It essentially ends up as centralist and as repressive as is the current case in Ethiopia.
Essentially therefore the blueprints that are fully or partly in the public domain and stemming from political parties and components of liberal civil society speak more to established notions of free market epistemology as a panacea to Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.
My own view however is that these propositions are as opportunistic as they are primed to fit into a de-contextualised global economic progress narrative.
They miss the historicity of our economic challenges in relation to the fact that we are still under the aegis of the structural settler economy where it concerns distribution of goods, services and jobs.
What we essentially require is a contextualized social democratic economic template that understands that if we are to have a fair, equitable and just society, everyone must be given a fair, equitable start. I specifically mention ‘contextual social democracy’ because our liberation struggle was predicated on the same said values of social and economic justice. And we have not fully explored this social democratic pretext of our liberation struggle. We have experimented with commandist socialism, neo-liberalism but have rarely sought to imbue our national economic policies with a people centered ethos and framework.
To explain contextual social democracy further, it is necessary to outline a few points. The fact of our current economic crisis is that the gap between the rich, politically connected elite and the majority poor has grown wider. Not just in monetary terms but also in relation to the basic necessities of life such as access to health, education, public transport and basic employment.
So we need to re-establish common baselines to our collective economic livelihoods. And this is what contextual social democracy would entail.
The state must have a direct role in the provision of health, public transport, education, water, shelter and electricity. Such a role would steer clear of public private partnerships in order to ensure that these services are not subject to the profit motives of companies. This basic contextual social democracy will require organic accountability from the state to its citizens. It is from such a pretext that we can have a broader understanding of our national economy and negotiate much better with global capital and in the interests of the majority. All in the interests of functioning not only in the immediate but particularly for posterity.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)