Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Zim's Economic Woes. Beyond Anger and In Search of 'Base and Superstructure'



By Takura Zhangazha*
 
Discussing the national economic situation in Zimbabwe is a highly political exercise.  There is always the one main actor or cause of the dire situation, namely government.  Reasons, arguments are either around the fact that no country is going to help us as long as the current president is in office or the allegation that the entirety of government is corrupt.  The politics continues further with arguments about how the ‘economy cannot be rigged’ or how the market will eventually force either a collapse or resignation of government. 

Enter the bond notes and debate goes from loud to near apoplectic for reasons that have been explained in many a column since their introduction was announced.  When there are revelations of alleged corrupt activities/tenders/ at parastatals or in government, the debate, though not as apoplectic, hones back to politics and the politically connected elite. 

There are however no big demonstrations against the corruption, for now, save for those organised by the mainstream opposition MDCT against bond notes.  

Smaller actions such as that of activists staging sit/sleep ins at Africa Unity Square or protesting at the Rainbow Towers hotel against Vice President Mphoko’s long duree hotel stay have made waves on social media and the internet. 

All of these actions are a clear sign at a simmering popular anger about the state of the economy. Or at least at specific issues related to the economy. Even if that anger has not translated into more effective action that forces the government to rectify its policies.
What we have however not been doing is to analyse our national economy more holistically. Both in ideological and performance measurement terms. 

Those of us from the left have been trying to review the economy from what we would call its realistic prism.  Ever since government announced that its economic priority is ‘the ease of doing business’ it has become clearer that ours is a free market economy. Largely by default but also by way of announced policy intention.

Its primary characteristic is outsourcing state functions to private entities and ensuring that primary social services, such as health, education are privatised. It also follows the dictates of th World Bank/IMF with regards to monetary policies (including the quantiative easing that is the bond note introduction) and tends to be highly dependent on their expertise of how the economy should be run.   Furthermore it is an economy in which the emergence/rise religious fervor, gambling and individualism are actively encouraged.

 As a result it comes with all the signs of social breakdown and the emergence of personality/celebrity style politics.  Money and patronage become the functional cornerstone of politics. And while we rail against imperialism and the sort, we remain highly reliant on foreign aid in times of natural disasters such as the current drought we are experiencing. 

This is essentially where we are as a country. And one would be forgiven for thinking or stating that’s a little too much to put on one plate. Or that this is the preserve of economists and intellectuals.
On the contrary this should be everyone’s debate and analysis. At least until a clear alternative that can be democratically applied to our context is widely accepted.  

What the period of the inclusive government indicated was that the free market/neo-liberal economic template adopted by both Zanu Pf and the MDCs, can temporarily lead to a bubble that once again has burst in the context of the cash crisis, the increase in poverty and the failure fo the state to provide affordable social services to the majority of its citizens.  

And what we have also seen is a tragic failure to articulate a comprehensive and holistic alternative by those that are in pursuit of political office.  

Its not as if there are no alternatives. Both at home and abroad there have been various attempts to find a contextual social democratic approach to our national economy. This is where the combination of retention of the state in basic social service provision occurs in tandem with observation of an open, transparent and democratic culture that takes greater priority over the market.  In this, innovation and wealth will not be predicated on corruption as is the case today. Instead it will be based on at least everyone being given a fair start and a fairer life as a Zimbabwean.  

It’s a debate that we should be having.  But where we allow it to appear in pockets, our anger will reflect more an intention to address symptoms as opposed to the actual ailment.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.ocm)