In this present crisis, the government is not a solution to our problem: the government is the problem

By Tafi Mhaka

When Shingai Sibanda, a family man and school teacher since the early 1990s is struggling to secure high school, college and university fees for his three daughters: is it fair to deduce that life will not change that much under the “new” administration, unless of course, Zimbabwe discovers a fresh vision for the future?

Tafi Mhaka
Tafi Mhaka

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has stuck to the opaque prerogative that his much-discredited predecessor relied on time and again since 1980 and selected an uninspiring cabinet out of the fear that he could disappoint a clique of powerful securocrats headed by the freshly retired General Constantine Chiwenga.

But such individual discretion is simply archaic, needlessly exclusionary and so unhelpful for a fragile state and an all-inclusive and progressive change in how the cabinet is chosen is required.

A question and answer (Q&A) confirmation process conducted in parliament could help alleviate the dreadful reality that too much power is invested in the office of the president and expose the strengths and weaknesses and, quite regularly, plain ineligibility and dodgy dealings of certain cabinet choices.

Plus, a legal must for cabinet nominees to undergo exhaustive tax and financial examinations could instil confidence in government structures and eliminate long-held and well-founded fears that wealthy and connected criminals can easily hold high office. Recently, there have been a raft of calls on social media for Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu to be investigated for corruption.

And because the cabinet selection process is always shrouded in absolute confidentiality who actually knows what the new cabinet Mnangagwa chose stands good for? Nobody really knows why he chose ministers such as Air Marshal Perence Shiri and Major- General Sibusiso Moyo.

Nobody knows whether Shiri and Moyo truly respect the rule of the law and value the aspirations of the common man and woman walking down George Silundika Avenue in Harare.

For example: how will Moyo approach the impending electoral chaos Joseph Kabila has dished up in DR Congo, the implosion of the junta formerly headed by the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, people smuggling in the Sahel region, botched presidential elections in Kenya and Liberia, the threat of Boko Haram and armed extremist groups in West Africa and the appalling humans rights records of the military regimes in Egypt, Equatorial Guinea and North Korea?

The Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister could and should have shared his views on the deplorable situation in Venezuela and the ethnic cleansing crisis in Myanmar and the role of the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) in such cases through a confirmation process that could help align government policies with general expectations which express the collective will to create a highly developed nation.

But can a Southern African nation ruled through the tank-filled shenanigans of November 14, 2017, and led by a man who has a suspect human rights record, succeed in a technology driven and free market global economy?

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa allocated $420 million to the defence forces in his budget speech on December 6 and much less to the health ($408 million) and higher education ($306 million) portfolios. How will this skewed form of economic governance help Zimbabwe rival nations such as Taiwan, Singapore, South Africa and Switzerland in trade matters?

And how on earth will a disproportionately high defence budget help raise the GDP of Zimbabwe in 2018 and reduce high levels of impoverishment when the sum of a glorified defence force and militant ethos in a relatively peaceful and stable SADC region has so far totalled 90% unemployment?

A fresh and readjusted focus on science and technology and productive industries could produce great economic returns in the long run and help lessen an unnecessarily wasteful and redundant old school fascination with military might.

A new vision, coupled with a massive, strategic and well-executed shift in national policy could be the solution to the debilitating economic woes Zimbabwe is engulfed by.

Look at how Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon dominate the information technology space. America has a business-minded vision and a defence and diplomatic strategy that enable a capitalist brand of imperialism and global leadership.

And what about Japan? Look at how Japan became the second richest nation on earth after World War 2. Japan excelled after an extensive phase of social and political reforms and enforced military inaction.

Additionally, see how political neutrality has helped Sweden build a rich and sophisticated society, one where the International Monetary Finance (IMF) estimates that the average income per person in 2016 stood at roughly $49 800? 

Now compare these rich and highly instructive insights with how Zimbabwe has struggled to develop a successful economy through an aggressive national character founded on a 1970s war philosophy. 

With the 30 000-member strong Zimbabwe National Defence (ZDF) expending a significant chunk of the budget for no clear and valid reason and a freshly crowned class of heroes from the fanciful November 14 revolution expecting a lifetime of cash, generous benefits and political influence, what will the economic endgame for Zimbabwe look like? 

The real economic and social revolution will be achieved through the unacknowledged financial breakthroughs of honest and hardworking businesspersons building small and medium scale companies that champion industrial and scientific innovation and create jobs and wealth.

So, yes: it is time to ask: will Zimbabwe emulate Switzerland and embrace a foreign and military policy similar to “Swiss neutrality,” and concentrate heavily on commercial growth with a strong humanitarian bias? This model helped Switzerland achieve a GDP per capita (PPP) of US$59,561 in 2017.

Alternatively, will Zimbabwe attempt to copy Taiwan and become an ‘African Tiger,’ and shoot for exponential commercial growth through the establishment of world-class technology companies? Taiwan, which has a PPP of slightly above $49 000, scores highly in terms of freedom of the press, healthcare, public education, economic freedom and human development.

If the Taiwanese model is not a desirable and feasible model, will Zimbabwe slowly develop into the African version of Myanmar? The South-East Asian nation, which is ruled by a de facto junta, exhibits all the deplorable markers of a failed state. And the government has been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide with regards to the Rohingya people. Predictably, Myanmar has a a 37% jobless rate, high levels of extreme poverty and a PPP of $5 883.

So Zimbabwe must make crucial choices and follow an economic and social development model that works well for all. At a time when the richest nations will spare no expense to sponsor groundbreaking research and development (R&D) programmes that can create immense wealth and millions of jobs is Zimbabwe actually well-placed to build a first-class economy?

Tellingly – and ironically, on the day that Nelson Chamisa and Tendai Biti appeared before the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health in Washington DC, in a move that infuriated the Zimbabwean government and sparked a fresh debate on the impact of targeted economic sanctions, American tech conglomerate Alphabet announced that it had established an Artificial Intelligence (AI) research centre in China.

Alphabet owns Google, Calico, GV, CapitalG, Verily, Waymo, X, Nest Labs and Google Fiber. Despite having withdrawn its search services from China in 2010, after attempts to censor the free flow of information by Chinese authorities, Google regards China as a lucrative source of AI technology and know-how.

China today is responsible for 20% of global R&D expenditure, according to the U.S. National Science Board. The Asian nation is keen on discouraging a historical reliance on American software and technology. And a report published by the Japan Science and Technology Agency ranked China as the leading research nation in computer science, mathematics, materials science and engineering.

However, what is Zimbabwe doing  to shake off a flawed obsession with the defence forces and an exorbitant and shameful dependence on foreign aid, foreign goods and foreign technologies?

How is the government promoting research and development within essential industries when funding for the actual foundation of a decent education – Early Child Development (ECD) classes – has been cut?

A drastic reduction in the size of the ZDF and a fresh developmental focus could see Zimbabwe on the road to becoming an economic powerhouse. Anything less at this critical economic and humanitarian juncture could condemn Zimbabwe to a never-ending African struggle. 

Now, I have three uncles who fought in the liberation war struggle. I have two uncles who served in the ZDF after independence. I lost a cousin to the Congo civil war. So I have always appreciated the selfless dedication of ZDF staff. 

But as much as I have respect for the contributions of ZDF foot soldiers before and after independence, I know the Shiri-led 5th Brigade killed thousands of innocent civilians in the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s and ZDF personnel harassed and assaulted MDC supporters in the 2000 and 2008 elections.

So I think the ZDF lost its way and relevance a long time ago since it has abused its constitutional mandate on a regular basis and acted in favour of one-sided actors while trampling on common human, economic and electoral rights. Quite frankly, the ZDF should never have been at war with the people. Ever.

All we need is a lean, professional and skilled force that can handle modern defensive challenges and enhance economic activities and much less of a costly gung ho approach to defence.

And all the nation needs is a small government structure that promotes entrepreneurship and commercial entities. As Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the US, put it in his inaugural address on January 20, 1981: “In this present crisis, government is not a solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Government interference in commercial business include ownership of loss making companies such as Net-One and Air Zimbabwe and the Supa Mandiwanzira-led controversial $40 million takeover of telecommunications firm Telecel in 2015.

Yet the difference between the continental growth of the privately-owned Econet Wireless and the woeful performance of Net-One since 1999 stresses the need for small and efficient government and minimal interference in commercial affairs. Command economies do not augur well for economic development.

That has been proven in North Korea, Russia, China, Poland, DR Congo and former USSR states. So it is hardly surprising that a lot of parastatals are failed businesses.

It is time for the state to leave commercial affairs to real businesspersons and concentrate on service delivery. Needless to say, Zimbabwe must be guided by a solid vision and not populist ideals.

Our societal successes and happiness will not rest on the offensive capabilities of the ZDF, command economics or lousy sloganeering. Our communal successes will evolve from the intellectual and practical capabilities of today’s students: tomorrow’s free market entrepreneurs.

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