ZimAsset vs Command Economy: Factional state capitalism in Zimbabwe
By Takura Zhangazha
When the local state controlled weekly Sunday Mail published a headline story on what it referred to as the ‘command economy’, I was slightly surprised. While it wasn’t a new term from the state and its related ‘news’ machinery, it was clearly a strategic propaganda move intended to remind us of the still to be verified success of the actual official term. ‘command agriculture’ as touted by government officials.
All against the backdrop of the heavy rains that the country received which have heightened anticipation of a bumper harvest.
What is probably happening is that the ruling party assumes that the continuity of its electoral hold on power predicated on the success of the much vaunted ‘command agriculture’ will translate to a new national economic development model.
There are also certain nuances as to whether ‘command economy’ is not a hint of continued contestation between the ‘Lacoste’ or ‘G40’ factions of the ruling Zanu Pf party over what should be a government economic blueprint.
That the Sunday Mail carried such a story as its lead would indicate the same. It is basically an attempt at creating a contest between the official blueprint Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic and Transformation (ZimAsset) and this nascent ‘command economy’ model. Especially with an intention of demonstrating who in the ruling party has a ‘better’ strategy at dealing with the economy.
If the challenges the national economy faces were not so serious I would have said ‘bring out the popcorn and turn up the volume’.
That ‘command economy’ may be a catchy turn of phrase does not however signify a specifically different government macroeconomic policy framework. Neither is it a significant departure from ‘ZimaAsset’.
Based on what has been made public, it is intended to ‘galvanise’ the policy clusters that are under the former. The assumption would be that ZimAsset is not working in its current implementation format and requires much more centralized and direct planning. This would probably then lead to faster results through rapid ‘command’ implementation.
In this regard, ‘command economy’ is essentially an attempt to embolden and speed up a ‘state capitalism’ economic framework as already defined by ZimAsset. This is a framework in which the state and its functionaries (individuals and parastatals) essentially runs like a business i.e for profit. In our specific case, due to cronyism and corruption, this profit is not remitted back to the state, but individuals who are connected to the state or ruling party.
Furthermore, it has no clear public good intentions from the onset. It seeks to provide what should essentially be public service via private profit oriented business models such as the much vaunted public private partnerships. And the key target areas for this are key social services such as provision of water, transport, health, land and education. Hence there is insistence on privatization of water, electricity and health services.
Where government officials talk of the ‘ease of doing business’ it is a combination of neo-liberalism and crony capitalism via access to the state and its resources.
So we can call it ‘ZimAsset’ or ‘command economy’ but the end effect of a neo-liberal and crony capitalism framework is the same. Whether it pits one Zanu Pf faction against another is a matter for those who are more interested in the ruling party’s distractive succession politics (even if by rumour, gossip and innuendo).
And the implementers of it are not only thinking short term i.e get rich quick. They intend to construct a hegemony in which they have a pliant population that regards an elite serving economy as the norm and not an aberration.
In fact they intend to make resistance appear futile by focusing on ‘the money’ minus an ideological contestation. And they now know that the latter is certainly to going to come from the neo-liberal aternatives being espoused by the opposition which, again, as with ‘command economy’ juxtaposed with Zimasset, are two sides of the same coin.
What we have to grapple with in reality is a state that is being led away from what should be its raison d’etre, that is, to serve to the best possible democratic extent, the people.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)