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Tim Mutsekwa: Three things are clear as Zimbabwe enters 2020

By Tim Mutsekwa

Greetings to you all. I believe l find you all in fine fettle, rosy cheeked and unimpaired. We are at the close of another eventful week full of theatrical productions and showmanship.

Tim Mutsekwa
Tim Mutsekwa

Emmerson Mnangagwa has dissuaded Zimbabweans from eating meat saying it was unhealthy for them but should turn to vegetables instead.

He was responding to grievances in an interactive session with a rented crowd which was raising its concerns over the exorbitant prices of basic commodities, including meat, at a national clean-up campaign at Kuwadzana 2 shopping centre in Harare.

Sounds crudely similar, though delivered with much more finesse to Mugabe’s “There are things one must do for oneself. Don’t drink at all, don’t smoke, you must exercise and eat vegetables and fruit.” – During an interview on his 88th birthday, 2012.

Or rather a bastardised version of ‘’Let them eat cake” or more accurately brioche, attributed to Marie Antoinette in 1789 during one of the famines that occurred in France during the reign of her husband, Louis XVI. Upon being told that the people were suffering due to widespread bread shortages.

If further proof was needed of the disdain, arrogance and hopelessly out of touch attitude of Mnangagwa and his coterie of gunslingers.

‘’VISION 2020’’

Three things are clear as Zimbabwe enters what looks set to be a troubled 2020. First, there is a divided leadership, whether rumours of palace coups are real or not.

This is partly because no one knows how to lead Zimbabwe out of its economic mess. And, as things become more chaotic, many in the ruling ZANU-PF party think there is no choice but to brazen out the economic meltdown by ruthlessly squashing any political protest.

As it is, Chiwenga, who reportedly is back in China for an MOT, probably can’t move against Mnangagwa while Cyril Ramaphosa remains president of neighbouring South Africa.

Ramaphosa, who recently called for sanctions to be lifted on Zimbabwe and through SADC is pushing for dialogue between Mnangagwa and President Chamisa has made it very clear behind the scenes that he will not tolerate another coup.

The meagre liquidity which does seep into Zimbabwe comes in large part from South Africa. Squeezing Chiwenga dry by economic means is well within Ramaphosa’s capacity. But while both Mnangagwa and Chiwenga are unwilling or unable to move against each other, Zimbabwe is left with a divided government, a stalemate that means even less agreed action on the economy.

Second, Mnangagwa is genuinely unable to gauge the mood of the people or to understand how deeply they are affected by economic malfunction while they watch the financial malpractice of so many in the ruling elite. It is as if the material comforts of protected suburbs such as Harare’s Borrowdale Brooke insulate the ruling oligarchic elite from any sense of what deprivation means.

Third, the much-touted “technocratic” finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, is out of his depth. Faced with an informal money market where government bond notes were rapidly losing value against the US dollar, and where there was a huge shortage of US dollars, small business operators in Zimbabwe turned to electronic cell phone transactions, establishing a kind of rough and ready but robust virtual economy.

But Ncube’s decision to tax these cell phone transactions immediately knocked the confidence out of that form of exchange. The textbook says you must broaden the tax base and the new tax did just that. But it was also naïve in the extreme, as it broke the back of any vibrancy left in the Zimbabwean street level urban economy.

ADDING FUEL TO THE FIRE

Ncube’s naivety was again seen in the fuel price hike. There is no fuel because the country has insufficient foreign exchange to import the petrol needed.

Again, the textbook says that when supply fails to equal demand you must do one of two things: either increase supply, which is impossible in Zimbabwe or dampen demand.

The price rise sought to achieve the latter, but it brought the possibility of economic life for a huge number of ordinary people to a standstill.

The price of transport into town to work, to look for work or to sell or buy whatever is available in the street markets became prohibitive. One price rise has therefore caused a multiplicity of damaging consequences. Ncube has now introduced a new national currency, rather than future reliance on the US dollar.

This has meant another wave of hyperinflation, the very reason why the previous national currency was abandoned, and the US dollar adopted.

The greatest mistake of the Mugabe years was a refusal to take seriously the simple truth that production leads to exports,and exports earn foreign exchange. Zimbabwe has become a consumer society, led by the political oligarchs, in which the cost of imports far exceeds the returns from exports.

Production has been so undervalued, and so poorly invested in, that it costs more to produce something as basic as a bottle of cooking oil than it does to import it from South Africa. Ncube’s first budget as finance minister was woefully short of meaningful incentives to encourage production and deal with this problem.

We need to adopt policies that recognise the value of foreign exchange and the need to use it responsibly and on a market-driven allocation basis. Right now we have a system that transfers control over foreign exchange from those who have earned it to people who control its allocation as a source of power, influence and privilege.

We need to create a market for foreign exchange that is open, transparent and accessible to all. Then we need to direct all foreign earnings onto that market and allow anyone who wants foreign exchange for any legitimate purpose access to the market at a market price.

And so Zimbabwe is held back by three key things: a quarrel at the top that means government is too preoccupied and divided to focus on proper planning and economic management, lashing out at its own people instead; a disastrous inability to feel the popular pulse, with the ruling oligarchs now living in a hermetically sealed world of their own; and the ongoing economic naivety of those who should be managing the nation’s finances.

Mugabe financed Zimbabwe with massive borrowing. But no one will now lend to Zimbabwe. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) wants its loans repaid.

China is waiting for some sense of fiscal responsibility to return. And South Africa will not give support to allow the purchase of fuel since it also is owed much money by Zimbabwe.

Indeed, even if Mnangagwa does move to meet IMF conditions, it will mean years of even greater austerity for Zimbabweans.

WHAT NEXT

The dispute that Zimbabwe faces, the impasse that is ostensibly holding the country back, is the stalemate between Mnangagwa and President Chamisa and nobody else.

Mnangagwa understands that this stalemate is holding Zimbabwe back and there is need for dialogue, but instead of addressing this, he has gone for an elaborate box-ticking exercise, as if to demonstrate to outsiders that he is doing all in his power to fix Zimbabwe.

Presidential candidates like NCA’s Lovemore Madhuku or Bryn Mteki did not dispute Mnangagwa’s victory and the ‘’votes’’ they got are so insignificant that even if the dialogue with Mnangagwa succeeds, it will not improve Zimbabwe’s economy nor prospects.

Besides the stalemate, the reality is that most Zimbabweans have little or no faith in Mnangagwa and even less faith in Madhuku, Mteki or Thokozani Khupe. The presidential candidates that Mnangagwa is consorting with got a combined 2,7% of the vote, which in all matter of speaking is insignificant to force a dialogue that could drag us out of the economic quagmire.

To end this stalemate, therefore, Mnangagwa needs to end posturing and engage in proper and meaningful dialogue. This first step to begin real dialogue is to end this facade that is now known as the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD), it is pointless and nothing more than an ego-stroking exercise.

Secondly, if it takes moving mountains to bring President Chamisa to the dialogue table, then Mnangagwa has to summon all his strength and do it. Both Mnangagwa and President Chamisa have indicated their willingness to talk, what is holding them back is the content of the talks.

No matter how fraught with difficulties that dialogue may be, it could change the country’s fortunes and so it has to be pursued at all costs. The current dialogue is not a meeting of equals. Rather, one group is absolutely emaciated, and the real power is in the hands of one person.

At best, we can describe this as an echo chamber, where Mnangagwa is happy to meet with people who will only be happy to parrot what he says, or at worst, a monologue, where there is no one with enough standing to oppose him.

South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki was recently in Zimbabwe to explore possibilities of institutionalising inter-party dialogue in order to improve political cooperation for reasons still to be fully unpacked.

During the exploratory phase, the Movement for Democratic Change was clear that it wants inter-party democratic dialogue to deal with transitional justice and national healing, political and economic reforms, international re-engagement and legitimacy deficit.

Zanu PF, meanwhile, wants a multi-party dialogue to deal with sanctions, international re-engagement, the economic crisis and the legitimacy question. 

Firstly, recognising Mnangagwa as the appointed leader. Mbeki will realise when the dialogue reaches the implementation stage that in Zimbabwe electoral campaigning does not end on the voting day.

Rather it starts on the very same day. The polarised positions will remain rigid especially towards 2023 as another general election looms.

Within the framework of a pending general election, no effective dialogue is likely to take place in substance, but in optics. I bid you all adieu, till next time.

Tim Mutsekwa (Political Science and International Relations [University of Greenwich], Secretary for Party Business & Investments [MDC UK & Ireland], Twitter : @tsumekwa

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