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Goodbye 2020, Welcome 2021

By Eddie Cross

What a year this has been, not many of us would want to see a repeat. But has it been so bad really? In Zimbabwe we started the year with 700 per cent inflation, a balanced budget but much diminished incomes and an economy which was already in steep decline. Then Covid in March. What more could this world of ours throw at us?

Former BULAWAYO South MDC-T legislator, Eddie Cross
Former BULAWAYO South MDC-T legislator, Eddie Cross

The answer was a lot more if we could take it. My own view is that we had Covid 19 quite early on. The flow of Chinese to and from Africa is pretty constant in this part of the world and I think it came and swept through our population like a bush fire.

My own daughter had it in January and my grandson a month later, all the symptom’s, just not the diagnosis. Thus by the time the world started to panic, little old Zimbabwe already had had it and was now going to show the world what ‘herd immunity’ looks like.

By June the fundamentals had started to look better and when the figures for the second quarter came out I was actually quite pleased, by contrast the South African numbers were stunning – a 74 per cent reduction in manufacturing output after they had imposed one of the harshest lockdowns ever. Their GDP numbers fell out the bottom of the bucket and their numbers of infections and deaths began to escalate.

In the third quarter things picked up a bit in SA while here in Zimbabwe our hospitals were dealing with a tiny number of cases, major renovations to create capacity for Covid sufferers went unutilised. Death rates remained almost constant. On top of that our exchange rates stabilised at about 82 to 1, our inflation numbers fell dramatically month on month and we started to see a resurgence of economic activity. This recovery gathered momentum in the last quarter and I have little doubt that when the numbers come in our GDP will have actually recovered to previous levels.

A year end is always a time for reflection and remembrance. It is now three years since we retired Mr. Mugabe and allowed his lifelong lieutenant, Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over.

Mugabe ran this country as his personal fiefdom and controlled all aspects of life and when his personal power was threatened he lashed out at all those he thought to be responsible and nearly destroyed the country.

Who can forget Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina and the 100 billion dollar bills? The empty shops and filling stations, prices doubling every three hours and the desperate poverty and hunger. There was a time when this, once major food exporter, had to rely on the international community for the basic needs of over 70 per cent of our people.

5 million Zimbabweans fled to greener pastures and over 3 million died from every possible cause you can imagine. We had the highest mortality in the world for women in childbirth, the highest mortality of children under 5 and our life expectancy collapsed from 64 at Independence to 37. In 2008 we were the poorest people on earth.

When the army took control in November 2017, we poured out onto the streets to show our support. Millions gathered in Highfield to celebrate the removal of a Dictator that we had once seen as a saviour. Anything could be better. Now, three years later we have to ask ourselves are we better off and will next year be any better? I think the answer to both those questions is yes and here is why.

In 2013, the only really long lasting outcome of the short lived Government of National Unity was the adoption of a new indigenous, national Constitution. Crafted out of a process of national consultation and intensive negotiations, this promised a country with a democratic electoral system, improved respect for human rights and devolved power away from Harare.

The problem was that in the subsequent 4 years not a single major feature of the new Constitution was adopted and implemented. As once senior member of the Government said to me in 2016, it’s just a piece of paper.

Today, 140 major Acts of Parliament have been amended and brought into line with the new Constitution. All the new institutions designed by the authors to protect the rule of law, human rights, to curb and deal with corruption have been formed and their activities controlled by Boards selected by an open process dictated by the Constitution. Is it perfect, by no means, is it progress, for sure!

The 2018 election was probably the most democratic held since Independence and certainly was much more in line with international practice than virtually any election that I took part in, either as an MDC activist or as a Member of Parliament myself.

When the opposition challenged the result they made a fool of themselves by the paucity of their evidence and it was thrown out by the highest Court in the land. Mr. Mnangagwa won re-election by the skin of his teeth – but he won with a majority vote. Was it a hallmark event? No – but my goodness the President gambled everything on the outcome.

Then came the TSP – the Transitional Stabilisation Program. 328 pages long, none of us read it, but it was the Presidents road map to 2021. Unlike all the administrations before him, he stuck to his plan and administered the medicine we all had to take to restore the ship of State to a condition where it would be stable, have enough ballast in the bottom of the boat and be able to start out to sail to 2030 where he said he wanted Zimbabweans to become a middle income country.

On day one of the new Government he faced fierce opposition from elements in his own Party – the G40, the Mugabe old guard, disgruntled elements in the security services and in civil society and near total scepticism in the international Community.

He took over an economy that was on its knees – a 40 per cent budget deficit, a massive current account deficit, a totally overvalued currency called the RTGS – one of the first of the world’s new electronic currencies. 70 percent of all food being imported, 6 per cent of the population in paid employment, massive over employment in the Civil Service, bankrupt local authorities and two thirds of the population on food aid.

On top of this he made the mistake of over promising reform and when his own grip on power was threatened, had to crack down on dissent. When opposition to his reform agenda inside the power structures of the country halted the reforms or even reversed them, he lost all credibility with the international Community and in the Multilateral Institutions. His critics asked, ‘Is he really in charge?’

But despite all of this he stuck to his Stabilisation Program and the benefits are now slowly coming to fruition. We have got the budget under control, the Reserve Bank is following, our fiscal affairs are in order and we now have a small, but significant balance of payments surplus.

There are no shortages of anything in our economy and our domestic business sector and exports are growing strongly. In my view, with the changes made to agriculture in the past two years, we at last can look forward to once again feeding ourselves. On top of all that, we have started to reform our Civil Service and with it right sizing and are now a stable Member of the African Community of States.

I see no reason why 2021, should not see more of the same and the fruits of the sacrifices made in the past three years now coming to the people of this long suffering little country.

Eddie Cross is a former opposition MDC MP for Bulawayo South and a respected economist. You can follow his blog African Herd

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