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‘We do not need a comedian at the helm of this ship that is sinking fast’

Covid-19 brought lockdowns which have wrecked both rich and poor economies across the globe. The important task at hand for governments is to recover and build from the harm which was done.

It would be an easier task if inflation, rising energy costs and a proxy war were not added to the mix. The threat of a global recession looms and no country is safe. Zimbabwe too will not be an exception.

A recent poll in the US showed President Joe Biden’s approval ratings by the American people at 40%. This is a historically low level of support. The sluggish performance of the US economy has largely lowered his ratings.

The Federal Reserve has increased its benchmark interest rate by 75 basis points recently. It is the biggest hike since 1994. Meanwhile other political leaders have not been so lucky. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka torpedoed the government. The former president, Rajapaksa now lives in exile.

More than 100 000 protesters stormed his residence demanding his scalp. He was very lucky to escape the country alive. He is currently holed up at a secret location in Thailand. You would think such incidents would serve as lessons to certain African leaders.

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In a rare moment of candour Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary George Guvamatanga told the President of Zimbabwe that it is government itself driving inflation. Whether this was a Freudian slip or otherwise I do not know. What I do know was it was his first time to be truthful since he took the oath of office.

Perhaps his conscience has not been very forgiving after his rather, er nonfactual explanation alongside the infamous Dr Panonetsa about what civil servants were paid during the Government of National Unity.

Of course, how can we talk about the economy of Zimbabwe and not mention Dr Panonetsa’s distinguished contributions. He is the man who promised us 1:1 Gedye! The man swore on the 14th of September in 2016 that if the Bond Note project were to fail, he would resign.

Imagine where we would be as a country without a central bank chief of such great talent and integrity?

The President’s response to Secretary Guvamatanga was interesting. He is not a good orator nor a jester. Also, he is no better an administrator. I cannot imagine his speech writer including a joke about execution squads or decapitating heads in the official speech. At this point it is safe to assume the man was winging it.

As a nation we are still recovering from his horrendous joke about the cold mortuary in Kwekwe. In the hall of fame of the most awful things said by a government official this surely take the prize. Someone at Munhumutapa building should tell the boss man that his jokes are not funny at all.

That person should also tell ED that Zimbabweans do not need a comedian at the helm of this ship that is sinking fast. We have more than our fair share of talented comedians as a nation. The country needs astute leadership in these times of uncertainty.

It is important to distinguish between strong leadership and strongman tactics.

Strongman tactics employ intimidation and the threat of punishment to convince rather than rational arguments. People end up agreeing and complying because of fear. Businesses operators have to comply because of the hostile threats of shamhu ine munyu!

For a country that is not at war, the political leaders rely too much on threats and coercion. Why are threats of revoking business licenses the first port for violating an obscure Act or statutory instrument whose objective is to create arbitrage for a few bigwigs?

Strongman tactics are not exclusive to CEO’s and boardrooms. They are also the regime’s preferred weapon against political opponents. It is very disheartening to witness such abuse against the likes of MP Job Sikhala and his constituents from Nyatsime.

Strong leadership is about delivering a shared vision through accountability and self-awareness. A self-aware leader is aware of their strengths and weaknesses and leverages on these to achieve success for all.

African leaders generally do not take kindly to criticism. This phenomenon is not particular to Zimbabwe only. They would rather be surrounded by sycophants who sing for their supper than advisors who are competent enough to challenge nonsense policies.

Somehow, I can understand why the experts are not so generous with their opinions. They will rather keep their thoughts to themselves if it means they get to keep their heads on their shoulders.

At some point the preferred method was road traffic accidents especially at remote rail crossings. Nowadays they prefer abductions under the cover of darkness. That way they inflict twice the damage by striking fear into the hearts of other malcontents.

The technocrats in government know the critical structural reforms that are needed. To shore up foreign exchange reserves. To reduce the current account deficit. Increase exports by stimulating and developing exporting industries et cetera. It is not rocket science. It is economics supported by sensible politics.

It was John F Kennedy who said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

Clinton Siniwa is a UK based Zimbabwean Chartered Accountant. You can engage him on Twitter @ClintSiniwa

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