The underlying cause of Zimbabwean crisis
2012-11-29, Issue 608
The ruling party Zanu PF, under the leadership of Robert Mugabe lost support as it failed to develop a credible economic strategy, which then resulted in deteriorating governance and, ultimately, paralysis.
Like in many African countries in the new millennium, the leadership has become so used to administering a country where a rich resource base coexists with endemic poverty. Some of its elements globe-trot with amazing frequency using scarce public resources to international meetings that highlight the dangers of presiding over polities where hunger and poverty are a daily experience for most people. They deliberate extensively on why governments should not implement policies that exacerbate existing inequalities. They read reports of how bad things are in their countries which emphasize how difficult it is to sustain this amazing world of contrasts, but continue with the business as usual syndrome leaving you to wonder where they are heading us to.
Surprisingly, the dosages of the messages warning them to consider pro-poor, broad-based and inclusive approaches to development is so high to the extent that if it was tinkered with alcohol, they would all be dangerously tipsy by now. In many African countries, for those who stay at home and do not fraternise at these meetings, they have become so fox-holed by their fear of what will happen next, and when coxed to come out, you will invariably see them touring using their SUVs on roads that are badly potholed and you wonder where they were when the tarmac was being eroded. Some of them shamelessly drive on the wrong side of the road if the condition of the road on their side is deemed life threatening and terrify motorists and pedestrians alike by their noisy sirens and bikers or outriders who behave like outlaws disregarding the fact that they are displacing the rightful users of the facility.
This leadership style triggers complex governance problems which inevitably lead to serious deficiencies in democratic credentials to the extent that the public opinion both at home and abroad sees departure from office as the only solution in the short term. The leadership has indeed turned into the proverbial rulers who do not either listen or serve their people.
A cursory glance at the leadership’s lifestyle will reveal an insatiable penchant for luxury and accumulation that is well beyond its means, which can only be sustained by allowing institutions they run and control to collapse and rot to such an extent that transparency and accountability will be severely compromised. We must appreciate that within these spaces, there are people who want to do the right thing, but are overwhelmed by the sheer weight of trying to keep things together especially when they realise that most of their colleagues have been compromised.
Far from defending the existence of a developmental state, they work in cahoots with the IMF and World Bank to instil values of profit making and cost recovery from their citizens at the expense of providing decent public service. As they unbundle the public sector, it is ironic that the politicians and their relatives emerge as the winners through engaging in primitive accumulation and rent seeking activities that are tantamount to mugging the state and the rest of the country’s population. No wonder they can live with a clean conscience when they walk out of their offices having approved budgets to buy themselves expensive luxurious cars and perpetually shelve into the pending trays proposals and budget requests that will address citizens’ quest for clean water for example, let alone the new battle with primitive and mediaeval diseases like typhoid and cholera that are creeping back into our civilisation with devastating consequences.
For a country like Zimbabwe, this state of affairs has its roots in different processes. We have already acknowledged that the existence of governance challenges that led to the institution of a government of national unity should be cited as one cause of the crisis. We, however, want to zero in on, for example, the impact of colonialism instead of wishing it away as some pro-democracy activists have been insisting.
Colonialism was predicated on an ideology of white supremacy. It created an enclave of privileges that were backed by a formal economy which employed not more than one fifth of the country’s labour force and largely benefited a white minority grouping and officially discriminated against the rest of the country’s population.
From 1980-1990, the government retained the system of controls and inward-oriented policies that were used before independence. In all fairness, it should be acknowledged that it emphasized social welfare, which saw health care and education in particular receiving much attention but could not be sustained without robust growth, was disrupted by the 1991 IMF/World Bank-triggered structural adjustment programme. The SAP period (1991-1996) set the economy on a market-oriented path thus entrenching the dual and enclave structure of the economy.
We classify 1997-2008 as the crisis period which started in earnest in November 1997 following the depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar after an unbudgeted gratuity and pension payout to pacify an increasingly vociferous section of liberation war fighters. A series of knee-jerk, fire-fighting reactionary policies were marked by policy inconsistencies, contradictions and reversals. Not surprisingly, such policy incoherence saw the economy descend into hyperinflation in August 2007, and paralysis in 2007-2008, leading to the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) by the three main political parties in September 2009 following the contested elections of 2008.
Decades later, the non-formal segment where the majority of the people were restricted to, seems to have been more entrenched, hence the crisis of the post colonial state and the confusion that surrounds the ruling elite within the African populations. We also have to appreciate the fact that macro-economic policies based on growth and development of the formal sector over the years have done little to improve the livelihoods of the majority of the people who work in the informal and communal sectors.
This argument runs through the recently unveiled book ‘Beyond the Enclave’ whose popular version is titled ‘Pro-poor and Inclusive development in Zimbabwe’ all available here. It builds on the experience gathered during the groundbreaking analysis of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), and captured in the publication ‘Beyond ESAP’ produced in 1996. The book marked a new epoch for the labour movement, where we saw some movement beyond just criticizing government policies to offering detailed policy alternatives. It also marked an attempt by the labour movement to put together its positions into a cogent policy framework covering the macro and sectoral levels.
The ‘Beyond ESAP’ book therefore provided a reference point for the policies of the ZCTU, and was extensively utilized by policy makers, academics, students, and other interested parties. The government team working on the Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST), 1996-2000, also utilized the report extensively. Furthermore, the far-reaching recommendations of the ‘Beyond ESAP’ study, notably the proposal to establish a national institutional framework for stakeholder participation in national decision-making processes, the Zimbabwe Economic Development Council (ZEDC), culminated in the formation of the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF) in July 1997 and the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) in September 1998.
Most African economies are characterized by the existence of two radically different sectors: a modern or formal segment employing a small proportion of the labour force, and a traditional or non-formal segment employing the bulk of the labour force. This feature is a product of colonial capitalism that captured a small segment of the economy, the formal sector, leaving the bulk of the economy (non-formal segment) under pre-capitalist modes of production.
The post-independence policies have dismally failed to deal with this structural deformity. As such, this disarticulate structure implies that the formal sector has a growth momentum of its own, and relates to the non-formal segment in a manner that marginalizes and impoverishes the latter, resulting in uneven development – indeed an enclave economy. This structural distortion implies that even in the presence of growth, the economy is unable to absorb the vast numbers of the un- and under-employed into the mainstream economy.
We do find that in this scenario, the post-independence leadership propped up policies that failed to address the inherited enclave structure of the economy, resulting in the continued marginalization of the majority of the population, and the entrenchment of poverty. In Zimbabwe for example, by 2004, instead of the formalization of the economy, four out of every five jobs were informalized, with the decent work deficits that this implies. This is the underlying factor behind the current crisis. The solution should therefore be steeped in the adoption of people-driven policies that redress this enclave and dual structure to achieve inclusive growth and human development.
“Beyond the Enclave” has very interesting observations.
The Zimbabwean economy of 1996 was barely recognizable, having gone through eleven years of crisis (1997-2008), and far-reaching changes. The economy analyzed in the ‘Beyond ESAP’ study and the one existing now are structurally different. For instance, a year before the onset of the crisis (1996) Zimbabwe’s GDP of US$8.6 billion was the second largest of the 15-country SADC, behind that of South Africa at US$143.7 billion. At the height of the economic paralysis in 2008, Zimbabwe’s GDP reached only US$4.8 billion, falling to the rank of eleventh in SADC, a position that was maintained in 2009. Instructively, while South Africa’s GDP was almost 17 times that of Zimbabwe in 1996, it was almost 58 times larger by 2008.
Looking at the periods 1980-89 and 1990-99, Zimbabwe’s real GDP growth at 5.2 percent and 2.6 percent in these periods was higher than the average for Sub-Saharan Africa at 2.2 percent and 2 percent. In the new millennium (2000-2006), the average GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa increased by 4.6 percent while Zimbabwe’s decreased by 5.8 percent. Zimbabwe’s persistent decline since the late 1990s does not, therefore, follow the general trend. Most African countries took advantage of the commodity price boom of 2002-2007 to improve their performances.
Such has been Zimbabwe’s fall in status that a country that used to be in the medium human development category is now at the bottom of the 169 countries reported on in the 2010 Global Human Development Report. As the economy collapsed, Zimbabwe’s human resources went into the Diaspora. Today almost a third of the population is living abroad.
Given the previous failures of the Zimbabwean state, there is a strong case for rebuilding and strengthening its role to transform it into an ethical, accountable developmental state that upholds good governance and promotes sustainable human development. This is turn calls for the strengthening of the national institutional framework for broad-based stakeholder participation in decision making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
As noted in “Beyond the Enclave” and “Pro-poor and Inclusive development in Zimbabwe”, we must all realise that the developmental states proposed in the books will not emerge on their own. This will require nothing short of mass movements galvanised by mobilisation, consultations, debate, engagement, action and reflection.
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* Thomas Deve is a pan-Africanist currently based at the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information Negotiations Institute (SEATINI-Zimbabwe). Contact email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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