The past few weeks or so have been quite defining for Zimbabwe, particularly on the economic and political fronts.
By Nigel Nyamutumbu
While on one hand, the drama and often comic episodes characterising the so-called presidential youth interface rallies have been providing an unnecessary political sideshow, the economic downturn — characterised by the informal devaluation of the bond note, fuel shortages and multiple pricing —have all been ingredients of a crisis.
Citizens have naturally been rattled by these developments and the entire nation has been gripped by a sense of panic.
Social media has been awash with all sorts — from messages that seek to ignite alarm and despondency among citizens, to some thought-provoking opinions and graphic illustrations of the situation at hand.
Those that can afford and have the financial muscle to buy goods in bulk have been stocking literally everything from fuel, cooking oil to toothpaste, among other household goods in what is being termed “panic-buying”.
These are the majority of citizens lining-up in fuel queues on a daily basis simply because they cannot afford to panic buy and fill up their tanks.
They form a segment of the population worst affected by the multiple pricing regime predominant in the informal sector and the depreciation in value of the bond note and of mobile money.
Of course, we have another segment of the population that is happily taking full advantage of the panic gripping the nation. I would presume that this group of persons is linked to the ruling elite, considering how they always seem to be above the law.
They have huge trunks of foreign currency reserves and even bond notes in their homes and offices and seem to be the ones determining the “exchange rates” for the US$ to all other modes of payment.
That they go about their illegal business with impunity raises suspicion of their link to the powers-that-be.
It’s certainly a similar narrative to what Zimbabweans experienced before the adoption of the US$ in 2009. Any adult Zimbabwean will remember our trajectory. From the bank queues, cash shortages, filling station queues, price increases and a thriving black market.
There have been criticisms levelled against those of us that draw parallels between what is currently obtaining and 2008 on the premise that the context is different and that hyperinflation was fuelled more by printing money than its scarcity as is currently obtaining
For good measure, those from that school of thought even cite the differences in approach between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governors, with the incumbent John Mangudya being praised for being sober and more pragmatic than the former Gideon Gono, whose dogmatic leadership style essentially made him the pseudo-prime minister of the country. It is on that pretext that those persuaded to believe that we are on the journey back to 2008 argue that we have no reason to panic.
How can we not panic when our living conditions are deteriorating right in our midst? Never mind our history, when our properties and savings lost value.
When we lost confidence in the banking system and were commandeered to accept unrealistic economic policies. We forgot the taste of bread and acquired that of bulgur and many of our relatives succumbed to cholera and all sorts of diseases as a result of a failed health delivery system.
How can we not panic when all of a sudden jerrycans are back on demand and motorists need to at least have one or such containers to cushion them in case they run out of fuel or the shortage persists? We will certainly panic when at the blink of the eye we are spending more times in queues — banks, fuel and supermarkets — than we are spending being productive at our respective work stations.
Zimbabweans are alarmed when public hospitals are running out of key medical supplies as well as failing to administer key operations as a result of a shortage of drugs and when some doctors are reportedly multiple pricing.
We will certainly ring the alarm bells when the cost of living is increasing by the day. You know when your monthly household budget increases unexpectedly and when some shops run out of basic goods and services. When transacting becomes a nightmare, not least due to the sporadic bank charges but also failed systems.
Finally, at least for this instalment, we panic because government itself is panicking. A closer reading of the public statements issued by senior government officials, including the RBZ chief and the Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, clearly demonstrate that the country’s leadership is in panic mode.
Nothing in those statements addresses the problem, let alone proffer sustainable solutions but rather, are all but subtle and blunted threats against citizens expressing themselves, particularly on social media.
There is nothing in those public pronouncements that inspires or enhances citizens’ confidence or at the very least, stirs policy debate but rather, the statements reflect how government is on the back foot and desperately needs to halt any kind of revolt or unrest.
Probably the most desperate and clueless public statement by a government official came from Robert Mugabe himself on the occasion of his return from the United Nations Summit in New York on Monday when from the reading and analysis of his understanding of the current crisis, seemed to suggest that the fuel shortages and price increases are a result of some internal political differences aimed at overthrowing him out of power.
Speaking in Shona, Mugabe was quoted as having said that there are those within his party or inner circle that are wishing the country ill and are celebrating the current shortages. Mugabe went on to say that solving the problem would take him a very short time, one or two days to be exact. He, however, did not say how.
But with the drama that has been transpiring at the interface rallies and momentum gathering of how Mugabe wants to deal with internal threats and opposition to his throne, one can be forgiven for assuming that he will deal with those he thinks are celebrating the current problems.
With all these myriad of challenges requiring critical policy interventions, our country leader’s understanding of our plight is bizarre, to say the least.
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