Zimbabwe economy, Boris Johnson and Brexit

Boris Johnson
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When you are in a crisis situation like ours, it is important to maintain perspective. In that respect from a political stand point I look around me and I see Britain moving towards a massive crisis of its own – both economic and political.

By Eddie Cross

I cannot see Europe conceding any significant changes to the Brexit deal, I cannot see the British Parliament accepting a no deal exit, and if not then I see Britain going into an election with the Conservative Party hopelessly divided, perhaps even split with some sort of political coalition or even a new Party fighting both the Conservative Party and Labour.

Economically I have never thought Brexit was workable – how can a country with half its total trade going to and from the EU and an economy that is 80 per cent services, cut its umbilical cord and drift out to sea? Not without serious damage to its economy and even living standards. I find the optimism of the Brexit team completely unconvincing. Even if we discount these possibilities – Scotland and Ireland breakaways and staying in the Union make this prospect a nightmare for everyone.

Cross the Atlantic and your into Trump territory. As people know well, I am no fan of Trump – never have been and as his tenure winds down to the next Presidential election my opinion has, if anything hardened. I know full well that many do not share that view, but hey that’s democracy and freedom of speech. But one President does not make America and I know from long experience that the USA is an amazing place. Never underestimate the American people!! Remember when the Vietnam war was raging – longest conflict in American history, 50 000 casualties and a divided Nation. Then I watched them pick it all up and get back to business, reconstructing their society and politics.

But can they hold an election and get some sane leadership in place? The USA is deeply divided and it’s not pretty, the right has emerged and is still racist and bigoted. I thought those days were long gone. The Democrats after Obama are divided and fragmented and although I like some of the prospective candidates getting that whole gaggle sorted out is going to be very difficult. But in a country like the USA, the Government is not so critical in national life – the US economy is strong, employment at an all-time low and showing no signs of slowing down. Trumps trade war with the rest of the world is creating problems for all of us – slower global growth, increasing conflict between old allies and making the USA more isolationist – we have been there before.

Then we look south, they buried Johnny Clegg yesterday, I wonder if they mentioned his Mom was a Zimbabwean and that he spent his early years here? A symbol of everything that is good in that conflicted society. But, like us, Zuma has left an awful mess behind, massive corruption and state capture by criminal elements, broken State institutions – SAA, Transnet, Eskom, the list goes on. A political scene that is deeply divided and national leadership that is in the minority in the ruling Party and therefore precarious. Nonexistent growth, widening disparity between the rich and the poor, rising unemployment especially among the young and worst of all no common vision of where they are going. We all know what the adage means ‘the bigger, the further and faster they fall’.

And then climate change, I am not a scientist and make no pretentions about understanding the issues, but what I see is more climate extremes and less predictability. In Zimbabwe the south is drier and more subject to drought. Parts of the south are becoming desert with even sand dunes in parts. Frightening because it is so hard to reverse. Poverty, an ever present aspect of life in rural Zimbabwe is now even more stark and is deepening so fast that people are abandoning their homes and emigrating – either to more hospitable regions or to other countries. Mass migration is a continuing feature of life here – perhaps not driven by political violence but simply survival.

We are not short of challenges and my problem is maintaining perspective. When I feel down about things here – the lack of urgency in implementing the obvious solutions to problems, the lack of concern about plummeting living standards for ordinary people, the near total lack of employment opportunities. Then I just say to myself, thank God for what we have and for our own security and standard of life. I am a convinced Christian – I did not inherit my faith from my forebears but came to Christ by conviction. This helps me keep a perspective on the things that go on around me, I know there is much more to life than the physical realities.

This past week has been no different, SI 142 has done what was intended – the exchange rate has fallen by 50 per cent and stabilized at about 8 to 1. The winter weather has been more or less normal – bright blue skies, warm days with no humidity, chilly nights and those marvelous early mornings with dew on the grass and the sun rising in the east. Forget the sunsets and the early rising full moons, massive and yellow in the west, early morning with a cup of hot coffee takes a lot to beat. Anyone who has lived here knows the feeling of an early morning on the Highveld.

But it does not stop there – two children controlling traffic where the lights are not working. Zimbabweans going about their daily lives, complaining about no money, high prices and the obvious wealth of the corrupt and the connected, but always friendly and open to a quick chat on the street. This is a magical place to live if you can make a living in one way or another. Our economy defies analysis; I laugh when I read the experts trying to understand how we survive. There are no rational explanations, less than 10 per cent of our population is in paid employment, we import more than we export but never build external debt, we run a fiscal deficit of 40 per cent of all State expenditure, creating in the process a mountain of domestic debt almost equal to our GDP and the new Minister slaps a transaction tax on us and tightens the controls on all State expenditure and we are in surplus in six weeks. How does that work?

The answer is that we ‘make a plan’. We have lived under a lousy, self-involved Government ever since I can remember and we have suffered under sanctions imposed on us by everyone since 1965. We have learned to be fast on our feet and to respond quickly to new problems and never looking to the State for anything except demands for our taxes. We deserve better but we do not waste time complaining or moaning about how badly off we are. I was at breakfast yesterday with two friends from Bulawayo and the place was packed, every table occupied.

What does frustrate me, and I guess I am not alone, is that there are solutions to all our problems. Zimbabwe is like a vehicle with a large engine that is starved of fuel, needs a tuning and the replacement of all its filters. It needs new tyres and to stop fighting over who will drive us into the future. The passengers need to agree on where we are going and then get on with getting there. The Bible says that ‘a people, without vision, will die’ and a ‘house divided, cannot stand’ ancient words of wisdom from the very roots of our culture and faith. We need to follow their advice closely.

But mainly, as we struggle to survive and even thrive in a tough environment, let’s keep our problems in perspective and not lose faith in who we are as a people and a country and in our God who makes all things possible.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 27th July 2019