Unpacking the political economy of voting demographics

Both the urban and rural voter understands the basics of money; they are just going through different experiences.

By Munyaradzi Hwengwere

The just-ended election and its outcome has revealed the deep-seated lack of understanding of Zimbabwe’s economic structure.

Some think that voting patterns have shown the psychological conditioning and backwardness of the rural folk and their total lack of appreciation of economics.

On the other hand, the urban voter is being cast as a more educated person who makes rational economic decisions and, thus, is more likely to make an informed decision that is good for everyone.

This argument is simply flawed and betrays an ignorance to the duality of the country’s economic base, where one side is presently flourishing, while the other is in serious depression.

Both the urban and rural voter understands the basics of money; they are just going through different experiences.

The sooner we unpack these differences, the easier it would be to craft and design an economic governance model that ensures that all people, irrespective of their geography, have full access to economic opportunities that the country has in abundance.

Here are the facts: This economy is mainly driven by mining and agriculture. Both of these are primary activities of rural Zimbabwe.

This year, Zimbabwe has had one of the best tobacco seasons, which brought in excess of $500 million.

That money came largely from Mashonaland provinces and parts of the Manicaland. In the Lowveld, an aggressive land redistribution programme has benefited a number farmers from the production of sugarcane.

The cotton sector is beginning to recover because of improved prices and the input support scheme.

Gokwe and its environs has been the major beneficiary. The livestock revitalisation programme is now in full swing, benefiting communities in Matabeleland South and most of Masvingo, where the Cold storage Company (CSC) is now being reopened.

Gold deliveries to Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) by small-scale miners — who are forecast to be more than half-a-million — have now eclipsed deliveries from primary producers.

Each month, this group earns over $50 million in hard currency.

Similarly, it is the same story for chrome miners who are spread across the mineral-rich Great Dyke.

So, quite clearly, artisanal miners are very active in Mberengwa, Filabusi, Bubi and Gwanda.

In contrast, the manufacturing sector — which used to be the key economic driver of urban Zimbabwe, particularly for cities such as Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe and Mutare — has collapsed.

While there has been some modicum of recovery, especially after the introduction of Statutory Instrument 64 in 2016, the increased automation of most plants and the uncompetitive nature of our industry has meant that very few jobs have been created in this area.

What we have seen then is the growth of an informal sector, which primarily relies on the procurement of finished imported goods.

In addition, we have witnessed increased migration by the youth; in particular, to cities, especially Harare, influenced by the false belief that this is where it all happens.

Our colonial education system has continued to mislead young people into believing that all that is needed is to present a curriculum vitae (CV) to someone in some posh, city office.

In this country, the prevalent belief is that “it is my right to get a job and not create one”.

Further, there is strong conviction that jobs are found only in the cities.

What you then have from these two economic spheres is a situation where rural Zimbabwe has emerged as producer for a highly consumptive and expectant urban market, which is totally de-linked from the source of its income.

When the moneys from gold and tobacco enter Harare, for instance, the proceeds are “spinned” by our urban “street-smarts” to make more money which is then used to import ‘chips’ and trinkets from South Africa.

And this becomes a conduit for serious haemorrhage.

The money that rural folks toil day-in and day-out to create is simply siphoned away to external markets to bring in goods and services that fulfil the aspirational needs of our modernised urban folks.

The result, sadly, is that Zimbabwe enters a vicious circle of need, where one good turn of harvest rarely translates into sustainable economic growth.

The trappings of a global market, with its glittering goods and loads of gratification tools – for example, cellphones and second-hand cars – has further meant the urban Zimbabwean market would rather continue its journey of self-destructive economic pursuits than embark on a painful path of toiling to make your own product.

To be fair, this is not a problem peculiar to Zimbabwe. It is an Africa problem. A few weeks back, I was in China on some business visit and my experience left me wondering on the economic path our continent has chosen.

The Chinese consume Chinese products. They largely speak their own languages.

While most of their urban young aspire for global apparel, the structure of their society has grounded them to be exceptionally proud of who they are.

Tragically, their cities are booming on the back of millions of African traders, most of whom converge there to procure finished goods such as jewellery from gold mined in Africa and clothes from cotton grown in Africa.

These traders are urban dwellers who see no contradiction between their aspirations and the poverty in their own home countries.

In fact, they strongly believe that the foreign currency they bring to China comes from their own sweat.

The link between the rural producer, exports and their money is never one in view.

Africa is cause of its own poverty.

Lost in all this, is that in the same rural enclave is a young Zimbabwean, who sees plenty of economic choices and a government that has gone out of its way to support these thriving communities directly and indirectly through Command Agriculture and support for small-scale miners.

For the rural folk, the worry then is not about space to sell wares or scramble to buy the latest gadget, but rather access to land, capital, mining claims, demand for water and a regulatory environment that does not punish them for decent work.

To find a young person looking for a job in rural Zimbabwe today is difficult as most of them are searching for serious economic opportunities.

In the city, the opposite is true.

Young graduates each day have to endure endless frustration in trying to secure jobs in areas where manufacturing is destroyed by imports that the informal sector brings.

Unfortunately, because of the duality and seeming rural-urban divide, very few ever get to the point where they realise economic opportunities are not in the cities.

The education system has ingrained in our young that the city is the best place to be in.

Beautiful ‘spaghetti’ roads, world class airports and speed trains become a fascination of the world that they must live in.

Rural Zimbabwe is thus not a place of their dreams, but rather an environment to be escaped from.

The people who dwell in rural Zimbabwe thus can only be backward, without the capacity to make rational economic decisions.

Most urbanites cannot envision success in rural areas.

They are oblivious to economic activities that take place in that part of the country.

Despite this gloomy picture, there is a way forward.

African governments, including our own, must stop cuddling the informal market. It is like tolerating a drug which provides temporary relief but has serious long-term effects.

In Zimbabwe, there appears to be fear by government that tempering with the informal market will trigger strife and waves of protests.

What is missed is that over tolerating a ‘cancerous market’ will never solve our problems.

Instead, it will result in long-term social instability, where the urban young may be forced to vent their anger against anything or anyone they believe is the source of their misery.

So before they destroy themselves and the country, help them by ensuring that they stop loitering the streets but get to work.

No country can develop while neglecting its economic productive sectors. Our young people must be forced off the streets and taken to work, our education system must be clear in articulating expectations to be realised in a typical African country. – Source: Sunday Mail