What really is wrong with Zim’s economy?

This is a Part One series of “What really is wrong with Zim’s economy?”

Every system that qualifies to be regarded as such has got a history, and in order to understand how it functions, one has to study and understand that history.

Whether biological or non-biological, systems are virtual living phenomena. They come in many forms; some are physical while others are non-physical in form and nature. However, in practice, most systems have both components. This is the case with Zimbabwe, its economy included.

In order to do justice to the matter, let us look into what an economy is, what it is made up of.

As usual, I don’t want to use a dictionary definition because it tends to complicate issues for those of us with a non-academic bent.

So here goes: An economy is a set of physical and non-physical components that interact with one another in an orderly manner such that they sustain life or result in the prosperity of mankind.  The key components here are land and man; and it needs no rocket science to understand that without these two, there can be no life and consequently, no economy.

Looking closely into Zimbabwe’s history, one finds that its land has been a source of conflict since the founding of its modern economy compared to the previous one under the Rozvi Empire.

The source of this conflict were the British settlers under Cecil J. Rhodes who arrived in this county in 1890 from South Africa. Rhode’s company was called the British South Africa Company — BSAC.

This company was later succeeded by the Anglo American Corporation founded by Ernest Oppenheimer and Rhode’s protégé who was later succeeded by his son Harry.

When Rhodes and company arrived in this country, their first task was to acquire land, initially for mining purposes. But soon afterwards the indigenes of this land rebelled against this move; and so started the said conflict. This original conflict later extended to the whole economy where it still (more than) lingers today.

In order to remain brief in our discourse, let us zero in on the human drivers of this economy. But this is not to imply that everybody else is not important in this matter; they are, as stakeholders and shareholders of companies.

The said drivers are political leaders — the rulers, and the country’s business leaders. In this scenario the youth occupy a special place since from them, come the future political and business leaders. But again, this does not imply that every youth will become one of these two categories of people.

That said, the youth possess characteristics that one does not find in any other category of human beings. They are open-minded, receptive and full of energy. But paradoxically, these characteristics that should be their strengths under what can be regarded as normal circumstances — can also become serious weaknesses. As a result, they are prone to reactive behaviour.

The latter is an attribute that makes them vulnerable to their environment, specifically to the negative forces that are always in operation therein.

For example, they are prone to manipulation by politicians; we see a lot of this phenomenon in Zimbabwe today.

In this country today, the youth are taught a number of histories in schools, ranging from African to European, and even American history. Be that as it may, in life generally, whatever type of history a student is taught depends on the objectives of the system; and the teacher performs the final task of doing the actual teaching.

During the colonial days, white youth attended their own schools while African youth attended theirs, separate from those of the former.

The European schools were run by the colonial government while those for African youths were run by missionaries.

However, in between these two systems were schools that were essentially European in character but run by Anglican and Jesuit missionaries.  A small number of black children — those belonging to the clergy — were allowed to attend these schools. The emphasis in the European schools was placed on European history while that in African schools the same history was also taught plus a biased form of African history.

This was particularly the case when the A-Level was introduced in the latter, starting as early as 1957 at Goromonzi High School near Salisbury, now Harare.

When the black government came along in 1980, it tried to change the emphasis of the history taught in the country’s schools to African history but the former missionary run European schools (then comprising a sizeable proportion of private schools) resisted this action by the government.

Now, this situation is significant in that the African students were brainwashed to believe in the superiority of the white man in every endeavour. This is the inferiority complex that dogs us today where matters of running the economy are concerned.

This situation is further complicated by the attitudes of Zimbabwe’s modern teachers, most of whom have been brainwashed by the politicians to be anti-Government. The result is a sad situation where the country’s youth has become anti-establishment. This is a very dangerous state for a country to be in. At this stage you may now be wondering where all this talk is leading us. So I beg you to remain patient with me as I continue to explain my case.

Fast forward to the current economic situation in the country. It cannot be an exaggeration to assert that today, Zimbabwe’s business fraternity is generally anti–Government.

They express this attitude in a number of ways. Here are some of the major faults that they accuse the latter of. They say the Government “flip flops on policy” — particularly fiscal and monetary policy; “it scares away FDI by violating property rights”. They also accuse it of “profligacy”; for “crowding out private businesses” by over-borrowing through treasury bills.  And its failure to deal decisively with corruption — an indictment it cannot deny — is now a chorus in the whole country.

Now, it is my intention to go over these accusations in detail since I believe that they comprise the major source of our economic challenges. I also believe that by teasing out these issues, we can decide whether this economy can be fixed under the current environment or not.  In this part of the article I shall start with the issue of property rights, then go on to the other accusations.

First of all what is property? In the developed world they know that property is land, also known as real estate in those environs. But in Zimbabwe this is one of the most misunderstood words or terms if you will. For example, when my father talked of property in the nineteen sixties, he meant his clothes, his bicycle or something in that direction, but certainly not land, of all things. At one point he even claimed that his wife and children were his property; whether this was a joke or not, I shall never know since at that time we were not allowed to answer back to him, let alone query his utterances.

Today I am not sure what proportion of Zimbabweans, young or old, understands the meaning of this word or term. And this is a term that represents a concept that has become our bane in international economic circles in which our Government is perceived as “rogue” since “it violates the property rights of individuals and entities”.

According to my own informal research, most people — the young included — still think of this issue the same way as my father did, almost sixty years later! In this country today, it is not unusual to hear a business leader or economist say, “This Government has no respect for property rights”, among what they regards as its many ills or weaknesses, depending on their own perception and attitude to the matter. And personally, I have heard this expression in a number of contexts, especially those in which the matter of FDI is being discussed.

So having come this far in our discourse, what can we conclude about the general character of Zimbabweans in business matters? To my mind, with all due respect (to us if you want to put it this way) I am compelled to draw what amounts to some rather unkind assessment of Zimbabweans.

The way I see it, we Zimbabweans lack fortitude; we are also prone to opportunism and treachery whenever an opportunity to exhibit such characteristics presents itself to us. We also appear to have a short memory and a short sight. I could go on to give information to back each of these tendencies but space forbids me to do so.

So what are the results of all these characteristics in the business arena? The first one is that we do not support our Government on many pertinent issues where it is necessary for us to do so.

This is a form of short-sightedness since under our type of democracy, the Government (impeachment aside) stays in office for five years — a very long time in which a lot can be achieved or a lot of damage can be done to the economy. In this regard, consider that a sizeable proportion of the American electorate (four-year presidential term) did not like Donald Trump at his election but they soon went along with, or acquiesced to his policies since they knew that life had to go on in spite of their presidential choice having lost those elections.

Before going further with our analysis, it is important to remember that every coin has two sides. By this I mean that the Zimbabwe Government is no saint. It has its own faults but since it won the majority in the last plebiscite, it is the only legitimate Government we have at the moment — never mind what they say in certain circles.

And when it comes to the Government’s behaviour of “flip flopping” on policy, this is a subject that can generate much debate. First of all, the act of “flip flopping” can be described in many ways; here it just sounds to me, to be a derogatory or sarcastic way of saying “changing decision(s) without due consideration” or something to that effect.

Another derogatory expression along the same lines is “vacillation”. But this sort of behaviour can be looked at in more considerate ways in which case it may mean “policy shift”, “policy revision”, “policy redirection” and so forth. The most important thing here however, is the final result of all these actions. If and when looked at this way, it implies that it takes time to judge the Government under these circumstances.

And under the current difficult times, who can vouchsafe that they could take a definite position if they were in the same situation?

Today, this Government is in an intractable dilemma if ever there was one. This is a dilemma that stems from history. In this respect, many Zimbabweans do not seem to appreciate this country’s history that    much.

In their state of insomnia, if we may call it that (with all due respect to their human dignity), they seem to forget that there was a war that was fought in this country for a purpose which was to take back our land. This land is the said property. So it means that if we do not want to be seen to be “violating property rights”, we have to hand back that land to the former colonists. So does this make sense? You the reader can answer this question yourself. Considered objectively, this attitude implies that some of us are trying to have it both ways, or that they are being naïve in the least.

That said, the way I see it, our adversaries are just being spiteful in their treatment of this matter since it was them who reneged on the Lancaster House agreement in the first place. But how many of us know, or have even heard of that agreement?  This is another complication that is embedded in this whole matter.

Again the way I see it, there are more positive ways in which this case can be dealt with than negative ones. For example, the biggest proportion of land in dispute is rural while the other is urban.

However, in terms of value per unit area, urban land is more than ten times the value of rural land. And virtually all land in the urban areas (industrial land included) is not in dispute. In the next instalment I shall start with the said Government’s policy shift on monetary and fiscal policies.

Clifford Shambare is an agriculturist cum economist and this article was first published by The Herald