Where are we and where are we going?

The short answer is that we are in the ‘Dwang’ and are going nowhere, fast.

I had a coffee with a person this week to discuss just this question and we talked for two hours about what we could do. My view was that we needed to first understand where we are and what the problems are, we cannot suggest solutions until we know what issues have to be tackled, and then I suggested we needed a vision we could all subscribe to, all of us, black, white and in between, Shona and Ndebele and all the minorities.

Perhaps we need a vision first, no point in articulating the problems of life in Zimbabwe today if we cannot agree on where we want to be in 2030. Lying in bed this morning I thought about what a national vision might look like and came up with the following:

‘We, as Zimbabweans, want to live in a country that is free, democratic and responsive and where we are all respected for who we are and have security of person and property under the Law.’

What do you think – write to me and suggest what form you think that short statement should take. One sentence.

Now let’s think about where we are right now. We have an elected Government that is divided among itself, has limited international acceptance and recognition. We have a corrupt administration that practices the worst kind of corruption – the consumptive kind. This means people steal from us and the Nation as a whole and they do not reinvest the proceeds. They take their assets out of the country or they buy a personal life style that would do a millionaire proud in any other country.

The rule of law is weak and corrupted in many ways – contracts are not respected and enforced and basic rights over property have been violated and are being violated. The Court system is slow and basic rights are not being protected and crime is not being punished.

Our economy is unstable, inefficient and uncompetitive and the bureaucracy is such that it takes months to get a decision on mundane things and the critical shortages of fuel and electrical energy as well as basic foods, is making life almost unliveable. Living standards for ordinary Zimbabweans are so poor that for many the only answer is to leave the country of their birth and live elsewhere. The most valuable possession of a school or University Graduate is a passport.

We have made progress, but the recent mid-term Budget Review threatens higher inflation, more price instability and even our fragile relationship with the multilateral financial agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF. We face a critical food shortage in the next few months, but the new agricultural season is almost on us and we are simply not prepared for the season. Half our people need food aid or assistance and the rest struggle to pay for even the most basic of goods in our markets.

Markets are dysfunctional and allow traders and speculators the opportunity to make super margins at the expense of the majority and then the system allows them to take their profits out of the country. Everyone exploits the poor – the small miners work under near slavery conditions and receive only a portion of the reward for their labour from Government controlled marketing agents or criminal gangs. The Municipal Police steal the goods being sold along our roads by vendors, they themselves fight back and are then beaten violently.

Everyone has to pay bribes to get anything from a Government Office – permits, passports even the settlement of fines. A permit to export a sample of a product to a customer outside the country requires 9 signatures. Every border post is riddled with corruption, costing the State hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.

We create institutions to work for the country and its people – NSSA and Zinara, In the 25 years that NSSA has been operating, our workers have been forced to pay US$8 billion into its coffers. Only US$1,2 billion remain and the rest has been squandered in sweet heart deals and botched investments – hotels lie idle, hospitals that have never opened their doors, housing schemes that the organisation has ‘lost’. Zinara, collecting revenues that used to go to maintaining the 75 000 kilometres of roads in both urban and rural areas, now goes into projects like the dualization of the roads going out of Harare and are all being carried out under contracts that are not competitive or open to public scrutiny and the rest of our road system is deteriorating to the point where you will need a 4×4 to get home.

I contributed US$1,2 million to the Old Mutual over a lifetime of work and they pay me Z$94 (US$9) a month as a pension. Not altogether their fault after the Reserve Bank Governor destroyed the currency, but they certainly did not protect my interests.

We still do not have freedom of assembly or information. All radio stations are State or Party controlled. There are no local Television stations and the print media is pretty hopeless. Thank goodness for the social media – but even there three quarters of what we read is ‘false news’. But at least there are few secrets anymore and that brand new fancy car that cost more than a million US dollars can no longer be hidden.

But how to fix these problems – I saw an analysis yesterday of the Mid Term and it was excellent – but no solutions. In my view the solutions lie in a few key areas. We have to give an amnesty to everyone who has gained from corruption in the past. Let them keep their ill-gotten gains inside the country but demand that they bring home any assets abroad. After that, any corruption that comes to light, should be rewarded with the confiscation of all assets to the State and a heavy sentence of imprisonment in our delightful jails. Any external assets obtained corruptly and not disclosed and returned should be liquidated and returned to the Country as revenue to the State.

Then we need to get our Banks to put all foreign currency earning through a transparent and open interbank market so that we know what the real value of our currency is and get some stability. This would reduce exchange rates and reduce prices and inflation over night. It would restore some buying power to what we all earn.

Then we need a real market driven economy. Failed State Corporations that have outlived their purpose should be wound up and sold. The private sector should take over all aspects of the operation of our economy. Markets should set prices and monopoly activity or collaboration to fix prices, made a serious corporate crime and subject to fines on the basis of turnover of the Companies concerned and prison for Executives.

Finally, we need a Government that will listen and respond and care about everyone who lives here. We need a national vision of where we are going and consensus on how to get there. We need to heal the wounds of the past and say sorry, it will never happen again and we need to give our people – all of them, hope that better days lie ahead and we know how to get there.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 7th August 2019