New RBZ Phase: Public advice to the Governor, is not ridicule or disrespect

Dr. Gideon Gono and Prof. Jonathan Moyo
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One bane of recent public discourse in Zimbabwe is not only that it is never about ideas or issues but it is invariably about ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’ – depending on their real or perceived political affiliation – but also that it entirely proceeds on a weird presumption that if you agree with or support something said by a prominent someone today, you must support or agree with everything they say thenceforth; and conversely, that if you oppose or disagree with something said today by someone prominent, you must forever oppose or disagree with everything said by that person from thereon.

By Prof. Jonathan Moyo

The same scourge pervades public debate on and discussion of issues. In Zimbabwe today if, for example, your position from the start is that it is a good and sound national policy idea to have the ZiG as a structured national currency backed mainly by gold and supported by a mix of other minerals along with forex reserves; then you must thenceforth never find anything wrong or concerning with or said or done about the ZiG currency. Rather, so goes the strange logic, you must be permanently locked in a ZiG corner, and rot there until the end of the world. And the flipside of this weird narrative is that if you started by criticising the ZiG currency from the time when it was launched by Dr Mushayavanhu in his 5 April MPS, then you must remain a permanent critic of the currency, and you must never find or say anything good about it.

In the same vein, if you commend someone today because of something they have said or they have done about something notable or significant in the national scheme of things, you must not from that point onwards find anything to condemn about what that person says or does not only regarding the thing you commended them for earlier on, but regarding anything else they say. By the same token the opposite holds, mutatis mutandis, such that if you start by condemning something said or done today by someone; you must not commend anything else subsequently said or done by that someone.

It is in these weird political circumstances that public discourse in Zimbabwe has become nauseatingly irrational, corrupt and rotten to the core; principally if not only because it is not about ideas or issues; but it is about presumed ‘good guys’ versus presumed ‘bad guys’, as seen from the spectrum of their political affiliation or even as seen on the grounds of which individual politician they support within the factions of the same political formations. In terms of this template – which is the template of thoughtless noisemakers – if a ‘good guy’ says the wrong thing, that thing must become right; and if a ‘bad guy’ says the right thing, that thing must become wrong.

Witness how, using this thoughtless template, noisemakers have been falling on each, pretending that they are surprised when people like this writer who supported the ZiG as a viable national currency when it was launched; and who still support it today; took issue with RBZ Governor Dr John Mushayavanhu for his recent unfortunate and embarrassing remarks about the advisory role of a World Bank consultant in the adoption of the ZiG, and the importance or responsibility he attributed to that consultant, while painting the RBZ as having been largely clueless in the process.

The warped logic is that if you support the ZiG, you must support anything and everything that the RBZ Governor, the RBZ itself or even the government in general say or do about the ZiG. “You supported the RBZ governor and gave him kudos when he launched the ZiG on 5 April, you must now support his World Bank gaffe because you supported him for his MPS”. It must be said that this kind of reasoning – if it is ‘reasoning’ at all – is not only irrational but it is a kind of nonsense which is also outrageously primitive.

There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ or two ways about this fact: it was plainly wrong for Dr Mushayavanhu to speak in the manner he did about the role of a World Bank consultant in the processes that led to the adoption of the ZiG, and it was worse for him to say the World Bank should have contributory liability and therefore should therefore shoulder a larger chunk of the responsibility for anything that might not be going as planned regarding the launch of the ZiG currency; supposedly because the Work Bank did more work, allegedly since the RBZ did not quite know what to do.

Be that as it may, this observation does not and cannot in any way, shape or form detract or subtract anything from the robust content in the maiden Monetary Policy Statement [MPS] delivered by Dr Mushayavanhu on 5 April 2024, in which he launched ZiG. That MPS deserved the kudos given to it then by many including this writer, and deserves those kudos even today.

Furthermore, the observation that Dr Mushayavanhu’s World Bank remarks were wrong does not mean that there’s therefore any rational basis for any rational person to conclude that the unfortunate remarks necessarily vindicate any delusional nonsense that has been said or is being said by Zimbabwe’s detractors either about the 5 April MPS or about the ZiG currency that was launched in that MPS. Nothing like that, whatsoever.

Still further, and more critically, the wrong and unfortunate remarks made by Dr Mushayavanhu do not in and of themselves make him a bad guy, nor – and this is particularly important to understand – do the remarks make the ZiG a bad domestic currency. It simply means the remarks made by Dr Mushayavanhu were wrong, misplaced and ill-advised. As RBZ Governor, he should not have said what he said; his remarks were not just unfortunate, they were disastrous and potentially damaging to his position and to the institutional standing and reputation of the RBZ. This fact had to be pointed out by supporters of the ZiG currency in the strongest and clearest terms with no holds barred, for Dr Mushayavanhu to take note without being mistaken or confused about anything; end of the story.

In this connection, Dr Mushayavanhu would be well advised to appreciate that – unlike the circumstances that surrounded the tenure of his last two predecessors, namely Dr John Mangudya and Dr Gideon Gono respectively, his RBZ governorship has come at a time of dramatically changed and rapidly changing national and regional situations, and global geopolitics, with new opportunities and challenges for Zimbabwe that have implications on Dr Mushayavanhu’s public communication approach and his engagement style within RBZ and with the Central Bank’s strategic stakeholders in the banking and financial services sectors in and outside the country.

Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya were ‘crisis RBZ governors’ during a time of extraordinary ‘crisis’ circumstances in the country triggered by crippling US-led western economic sanctions and coercive financial and geopolitical measures in which Zimbabwe found itself in December 2001 when the US legislated its hostility and regime change agenda in Zimbabwe under Zdera, and when subsequently the US designated the situation in Zimbabwe as posing a an ‘unusual’ threat to its national security interests; and when the US declared a ‘national emergency’ – which was tantamount to a declaration of war – to ostensibly deal with that alleged ‘crisis’ situation in Zimbabwe under draconian presidential executive orders that imposed horrible economic sanctions in March 2003, November 2005 and July 2005 which destroyed lives and livelihoods; the bulk of which were lifted only as recent as 4 March 2024.

There’s no need for rocket science to understand the critically dangerous circumstances of the state of Zimbabwe’s economy and society that necessitated the kind of frontline activist and interventionist communication strategies, and the type of public and stakeholder engagement adopted particularly by Dr Gono, but also to a considerable extent by Dr Mangudya. Anyone who does not understand the clear and present danger posed to the country by those circumstances, will never understand anything.

The doctrine of necessity – regarding the survival of the motherland – informed the monetary and quasi-fiscal policies and strategic communication approaches adopted by Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya respectively, to defend and protect Zimbabwe’s sovereignty and economic survival in order to save the lives and to sustain livelihoods of Zimbabweans, as a matter of the country’s national and security interests.

Current and future generations of Zimbabweans owe both Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya separately, an untold debt of gratitude for their having been there and courageously risen to the call of national duty when Zimbabwe was at the crossroads, in the face of a clear existential threat that needed to be thwarted by being nipped in the bud.

But the national and regional situations, and the global geopolitics, have radically changed, there’s now a new situation in the country, the Sadc region and internationally very different from the situation that defined Zimbabwe’s economy and society; especially from March 2003 to March 2024, not least because of the revocation of the US sanctions executive orders on 4 March 2024 which, for all intent and purposes, coincided with Dr Mushayavanhu’s appointment as RBZ Governor, as some kind of ‘good’ omen.

In this regard, while Dr Mushayavanhu as the new RBZ Governor has a lot to learn from the experiences of Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya, as the two recent past governors under incredibly volatile times; he has even more to learn from the experiences of Dr James Kombo Moyana and Dr Leonard Tsumba who respectively preceded Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya; for the obvious fact that they laid the paradigm and culture of what it meant or how it was to be an RBZ governor in relatively ‘calm’ times, not dominated by hostile geopolitics and harsh and coercive economic sanctions seeking regime change in the country, during which it was possible to formulate and implement some degree of ‘pure’ economics using technical instruments of monetary policy.

Given the foregoing, the economic history of Zimbabwe is arguably best told with reference to the tenure of four substantive RBZ governors: Dr Moyana, Dr Tsumba, Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya whose terms in office define four discernible, critical and defining economic phases that the country has gone through, the most dramatic of which were the phases under Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya, respectively.

Notably, the transitions after the tenures of Dr Tsumba and Dr Gono were longer than should have been the case; hence Mr Charles Chikaura acted between May 2003 and November 2003 before Dr Gono assumed office; and Dr Charity Dhliwayo acted between December 2013 and April 2014 before Dr Mangudya commenced his tenure.

Back to the point, and it’s an important one, Zimbabwe is standing today and is able to reset and move forward because of the respectively extraordinary and, from a textbook point of view, unorthodox interventions pursued and implemented by Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya, without which Zimbabwe would have been a failed state in the literal or conventional sense.

Now Zimbabwe is on the cusp of a new economic phase so to speak — which is aligned with the tenure of the four substantive RBZ governors between 1980 and 2024 – the fifth one since independence, and the coincidence between this phase and the appointment of Dr Mushayavanhu is an opportunity for him to place his appointment and the task it implies within a historical context that is not a ‘business as usual’ proposition.

Unlike Dr Gono and Dr Mangudya, Dr Moyana and Dr Tsumba did not find themselves working under extraordinary circumstances requiring extraordinary measures, equivalent to mending a ubiquitously leaky roof in the middle of heavy rains marked by a violently thunderous hailstorm. No. They were able to work as professionals, meaning as economists, not as political technocrats; wherein issues of the day were amenable to the management through the subtleties of time, space and the environment using the strategy and communication not of daily public speeches or public relations statement or breakfast meetings with all and sundry; but communication via monetary policy instruments and institutional representation of the RBZ through the deputation and delegation of the RBZ staff which allowed Dr Moyana and Dr Tsumba, respectively, to take a backseat as the voice of last resort.

So it is that as RBZ Governors, Dr Moyana and Dr Tsumba were not known by every Jane, Mary, Tom, Dick and Harry out there; because they were not visible governors like politicians; they did not have common names or faces in the public domain who would brawl with real MPs or social media MPs who specialise in making noise for its own sake. Even when one googles Dr Moyana and Dr Tsumba today, not many of their pictures or images or even articles. This is because they kept away from the glare of public space, they spoke publicly not on more than five or so occasions over 10 years. But, and this is the crucial point with learning implications for Dr Mushayavanhu, their presence was of course very strong and it was felt daily in the various markets that make up the economy and society, through their monetary policy instruments.

Dr Mushayavanhu can rest assured that he will not be able to deal with the ‘trust deficit” issues that he has publicly spoken about, nor will he be able to restore the confidence of the public or the markets by making press statements or speeches or having breakfast meetings all over the place, where the temptation to shoot from the hip is always high and is invariably irresistible.

The task might be difficult, but the plain fact is that the language that Dr Mushayavanhu needs to speak is not what he has been speaking, rather, it is the one which used to be spoken by Dr Moyana and Dr Tsumba; that is the language only spoken through the instruments of monetary policy. His social media detractors do not know or understand that language of instruments of monetary policy; but of course, the markets and the stakeholders in the banking and financial services sectors know and understand that language very well.

There are two public areas that Dr Mushayavanhu should avoid, which were also avoided by Dr Moyana and Dr Tsumba during their tenure: public relations and politics through the media of any kind; and law and order engagements under which the RBZ threaten the arrest of any economic player – such as money changers or retailers – for currency crimes. Criminology is a law and order responsibility best left to the Zimbabwe Republic Police in particular, and the security sector in general; criminology has nothing to do with monetary policy, which is the purview of the RBZ, led by its governor.

All told, RBZ must stay the course outlined in the 5 April 2024 MPS.

The rest is history!