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Zim: The curse of a blue print syndrome
29/12/2016 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
 
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IN terms of the basics of life there are two elementary but antagonistic positions that people can adopt as they see fit. That makes life a binary imperative, an either this or that kind of affair. This, to an extent, is typical of human affairs.

Consider the debate between those who subscribe to the theory of intelligent design and those who are avid adherents of evolution. Consider also those who believe in divine providence alone and sit on their laurels waiting for those in the heavens to shower them with blessings and a surfeit of everything. They forget that they have it in their hands to change their circumstances. Therein lies the rub! Do we take things a day at a time and accept what the day brings, or do we sit down and think about our circumstances in order to plan a rational response to all adversity?

Clearly, if one never plans anything they become victims of chance and they hold on thinking that Lady Luck must surely smile upon them – soon and very soon! Experience, of course, teaches us that a lotto approach to life is nothing more than wishy-washy mambo-jumbo in which the house always wins, no matter what. Pundits of strategic thinking and strategic planning will testify to the efficacy of advance planning. The Americans, in particular know just how important it is to plan ahead, having themselves been routed in Vietnam by a determined adversary despite much superior weaponry that include the devastating B.52 bombers.

General Vo Nguyen Giap the North Vietnamese military strategist was brilliant at what he did and was acknowledged as such by his adversaries. He became his country’s Defence Minister and later rose to the position of Deputy Prime Minister. General Giap died aged 102 in 2013. In death, Gen Giap received acknowledgement and high praise from Senator John McCain, a former navy pilot, shot down during the Vietnam conflict and held there as a prisoner of war. In his tweet on Gen Giap, Senator McCain wrote that General Giap was ‘a brilliant military strategist who once told me that we were an honourable enemy’.

General Giap led a guerrilla war against invading Japanese forces during the 2nd World and later supervised the rout of the French at the Battle of Dien Bien in 1954. Although he was Minister of Defence during the Tet Offensive against American forces in 1968, often cited as a key campaign that led to the Americans' withdrawal his military strategy and tactics were by this time well entrenched in terms of Vietnamese warfare. Against the Americans General Giap’s were anchored on two key things. First was the need for apparent high mobility of the Vietnamese forces. This had the effect of necessarily stretching American forces and increasing the economic liability of the American offensive in Vietnam. The general was alive to the fact that the American public had no appetite for long-drawn military conflicts and that as the body count increased and the economy showed signs of stress the war would be over. That was why the Americans eventually withdrew from Vietnam.



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Another person recognised for her strategic planning and prowess is Madonna, the pop idol who succeeded beyond the limits of her actual musical and acting capabilities. Madonna made every one of her marriages count, Access to greater heights and unwavering support were guaranteed.

After the 1998 Asian financial crisis, the countries collectively referred to as the Asian tigers decided to follow their own trajectories. The results are there for everyone to see. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea became important players within a short space of time. The World Bank credited their rise to the implementation of neo-liberal policies. This is contradicted by the clear evidence of state intervention, particularly in the administrative district of PRC Hong Kong. Of interest, however, is the speed with which Malaysia under Dr. Mahathir Mohammed became the quickest to recover. Against advice from the World Bank, Malaysia pegged their currency the ringgit and in accordance with the Mahathir doctrine began to vigorously create products as a forerunner to markets. Between 1998 and 2004, the Petronas Twin Towers were the tallest building in the world with 88 storeys. The towers stand as a monumental testimony to Malaysia’s ability to chat her own destiny. While some might have questioned the project when it was first mooted, time has vindicated it with other buildings having come up in other countries including the Burj Khalifa of Dubai.

The history of India’s cottage industry is well-documented. It is a paradigm that is peculiarly India’s, one that has not only created livelihoods but also helped to grow that country’s economy. Today India is among the fastest-growing economies of the world and the China, the dragon that was sleeping for centuries has now more than awakened and is roaring away relentlessly across many fronts. It is only a matter of time before China’s yuan outpaces and even replaces the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. In all these things planning has been key and central, unlocking all sorts of new vistas.

With a few exceptions, Africa has not had the honour of game-changer status. And whenever something really promising and significant has happened or appeared to be happening the project has been abruptly terminated through outside interference: the assassination of the first Prime Minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, in 1961, for instance, and the stalling of the construction of the Great Inga Dam on the mighty Congo River; the CIA engineered coup against Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 and other nefarious activities of imperialism.

According to Professor Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Patrice Lumumba's determination to achieve genuine full political and economic sovereignty so as to create benefit for the people from Congo's resources  and thereby find the wherewithal to improve the people’s living standards and shore up their well-being made him a marked man since his tenure was viewed as a threat to western interests. Accordingly, the unholy alliance between the US and Belgium ‘used all the tools and resources at their disposal, including the United Nations secretariat, under Dag Hammarskjöld and Ralph Bunche, to buy the support of Lumumba's Congolese rivals’, and to hire his killers killers. The assassination of Lumumba was inimical to the ideals of national unity, economic independence and pan-African solidarity that Lumumba subscribed to and championed. Willy-nilly the dastardly act was also an assassination of the hopes of millions of Congolese. Henceforth, freedom and material prosperity for them became a pipe dream.

The shape that the world has taken since the end of the cold war and the advent of unipolar adventurism vindicates what Che Guevara quoted by Walter Rodney wrote in 1964 concerning the economic stagnation vis-à-vis population growth in underdeveloped countries when compared to other parts of the world.

These characteristics are not fortuitous; they correspond strictly to the nature of the capitalist system in full expansion, which transfers to the dependent countries the most abusive and barefaced forms of exploitation.

It must be clearly understood that the only way to solve the questions now besetting mankind is to eliminate completely the exploitation of dependent countries by developed capitalist countries, with all the consequences that this implies.

In the context of imperial Europe and the United States of America everything was by design, everything including the assassination of people like Lumumba. But it’s a game that John Perkins, the author of ‘Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ says is ‘as old as Empire’.

There is much for all of Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, to learn from all this. Many people, including Zimbabweans themselves, are convinced that when it comes to idea-generation and production of blueprints, the country has few peers on the continent. Zimbabweans will, with general consensus, readily acknowledge that the country falls short on the implementation front. That may or may not be a fair assessment. Nevertheless there is much on the ground that attests to this tendency. We can start with the country’s ESAP and ZIMCORD blueprints on the whole crafted by Zimbabwe’s workaholic second Minister of Finance after Enos Nkala, the urbane and erudite Bernard Chidzero, a former United Nations bureaucrat. Just as Ian Douglas Smith had become associated with ‘contingency measures’ during his tenure as Finance Minister in the Rhodesian Front era, Minister Chidzero mystified many with his ‘in real terms… and in nominal terms’. Never before had such words and terms been enunciated by previous Ministers of Finance. Chidzero more or less crafted ESAP and ZIMCORD.

ZIMCORD was a donor-driven instrument according to which a donor’s conference was held in Zimbabwe to try and raise capital for the many envisaged development projects. Not only was the idea novel and unique in this part of the world, it also appeared to be ingenious, something new brought by the comrades for the good of all and in order to stave away looming crises of expectation. The hype and hullabaloo around the conference was not justified by the proceeds and pledges derived from it, and the thing soon died a natural death. Next in line was ESAP (the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme) much touted by the IMF, and little understood by Zimbabweans and others. It is amazing that Zimbabwe’s leaders were willing to try this given the fact that both Great Britain and the United States of America had abandoned their structural adjustment programmes and there was ample evidence how these programmes, being austerity programmes, caused social disequilibrium and upheavals. Zimbabwe’s food riots of the late 1990s can be traced to ESAP.

In the age of Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation (2006 –early 2009) and her use of bearer’s cheques several innovative instruments were put in place, but the political will to carry these forward no matter what the consequences, was sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. And corruption and subterfuge were never far away. We used traveller’s cheques for a while before moving to bearer’s cheques. Then came BACOSSI (Basic Commodity Supply Side Instrument) to pep up the spirits of consumers. Basically a noble idea, but perhaps other things should have been done besides. Like buying from manufacturers at highly competent prices but lowering the retail prices to obviate any need for foreign goods purely on the basis of their selling cheaper. BACOSSI was so popular that the acronym found its way to football stadiums with Phillip Marufu who came to Dynamos FC from Chapungu FC for a song, being christened BACCOSSI!

During Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity (GNU), Finance Minister Tendai Biti of the MDC had the task of applying STERP (the Short Term Economic Recovery Programme), an eclectic programme, reflective of several other documents floating around at the time. What  is significant here is the zest with which he applied himself to the task. This is something that everyone could do with. Later, in a short memoir of his, Biti was to reminisce:

STERP was articulated around four main areas. First were macroeconomic reforms to contain hyperinflation, negative interest rates and a runaway budget deficit. Second, supply side measures were designed to kick start production
and stimulate capacity utilization. Third, poverty would be addressed by establishing social safety nets to support the most vulnerable. The final area
dealt with interventions promoting peace and democratization, including financial support for constitutional reform.

After 2013 and with the demise of the GNU, new electoral realities and further splits in the MDC, Tendai Biti has not played any further part in the matters for which he displayed a passion.

In recent times the talk has been about ZIM ASSET (Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Social-Economic Transformation) that outlines government multi-sectorial plans at economic recovery right up to 2018. The ZIM ASSET paper is well-researched and well-written but thus far, the pace of implementation has been somewhat slow and erratic. It becomes difficult to see all its objectives being met by the 2018 deadline. Should that happen, it would be such a great pity to see such a potentially good idea go to waste. We need to shake off the tag of non-performers and spring a surprise all round.

Official reports suggest that Statutory Instrument (SI 64) has largely met its objectives, in particular the objective of raising the capacity utilization of the country’s manufacturers. It’s time that we began to exorcise the blueprint demon that seems to make our long list of we-laid plans fizzle out and die.


 
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