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THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN


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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

ZIMBABWE has never missed an election since independence and one can confidently say that the 2008 elections will be held on schedule notwithstanding the sentiments expressed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Only last week, Africa celebrated the 44th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, which was in July 2002, succeeded by the present Africa Union.

The leaders of the then independent Africa made history and gave significant impetus to the continent’s collective but incomplete struggle for independence by establishing this pan-African body.

More than four decades later, the dreams of the founding fathers of the Africa project have been realised only to the extent of decolonising the continent from colonial hegemony.

Africa is still a victim of social inequality, exclusion, bad governance and corruption. Even with the end of the Cold War, Africa remains a challenged continent.

The hope that foundation of Africa’s post-colonial states would be based on the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, good governance, respect of constitutionalism and the observance of human rights has been sufficiently discredited by Africa’s founding fathers and their successors to give credence to the observation that the continent is cursed.

From renaissance Italy to Dubai, the development of the world’s wealthy nations that are meeting in Germany this week has been driven by a combination of responsible and responsive government intervention coupled with strategically timed private sector investments.

History has shown repeatedly that no amount of force can induce capital investment in environments where returns are not assured on a sustainable and predictable basis. No nation can ever be stronger than the strength of its citizens who often achieve the collective desire for progress through self interest and initiative.

The logic that one cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong is equally valid for Africa and yet Africa’s leaders have made it a habit to target the rich countries at a global level and the business sector at the national level for ridicule in the misplaced hope that doing so will distract the attention of the governed from holding them accountable for condemning the continent to a lower standard of leaving.

I have often observed that even if all the rich nations were tsunamied and wiped from the face of the earth, the condition of the poor will not materially change. Equally, even if the rich were to be eliminated, the poor may remain where they are and more importantly may have no hope for a better life.

If the above is true, why would leaders with a demonstrated track record of failed policies and programs seek to entrench themselves in power? It is important that conversations be started among Africans on the key ideological questions that should inform the strategic options for the continent.

Some often hold the position that the poor are poor because of the rich or the conspiracy of the rich nations and, therefore, it is the responsibility of the government to intervene in order to level the playing field. At the global level, the expectation is that multilateral institutions should be used as instruments for challenging and reforming the governance model and architecture while at a national level, the view is that the state in the name of the people must be the custodian of national morality and economic progress. There are many who see in the government a friend of the masses and in business a parasite of the people.

This often leads one to wonder what, if any, is the role of business in social and economic progress. In Africa, the political elites often hold the view that it is a privilege to operate a business in the continent and not a right. The logic advanced is that the output of any human endeavor ultimately belongs to society and the state as a representative of the nation has unfettered rights to private property under what ever construction.

To the extent that most African states share a common colonial heritage, most of the continent’s leaders often benefit from the colonial legacy by constantly reminding their subjects of the risks of colonial resurrection through opposition parties that are often labeled as surrogates and puppets of the rich and powerful nations.

Zimbabwe provides a classic case study for anyone to better appreciate how incumbent parties that have liberation credentials can stay in power indefinitely using state power as a carrot and stick. I set out below my observations of how the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has now been transformed into an election agent for the decisive 2008 elections and how the opposition may not have any chance in hell to prevail.

On Wednesday last week, the state-run Herald newspaper carried an article entitled “RBZ in drive to create jobs” which best illustrates the unfolding drama in Zimbabwean politics. It was reported that the RBZ had embarked on a massive project that will see it setting up institutions throughout the country that manufacture animal-drawn farming implements. It was also reported that the RBZ and not the government was conducting the project in collaboration with technical colleges under the mechanisation programme.

This is what the RBZ governor Dr Gideon Gono was reported to have told Zimbabwe’s elected representatives:

"We are going to set up the institutions in 62 districts of the country as a way to create employment for the youths as well as to bolster agricultural production. Communal farmers contribute to the country’s national food security so we decided to recognise them and assist them improve their traditional way of farming through the provision of these implements.

"We will provide them with the working capital and equipment for them to start running the businesses. It’s time now that we stopped importing maize and even wheat, wasting the little foreign currency we have. We have to produce and this we can do as we have the capacity."

The political import of the Governor’s comments to a parliamentary portfolio committee in an election season that has already begun in Zimbabwe requires a critical evaluation. While it is evident that the role of the RBZ in Zimbabwe is inconsistent with its charter, it is not clear what, if any, is the role of the cabinet of Zimbabwe.

The President is the head of state and government and one would expect that he would be the one responsible for overseeing the operation of the civil service and government agencies and would be at the centre of any new initiative to expand the services of the government to the people. It is common cause that the RBZ has been at the forefront of advancing the logic that the end justifies the means and, therefore, there is no rationale for parliamentary oversight into the allocation of national resources to certain projects and initiatives.

In this vein, one can understand the implications of the RBZ confusing voters with seemingly harmless infrastructural and hardware support. Would the beneficiaries of such irregular government interventions be in any position to punish the ruling party on election day?

On May 24, 2007, another article appeared in the Herald entitled: “No going back on forex surrender requirements” in which the Governor of the RBZ was reported in one of his on the spot guidance tours at Renco Mine to be saying that the RBZ would not succumb to any pressures seeking the revision of the 40 percent foreign exchange surrender requirements for exporters. This is what the Governor is reported to have said:

"The levelling of the playing field in this regard seems to have jolted a player or two in the platinum sector and these seem to have chosen a defiance route and are geared to protect their entrenched position through extensive lobbying of various political figures, the international community, certain banks and other stakeholders to garner support for the confrontational route they have chosen.

"The management of our economic affairs will not be dictated to us by outsiders. To invite outsiders to intervene in domestic disputes such as that emanating from some requirements announced legitimately by a legitimate central bank, in legitimate circumstances, for legitimate purposes, will produce illegitimate results which this Governor will not tolerate.

"I seem to have stepped on raw nerves of some of these guys. When policies are revised in their favour, they see nothing wrong but when we announce certain policies which may not go down well with them but are for the good of the economy, they become very defiant,"

"For instance, this economy is facing drought conditions. This economy is facing shortages of medical drugs, this economy needs to retool in many areas of local authority, parastatal and government operations. This economy requires fuel, fertilizer and electricity among other foreign exchange-driven demands."

Those with genuine difficulties with the new foreign exchange surrender requirements would be engaged "in as sober a manner as possible rather than through antagonistic boardroom resolutions", he said.

On May 27, 2007, the Herald reported that the platinum mining companies had agreed to the extortion. To the extent that Gono’s methods of inducing demanded and expected economic behaviour seems to produce the results ahead of the forthcoming elections, it is clearly unlikely that any pocket of resistance to regime continuity will be left.

The platinum companies like their brothers and sisters operating in an environment where a Governor of the central bank can issue public ultimatums as an intimidation tactic should naturally be in a state of shock and may have been persuaded in closed doors to accept the prescription on the promise that they would be beneficiaries of selectively determined exchange rates that are often given to compliant players at the sole discretion of the Governor.

In such an environment the playing field can never be expected to be level.
The threats of the nature given by the Governor suggest that blind obedience to policy dictates is the order of the day.

In such an environment where hyperinflation and associated economic challenges are expected to be the real variables to determine the continuity of the incumbent, the role of an activist and partisan Governor of the central bank can be better understood. Anyone who dares challenge the status quo is assured of the consequences and it will not be surprising that citizens would like obedient sheep be shepherded into political compliance with a predetermined election outcome.

Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column appears on New Zimbabwe.com every Monday. You can contact him at: mmawere@ahccouncil.com
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