Economy: Where Biti is losing it

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A FEW days ago Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti gave an interview to Bernard Mpofu of the newspaper Newsday. A few minutes into the interview I was dismayed at the minister’s cynicism towards those who are seeking ‘alternatives to neoliberalism’ and by implication those who cherish the idea of social democracy itself.
The utterances by Minister Biti could not have come at a worse time, in the sense that millions of toiling Zimbabwean have been pinning their hopes for a better social democratic Zimbabwe on his party, and with elections just around the corner, that is where the timing is very unfortunate. Some of us now have an idea of the kind of ‘anti-poor and anti-working people’ policies that we have to expect in the event of an MDC-T takeover of the reins of power, come August 2013. This will be unfortunate for the poor majorities who have suffered the most during three decades of Zanu PF malfeasance.
After the interviewer asked the question “What does the International Monetary Fund Staff Monitored Programme mean to Zimbabwe?” Minister Biti was quick to flaunt the struggle of his ‘friends from the left’ against neoliberalism arguing that the Bretton Woods system as represented by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are irreplaceable “gatekeepers” vis-à-vis “small” countries like Zimbabwe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If anything the Honourable Minister’s responses reflect a deliberate, cold-blooded effort to ignore the potential of social democratic policies to transform the fortunes of millions of long suffering Zimbabweans for the better. He confirms my fears and that of many others particularly in the labour movement that his MDC-T party’s mere brush over of social democracy in its so-called Jobs Upliftment Investment Capital Ecology (JUICE) policy document  is a derision of the toiling workers and the rest of long suffering poor majority in Zimbabwe.
Many renowned experts, amongst them Ha-Joon Chang a development economics professor at Cambridge University and former consultant to the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and Noam Chomsky, who is a Philosopher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have provided compelling arguments against neoliberalism and the failure of this ‘hegemonic ideology’ especially in developing countries.Advertisement

Minister Biti is surely swimming against the tide. His argument that “a very small country like ours” cannot successfully repudiate odious debt is defeatist and smacks of a leadership banked on carrying out short-sighted post-Mugabe financial programmes through reckless borrowing. The minister should be reminded that taking the reins of power is a means to an end and not an end in itself. In other words he should stop being concerned about the short term glory and personal aggrandisement that will definitely come if an MDC-T led government takes over and chooses to blindly implement the neoliberal policies that define the Bretton Woods system’s programmes.
The socioeconomic and political transformation of Zimbabwe is a struggle that has just began and will have to continue even after the ouster of Robert Mugabe. Occupying the government offices at Munhumutapa Buildings is definitely not the final destination for change seekers in Zimbabwe. So the repudiation of odious debt is one step in a journey of a thousand miles.
The resentment against neoliberalism is quite palpable around the world. People are fed up with what Minister Biti is prescribing for post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and they are rising up. Since 2011, we have witnessed ‘anti-neoliberalism/ anti-capitalism’ protests at the heart of capitalist establishment in New York. This sent chills down the spines of the ‘one percent’ rich people whose gluttony has caused untold suffering of the ’ninety-nine percent’ majority who are struggling everyday to make ends meet. In Europe, particularly in Greece, Spain and Germany, riot policemen and policewomen are working extra hours to contain disenchanted masses that are fighting against the European Union’s austerity policies. Mind you, these are the same policies that Minister Biti wants to shove down Zimbabweans’ throats.
Zambia, one of the countries that minister Biti wants Zimbabwe to emulate has received encomiums from the International Financial Institutions for its ‘economic growth’, but a closer look at its social indicators provides a sad picture of ‘hunger amidst plenty’. A February 2013 report by the organisation, Actionaid, citing empirical sources points out that the proportion of rural Zambians living in poverty increased to 90% since 2001 and that despite the country’s position as an exporter of foodstuffs around “45% of Zambian children are undernourished to the point of being stunted”. Further to this, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported in 2008 that Zambia had a shocking Gini Coefficient of 0.67. Such levels of economic inequalities are not anything to admire let alone even strive to emulate.
The Minister must also realize that free market fundamentalist policies will not help achieve the ‘Asian Tigers’ status reflected in his party’s policy documents, particularly the so-called JUICE. Zimbabwe will further be deindustrialized and the toiling majority will further be sidelined from the mainstream economy. This is one among the many economic miscalculations Robert Mugabe’s government committed when it adopted Structural Adjustment Programmes in the early 1990s.
Minister Biti must also be reminded that the developmental state achieved by the ‘Asian Tigers’ that his party purportedly wants to emulate developed not because the swallowed neoliberalism hook, line and sinker but because they did not leave their nascent industries completely at the mercy of free market and all the other challenges that come with adopting its unbridled version.
No amount of economic mumbo-jumbo, neither Zimbabwe Accelerated Arrears Clearance, Debt and Development Strategy (ZAADS) nor the Zimbabwe Accelerated Reengagement Economic Programme (ZAREP) can vindicate the naked fact that the Minister’s plans are banked on short-term alleviation of the country’s developmental malaise through placating donors. There is no long term vision to see Zimbabwe achieve sustainable prosperity now and for posterity. The Minister spewed out neoliberal rhetoric quite similar to South Africa’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). Such policies have only succeeded in pushing South Africa’s poor into a tight corner and leaving the whole socioeconomic fabric tainted by unemployment, poverty and lewd inequalities.
If Honourable Biti meant what he said seriously then Zimbabwe is in for a shocker if his party manages to capture power in August. Years from now, we will still sing the same songs of poverty, inequality and the burden of unmanageable debt.
Melusi Nkomo is a Ph.D candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (University of Geneva) Geneva, Switzerland. He can be reached at