THE past three instalments have seen this column deal with sample thoughts on Zimbabwe, our country. Of course the underlying issue is a Lenin-like question: What is to be done. As you notice, I avoided calling the question Leninist, an adjective that would raise distracting connotations. Historically Lenin raised this question at a time when Russia was at a critical juncture of its buffeted history. Russia was transiting from a feudal era or the era of Czars to one defined by socialist aspirations. Again you notice I avoided describing this prospective era as socialist, in deference to the social non-descripts which followed Lenin, all of them still named variously, with little prospects for consensus. Russia was on the cusp of a real regime change, and Lenin posed the question to raise the issue of content for the emerging era. The prospects looked hazy, the road to it bloody and uninviting. For apart from being internally riven, Russia faced a real external threat from the capitalist West which was determined to bury this dangerous experiment in social engineering at inception. All that made the question, ordinarily so basic and mundane, assume such an unusually philosophical, nay existential, depth. I guess post-election Zimbabwe is in a comparable situation, more or less, which is what makes the question appropriate and timely.
Even when you dance in water
Already we have four thoughts, two from within the Zimbabwean polity, another two from outside of it. To recap, one thought agitated for regime change, another for jobs, jobs and more jobs. The third suggested redistribution in ways that profits the poor, the marginalised. The last one was broader and envisioned an Africa that breaks with her servile colonial past, an Africa that for once leads where it has always followed, leads defiantly, unmindful of outside judgment which has, and can never be complimentary anyway. In the words of Jammeh, an enemy will always be an enemy; even if you dance in water, he will still accuse you of raising dust and throwing particles into his eyes. He will even weep to make sure the charge sticks.
Unhappy names for things out of wedlock
But from the debate that followed the aforementioned three pieces, it is clear not many of us realize we stand at crossroads, puzzled and unclear of which road to follow. Much worse, unclear which road is followable, basing our prospects on the concrete realities obtaining on the ground, many of them decidedly grim, and quite comparable to the Russia of 1917. For some, consuming interest and loyalty to party politics, party perspectives, party loyalties, make it difficult to debate issues — any issue — without seeing them and framing responses in terms of the Zanu-PF/MDC binary. This is how green we are politically. The binary has become not just a shorthand to thought and reasoning, but a short-sight on ideas and perspectives; not just a matter of mind, but one of myopia. Not many believe reality to be longer than party slogans, taller than party leaders. It is as if reality is filially linked to Zanu-PF or to MDC, Zimbabwe’s only two patriarchs or matriarchs, with all else not issuing from, or belonging to, these two cosmic sires, earning the unhappy appellations of all things born out of wedlock. It is sad, sadder to the national thought process.Advertisement
Dropping at the mouth of hell
For others, the failure to debate is a genuine inability to process the stupendous information reaching them, information pelting them at every turn, information concussing them so unremittingly. This is the price we all pay for living in an information age, which is not quite the same as living a knowledge age. For between information and knowledge lies an inverse proportion, indeed profound chasm unbridgeable for many. A pity all such people for whom this age of information has become an unhappy age of perplexity. Many nations are in that predicament, which is why they choose the safety of following, of aping and of mindless deeds which Jammeh decries. You jump onto the bus and only marvel and ask when it drops you at the mouth of eager hell! Both at individual and at national levels, the decision-making matrix has become quite complex, forbidding in fact. Here in Zimbabwe, we are less bad, but not a whit good, better. It is a matter of comparative badness.
Our simple moral world
Where others have chosen mindless following, we have hidden our directional incapacities in normative visions, in heavy, censorious prescriptions that are today the hallmark of our interface with the rest of the world, principally the imperial West. It is a stance founded on the bitter experience we got from history, a cruel colonial history which has imparted into us a contrarian reflex, itself less burdensome in a world of baffling choices, a world of complex matrices. You just find out what the west does not want and you do it. It must be the right thing! Our politicians gave us such an easy normative vision — indigenisation and economic empowerment! You don’t have to think. You don’t have to analyse the world as you find it, reconstruct its hidden rules. You simply moralise: does it indigenise, does it empower. Finish! Do you support indigenisation? Empowerment? If you do, enter ye the Kingdom; if you don’t, get flung into a bottomless abyss. Finish. It’s very much a morality play. And if the world does not comport to that moral precept, pity the world, for we want to indigenise. Our revolutionary fervour burns incandescent. We are Zimbabweans!
Give me the policy
The feeling from this normative goal – so remarkably impalpable as an actual policy of solid nuts and bolts — is that it is so light on the mind, so elastic enough never to overstretch on any matter, any reality, and hey, so accommodating to all and sundry that it wins Zanu-PF elections! It does not need any theories, any econometric models. Just your belief, your graduated irrationality making right noises as you rave and rant! For a good half a decade after its declaration, indigenisation and economic empowerment does not have a single policy document, a coherent economic argument or model, beyond a cryptic slogan text. Not many admit to this, which is why consensus on it is so easy to strike. Each one carries his or her own conception of it, wants it to manifest in situations of personal gain. Let’s admit it, there is a problem. We are still to found coherent economics to the philosophy of indigenisation, and to say so is not to take by a single iota away from its value. It is to recognize a crucial step we have skipped, which is not plugged, can become a weakness.
Where the answer is “it can’t”
It is this fuzziness which makes indigenisation such an easy, admirable vision on what is to be done, or more accurately, what is to be spoken! For it is in the nature of all normative policies and goals to give the haver, the articulator, a Moses-like complex, a complex of near divinity. You are the lawgiver, laying down the commandments to which mankind and the world must trim. As with the Bible, commandments are not tested against reality. Any lapses in observing their lofty demands indicts Man, indicts this sinful world, never Moses the lawgiver. Is it not nice to be God in Eden? To be the Being who comes to judge after a trying temptation, after a fatal, irrevocable Fall? This is the sweet state we are in. Let’s face it, to this day, unlike land reforms whose economics are clearly spelt out and developed, indigenisation is a sound philosophy of resistance; it is yet to become a governing policy, indeed a way of organising the economy and distributing its benefits. And Zanu-PF is just beginning to see it: elections are fought in a prelapsarian Eden; but countries are run and governed in Eden after the Fall. The fastest casualty of electoral victory is the happy world of campaigning where everything is possible. After that world goes, in comes an imperfect and dismal one, a world where “it can’t”. The axial principle of that world is a dismal science called economics which requires that yodelling politicians of yesterday provide answers to society’s key question of limited means against unlimited needs! In that world, fallen Man no longer lives on Heaven’s bounty, on the endless beneficence of Providence. He survives. Survives on a hard, resisting livelihood.
After victory, no party!
In the few months that have gone past since July 31, Francis Nhema, Zanu-PF’s first fallen Adam — or his guilty Voice — has been busy paring down the notions of indigenisation and economic empowerment, before now Zanu-PF’s first class norms. And that he can do so bears out my point about a policy-free normative ideal. It can be individuated depending of course on who is at the helm. Hard behind him breathes the panting and dazzled Patrick Chinamasa, all his hoarse, pre-election voice now sliding with remarkable ease on the slippery honeypot of IMF discourse! You talk to him, he tells you we need policy clarity on two issues: agriculture and indigenisation. You talk to him, he says we have to find ways of lowering country risk so we reduce borrowing cost. It suggests a Zimbabwe which borrows, never one which owns, controls. You cannot avoid the vertigo of an acute spin, especially if you, like me, entered this world with innocence, believing words should mean! We seem to have won on indigenisation in order to get the reprieve and legitimacy to reverse it. The real ground, the work-a-day-world dictates new realities. More than anyone else, Zanu-PF knows you govern in that Eden which the serpent visited and fouled, an Eden inhabited by fallen Man! Indeed Zanu-PF knows that after victory, there is no party, sorry Party!
The bane of binaries
My real interest is the directional perplexity of you and me, of Zimbabwe. I spoke about those amongst us who see matters in terms of party binaries. Here is one of them, one Luke Zunga, introduced and summarised by the press as a Joburg-based economist: “Zanu-PF should acknowledge that there will be no economic growth without political reforms. Donors who funded the inclusive government have stopped pumping in money because they need to see reforms first before committing themselves . . . There has never been ready cash in Zimbabwe. The country survived on donor funding during the tenure of the unity government and the liquidity crisis has come about because the same donors will not fund a government that is not democratic . . . If it is a government for the people, they should be willing to implement some of the politically-sensitive reforms demanded by the western countries in order to secure billions of dollars to keep the economy afloat.”
One Joburg-based economist
We in newsrooms are very polite. We dignify crass thoughts, and even imply their profoundness by introducing their owner as “a Johannesburg-based economist”. Such introductions are meant to be biographical statement of quality! You are in Joburg, so you must be good, better than the lot here, and to quote you imparts profoundness to news. That is the thinking. Let’s test it. Here is Zimbabwe, barely a year into a new constitutional dispensation, barely four months after its harmonised poll, and you have “a Johannesburg-based economist” mumbling about political reforms! Much worse he talks of donors “pumping in money” for the inclusive Government! When? I hope Tendai Biti agrees and will be gracious enough to tell us where he put such money after the donor pump ceased running, beads of sweat on its forehead. An economist who does not hear a banker confessing that a billion dollars left the country just before the elections, in the process giving rise to the liquidity crunch we face, can’t be “Joburg-based”, surely? A “Johannesburg-based economist” who does not know that his country imports US$7bn worth of goods against a mere US$3bn by way of export receipts, all from its cash savings? Or that Zimbabwe is under crippling sanctions, with its receipts getting intercepted by the same donors? All that and much more do not matter to this vaunted economist who confesses to the need for donor-demanded “politically sensitive reforms” but without explaining the sensitivities; indeed an economist who thinks being “a government for the people” means pushing through reforms “demanded by the western countries in order to secure billions of dollars and keep the economy afloat”! You can see what thought-things the political binary excuses, what thought-crimes it readily condones. People get away with undeserved titles, squatting on columns which are supposed to mirror a Zimbabwe wrapt in thought about its futures! What vision for Zimbabwe does one glean from this? Does the writer even know where we are, let alone what we need to do?
Now, the real meat
And now a sample perplexity. Farai Murambiwa is an investment analyst in Harare. I don’t know the fund which employs him, what his academic qualifications are. But you can’t doubt the quality of his analyses, this “Harare-based investment analyst”! He raises key issues on why local firms can’t buy local products, and why local manufactures are not competitive regionally, globally. He cites Delta which says local sugar — a key ingredient in its beverage products — costs 60 percent more than what it takes to land it from the region. Similarly, Dairiboard pays 50 percent more for local raw milk than what its South African competitors pay. The story is the same with National Foods in respect of local wheat and flour. So does our fertilizer companies whose products do not compare at all with any in the region. So, too, is the case with Turnall whose roofing materials are beginning to lose out in South Africa’s massive housing programme. A staggering one relates to Zimplow which has had to license manufacturers in China for cheaper productions in order to defend and keep its regional market! That way jobs have gone to China, with Zimbabwe as the distributor of a business it once owned, ran.
When the dollarisation cure poisons
Murambiwa’s story, or rather our story, gets worse. In this economy the US dollar which we use has now become overvalued, an exact antithesis of baneful Zimdollar devaluation. We make it available to borrowers at upward of 15 percent interest rate, when its obtainable for far less in the US and other countries. Much worse, we have overvalued the dollar at a time when the Rand has been sliding, in the process making South Africa cheaper as a competing production base and therefore giving the region products more competitively priced. We have been undercut. With many regional economies affixed to the Rand, Zimbabwe and its dollarised economy faces a competitions uphill. Dismissing easy explanations like antiquated machinery, high cost of capital or low capacity utilisation, Murambiwa gives a staggering upshot: “Imports to Zimbabwe have become too cheap and no level of efficiency by a local company can outstrip the impact of the high cost base obtaining in the country . . . Exports, on the other hand, are becoming expensive and markets for Zimbabwean produced goods are shrinking.” He wonders whether dollarisation is good anymore, beyond the currency instability and inflation it cured. “Dollarisation which rescued Zimbabwe from the jaws of certain collapse, appears to be stifling it and inhibiting growth for full recovery to be realised”, he adds. Even more fascinating is where this thinking takes him: “When Zimbabwe admitted its developmental needs were better served by subcontracting monetary policy formulation, the Nation was left hugely exposed, owing to its huge debt position, then more than twice the size of its GDP, and the inability of revenue collections to fund government expenditure”. Here is a thoughtful economic analyst, a genuine one from Harare!
The return of the Zimbabwean blight
What of his vision? I will let Murambiwa speak for himself: “But what options does the country have? Abandon the multi-currency system altogether and reintroduce the Zimbabwe dollar? This will be very unpopular and unthinkable. Develop some exotic system that will see the RBZ regain some of its powers of self-determination while maintaining the multi-currency regime? That will again be very unpopular with especially given that the Central Bank is yet to gain friends, but the strategy is clearly gaining currency as options continue to reduce. Lastly, stick with the US dollar and seek to devalue internally! Plausible and loaded with long-term benefits, but, the strategy has proven to be very painful elsewhere and given Zimbabwe’s affinity to attract negatives in any strategy, this may as well lead to more imbalances than benefits”. And then vintage Murambiwa: “Whichever way one looks at it, Zimbabwe has very tough decisions to make if it is to become competitive once more. For now, however, let’s contend with coke laced with South African sugar!”
Give me an economist with one hand
One day in his life, the late Bernard Chidzero, Zimbabwe’s legendary economic minister at Independence recounted a joke cracked by a sitting Head of State, all after a perplexing encounter with his team of economic advisors. “Each time I ask what is to be done, they tell “on the one hand there is . . ., on another hand there is . . . ” I am fed up. Find me an economist with only one hand!” Unfortunately our predicament is worse: Murambiwa has three very sprite hands, all of them wringing in despair in spite of bounteous energy from a surfeit of South African sugar! He personifies Zimbabwe’s state of perplexity, continued perplexity even after freeing ourselves from party binaries. We perceptively analyse the problem, then use the same sharp mind to run us down, to drive us into self-defeatism and consuming gloom. Our heads get us to fling our hands, never to arm for action. To me this summarises our main national weakness. We have a visioning problem, which is why we seem fated to be a status quo people, never a transformational people. What vision do we glean from brilliant Murambiwa, except the biblical one: abandon all hope all ye that enter? This is vintage perplexity, the type which get us to want to remain managers while decisions are handed down to us from overseas, for our diligent implementation. We are very adept at that. After all, there is peace and safety in being menials. The brains don’t get expended, overused even!
Enter the era of distress sales
But there are more depressing details from fallen Eden. Key national assets are being seized while we wring our hands in learned despair. Or mouth out indigenisation and economic empowerment. With most companies in debt, without capital, underutilised, on old technology and uncompetitive, predators are on the prowl. Looking at the landscape after devastation, this is what meets the eye: Kingdom Bank has been taken over by foreigners, Nigel Chanakira is out. FBC has just had 7,3 percent of its shares snapped by a Mauritian equity firm, Shore Cap II Ltd. FBC already has a US investment firm, Consilium Investment Management commanding a 4 percent stake. Significantly, this used to be a Zanu-PF bank!
A few months back, Safari Quantum, a Malaysian private equity fund, snapped 10 percent in CBZ Holdings. ABC Holdings now has a German majority shareholder, thanks to goings-on on the Botswana Stock Exchange we cannot reach or influence. The Japs (Kansai Plascon) now own 49 percent of Astra, thanks to RBZ which sold its stake. Government stake in other words! Cairns has four hot suitors, soon to be in-womb, thanks to these amorous foreigners. And in all these transactions, assets have gone for paltry sums, for sums which make a song more expensive. We have entered the zone of distress sale, and nothing fetches value.
When the whole economy is talking to foreigners
And the conclusion of all this for Zanu-PF and for Zimbabwe and her aspiration to indigenisation is clearly disheartening. Chinyama summarises it: “It’s a tough situation . . . Everybody is talking to foreigners — from bankers to manufacturers and retailers. We don’t have the money . . . The reality is that our companies need foreign capital to survive, yet our politicians are talking about indigenisation. It’s a delicate situation and there will be a compromise situation.” I just thought it good to shock you a bit, gentle reader, so you begin to jump past this national disease of spewing slogans, eloquently describing problems while majestically forgetting you owe yourself solutions to those problems. Let’s hope this instalment does the trick and gets us to deepen our thought process so we begin to enter the realm of visioning, until now too forbidding even for our angels. The current audit on national thought and thinking is not very edifying and you and me must worry, berate ourselves even. Don’t blame me for exemplifying the weakness. It may be too early, and also another not-so-clever way of ducking the matter broached. I will not allow you to get away with it. Icho!