Zimbabwe in focus
external observers are yet to see any positive changes in Zimbabwe since the Government of National Unity ( GNU) took power in February 2009, some internal observers believe that there is some cause for hope.
Speaking at a recent forum at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, MDC Senator David Coltart explained that although he believes that the powersharing agreement upon which the GNU is based is flawed, there was no other realistic way of moving the country forward in a nonviolent manner. He hopes that the lack of involvement by the international community at the time of the negotiations will change and that they will engage with Zimbabwe in the not-too-distant future, although the current global economic climate has meant an inevitable realignment of social, economic and political policies around the world.
Coltart argues that although the MDC should have been given more power having won the majority of the vote in the last elections, that their control of service portfolios in the cabinet is positive for the Zimbabwean people, as that gives the MDC access to the masses and allows them to make a meaningful contribution to the country. Coltart is positive about the Zimbabwean people’s commitment to peaceful change, and while he acknowledges that quicker reforms were expected, he believes that there is a “new mood” in the country and that tensions eased in the past year.
The gradual relaxation of media restrictions is also a cause for hope, says Coltart, as is the desire of many in the cabinet across the political spectrum who “...in some respects have the ability to work together in non-contentious areas and are getting things done.”
The path that Zimbabwe is travelling down cannot be reversed, says Coltart, and as lives start to be improved he hopes that the recognition that “democrats are trying to do the right thing and act in the best interests of the people” will spread.
Coltart is realistic that this road will be a long and arduous one, however. As a human rights lawyer who now finds himself as the Minister for Education, he was horrified to discover that there are an average of 15 pupils to each textbook in the country, and that his Ministry takes up to three weeks to distribute policies to schools as they do not have a photocopy machine.
Coltart is not naïve, however, and criticises his own party for not seizing opportunities that have been presented to them. This, coupled with a lack of expertise in government, his own included, slows processes and hinders development. Western scepticism is another major concern for Coltart, who has been lobbying the World Bank, the IMF, the US and the EU for funding, only to be turned down due to the ongoing farm invasions and the continued detainment of political activists.
Tony Hawkins, a Professor of Economics at the Zimbabwean Graduate School of Management does see some light at the end of the tunnel, but cautions that a great deal of assistance will be needed from the international community, coupled with the implementation of strong policies by the government if real economic progress is to be made. In 2008, Zimbabwe’s GDP fell by 14%, inflation reached the quadrillions, the local currency was dollarised and over one half of the country’s formal sector jobs were lost. This left income levels on a par with those of the 1950s and threequarters of the population living on less than a dollar a day.
Hawkins believes that the company needs “a new business model”, as well as a new government which can “make decisions together”. Public services are weak, the country cannot pay regionally relative wages, which has meant a brain drain, the banking system has been damaged by a lack of capital, there is a severe currency shortage, food shortages are being felt nationwide, exports are down and there is foreign debt amounting to US$6 billion. Given that there is a global economic crisis and the government cannot see eye to eye on many issues, Hawkins believes that Zimbabwe will only see growth of 2,5% this year.
Additional concerns include that public services are under-funded and underresourced, which is not conducive to economic reform. The internal squabbling about perks such as luxury cars is disappointing for Hawkins, particularly given the debt overhang the country is burdened with. “Loose talk” about moving back to the Zimbabwean dollar could also be damaging, and “must be put off for a long time”, as it is extremely difficult to make the transition back from dollarisation he explains.
Should the government make “the right decision” to privatise the re-building of the country’s infrastructure, that would make the process a great deal smoother, says Hawkins, however he believes that this is unlikely given the government’s short-term plan of “indigenisation”. Hawkins wonders how this will be done given the government’s lack of capital coupled with the lack of skills in the country. For Hawkins, however, the most serious concern is the destruction of institutions that has taken place, including health, education, media, rule of law, police services and the civil service. He argues that it will take years for these to be regenerated to any meaningful level.
Given all of his negative sentiment, however, Hawkins believes that there should be recovery in manufacturing, mining and tourism, and that the IMF’s estimation of 6% growth in 2010, while “at the upper end”, is not unrealistic. He does note however that it would take 12 years of 6% growth to get back to where the country was in 1998.
Says Hawkins, “ There is no silver bullet. Recovery will come slowly now, accelerating next year. We need to adopt the ‘big bang’ approach that China took in 1978. Zimbabwe needs to change the system and open the door.”