I MUST admit I am not a great fan of Gideon Gono, who stepped down as Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor last week at the expiry of his two-term tenure. Neither am I rabidly against him.
Echoes by Conway Tutani
Gono served as central bank governor during the most socio-economically and politically tumultuous time since independence. This is not to belittle the Gukurahundi massacres when over 20 000 civilians were killed after a military offensive against armed dissidents went overboard.
But the casualties from Gono’s era of hyperinflation — which hit 231 million percent when calculation was abandoned altogether — could be far much higher than Gukurahundi even though no guns were fired.
Remember when over 4 000 people died countrywide from a single cause when cholera — an ordinarily curable disease from a bygone era — resurfaced and the epidemic peaked in 2008 following the collapse of water delivery in urban areas because of the ensuing economic meltdown?
How many other people died from the direct and indirect effects of that dark period? It’s likely much more than 20 000. People lived through unimaginable horror as hunger and disease stalked. This was a crazy and cruel period. Just as it is not in the evolutionary interest for species to eat each other, it’s not in the national interest to devour each other.
But that is just about what happened then when the impoverishment of the majority enriched the few politically connected, as Gono printed the Zimdollar into extinction, with everyone becoming a trillionaire, making things a trillion times worse. The system became desensitised to the people’s suffering. You can’t put a spin to such tragedy.
We need people like Zanu PF politburo member and former Midlands governor Cephas Msipa who this week said: “People should understand that there is national interest and self-interest. Some of us joined politics to bring about change and not for personal gain. It is in the national interest that I said these (white) dairy farmers should remain on their farms. We don’t have to import milk when we have people who are productive. It does not matter that one is white or black; what we want is development.”
Well, necessity is the mother of invention. Difficult situations inspire ingenious solutions. This proved to be the case when ordinary people abandoned the Zimdollar before Gono’s say-so or go-ahead.
They were way ahead of him in dollarisation. They led, he followed.
This was not lost on even the least keen observers.
This is because the combined intelligence of the people is higher than that of any individual — whether company chief executive, central bank governor or State President. By the advent of the inclusive government in 2009, Gono had lost both his credibility and relevance. Gono was the face of that darkest of periods. That is an inescapable fact.
Leaders need the humility and emotional intelligence to treat people — high and low — as equal human beings. Everyone — big and small — matters. Lack of that has seen academic types fail monumentally in politics and as CEOs. That’s where some political parties lost it in the July elections.
But in all this, we must give Gono his due. One cannot gauge performance without going into the facts. At times Gono sounded like a voice in the wilderness as he warned against the repercussions of haphazard price controls, earning the wrath of economic “nationalists” such as Tafataona Mahoso.
There was a whispering campaign, especially in some sections of the State media, suggesting criminality in his conduct — all designed to stop him in his tracks from going to the core of some fundamental issues which vested interests wanted to protect. All this smacked of blackmail.
Indeed, some of the accusations against Gono were not fair. We must realise that he worked under severe limitations, the most significant of which was the financial profligacy of the government, and its fiscal irresponsibility. We really cannot lay at his doorstep all the ills plaguing the economy.
The entire mess was primarily due to the ineffective governance and faulty policies of the government. They have even managed to cheapen the US dollar. But even if some bureaucrat was at fault, the government had to intervene and make necessary corrections which was its prime duty and responsibility. Blaming any bureaucrat was not going to solve the problem.
But then, Gono was no ordinary bureaucrat. He became the de facto Prime Minister of Zimbabwe with virtually a blank cheque to do as he wished. Everyone has an ego, but some people take this too far.
The nation suffered immensely as a result of Gono’s “go-along-to-get-along” mentality.
He survived to serve his full two terms because he was on the right side of the ruling elite. He protected their interests and indulged their economic fantasies at the expense of the nation.
There cannot be innovative and progressive economic solutions under a calcified political order. There was no way he could make headway under that inflexible and unchanging order.
The governor hitched a ride on a runaway train — which crashed.