ZIMBABWE is caught up in election fever, especially the national leadership.
By Eddie Cross
However, it’s not the outcome of these elections that concerns me — it’s what will happen after the elections. The party manifestoes give very little indication of what will happen — they are full of promises that can never be met and talk of policies that are either impracticable or unaffordable. Very little of any real substance and you can see that in the national discourse that is taking place — no ideas are really catching the imagination.
But let me tell you, Zimbabwe is a very sick country and fixing our most fundamental problems is going to be painful and is going to take some courage and commitment. To get us back on our feet and onto the regional and international playing field is not going to be easy or quick. So here is my check list for what it is worth:
Our real gross domestic product (GDP) is probably above $50 billion, but we only tax the formal sector — less than $20 billion and collect about $4 billion in revenues. But our population is probably 13 million and we spend $6,5 billion on trying (unsuccessfully) to maintain social services. That means our fiscal deficit is $2,5 billion or 63% of revenue, 38% of expenditure and 13%of GDP. It is a runaway train and will derail if it is not brought under control. Massive inflation is just around the corner.
Our spend on education is about 23% of the national budget but it’s only $20 a month for primary school students, $50 per month for secondary school students and $150 a month for all students in tertiary institutions of learning. My guess is that those numbers are about one third of what we need to spend to deliver anything like a decent education to the over 5 million young Zimbabweans who are growing up in this country. So the reality is that Zimbabwe may be close to giving all its children an education of sorts, but the great majority come out of school without the ability to compete.
The health budget in Zimbabwe has long been an area of concern. Most international agencies say we should be spending 15% of the budget, our spend is 8% or less. Medical services are essential in a modern economy that seeks to compete internationally — we are behind even countries like Malawi and India. The $1,4 billion spent by the medical aid societies are a major contributor, but for the great majority, our clinics and hospitals are merely bus stops on the way to the cemetery.
Water and sanitation services to communities across the whole country are now totally inadequate. The statistics are frightening; greater Harare with over 6 million residents can supply less than half its residents with water. Its raw water sources are among the most polluted in the world and even after spending $30 million a year on chemicals — it still cannot deliver clean, safe water. Virtually every urban settlement of any size is struggling with the same problems. Bulawayo is an exception but it has to ration water continuously to ensure supplies.
Liquid effluent is the other side of the same coin— up 95% of all sewerage goes into local water courses untreated. Solid waste is accumulated in badly managed dump sites that often burn 24 hours a day and pollute the ground water in the area. Diseases like typhoid and other water borne problems are near endemic. Poor maintenance, corruption and inadequate resources are problems across the country. The most basic public health standards are just not being met in any way.
Other infrastructure such as roads and the railways are in such a poor condition that they now threaten our basic needs in terms of transport. These problems are increasing the cost of doing business and this threatens our capacity to compete regionally and on international markets. If these problems are not resolved they will remain a heavy, unavoidable burden on the whole population and all business activity.
Should the incoming government start to get our economy going again, it will immediately create a whole raft of new problems — shortages of foreign exchange for imports, shortages of energy, congestion of road systems, especially in the larger urban areas. These will create welcome opportunities for large infrastructure related projects but this in itself will be disruptive. Then there is the problem of 2 million people settled in informal housing schemes without services and proper planning. The problem of people making a living from the use of land over which they have no secure tenure. Farmers who cannot borrow and who have little motivation for investment in anything but short-term production. The problem of climate change which threatens to turn large areas of the country into arid or semi-arid regions. If not addressed this will increase the absolute poverty of the people living in these areas and increase migration.
Then the problem of creating jobs. It is quite easy and not difficult to destroy jobs, it’s like blowing up a building rather than building it. It took us 100 years to create 1,2 million jobs for a population of 9 million. Now we are 13 million people with 5 million in the diaspora, and we have 600 000 jobs. Instead of creating jobs since independence, we have destroyed them at the rate of 17 000 a year, while the numbers of job seekers have been growing at ten times that.
Thank God for migration!
We have to create jobs at the rate of at least 150 000 jobs a year for the 300 000 people leaving schools and colleges each year. It does not really matter what sort of a job — anything will do, we have University Graduates cleaning toilets and selling cell phone cards on the streets. Coming off a base of just 600 000 jobs that is not going to be easy. China did it by growing its economy at 12% per annum for 40 years — low wages (often at near slave levels) and high levels of investment at very low cost, driven by the State. Can we do that? Sure we can, but it will require extraordinary commitment. To curb the curse of corruption, China has executed thousands of culprits — are we prepared to go to that length? Is it necessary? When I know it has taken a young couple in Bulawayo who want to make a small investment, three years to get physical planning approval — and it is still not done, I think I want to lead the execution squad.
We have hundreds of people trying to win a seat in these elections, 23 of them want to be President. The other day I had an appointment with our current President at 9am. I eventually saw him at 11.30. He was not well, had a streaming cold and was completely exhausted. Just look at the above and ask yourself, would anyone want this burden?
Not me, but the key element is discovering how to work together and get the best minds and people on the job. Zimbabwe will not overcome its many difficulties and problems unless we learn to work together as a great big team. Share a common vision of where we want to go and then work together to achieve what we set out to do. In a way the election is a first step — I think it’s going pretty well, certainly better than at any time since 2000. If we can keep it up, show the world a unity and determination to secure change — just as we did together in November 2017, then we are out the starters gate. A new day may just about be going to dawn.
Eddie Cross, a Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South, is a Zimbabwean economist and founder member of the Movement for Democratic Change party