The political drama and the rituals that come after elections have come and gone. It is time to hit the ground running and get the country back to normalcy. The new Cabinet is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead. The greatest burden lies on the new Finance and Economic Development minister Mtulisi Ncube’s shoulders to provide policy ideas that will extricate the country out of the current economic decline.
develop me: Tapiwa Gomo
His challenges are much more than producing sound policies. Balancing political correctness while articulating what needs to be done will be one of his major challenges. The earlier the government warns the nation that the road to economic recovery will not be easy and short, the better. And that burden should not lie on the minister’s shoulders alone, but shared equally by the entire nation.
In the midst of all the immediate challenges that require urgent attention, there is a temptation to settle for short-term solutions to long-term problems. Already, the minister is talking about addressing the cash crisis without telling the nation that this is one of the many symptoms of an ailing economy. The economy needs recovery and doing so will not be a one-week job.
Perhaps this is the right time for us as a nation to reflect and strategise on a future that transcends the short to medium-term fiscal and monetary policies and political terms of offices. We need a long-term national vision that speaks to where we want the nation to be in the three to four decades. All other policies, including political party blue prints, must then derive from the national vision. That will act as a unifying policy document.
There are several reasons why this is necessary now. The economic infrastructure, the systems and the services that have been gradually crumbling before us are from the Rhodesian economic vision. They are out of date. When the Rhodesian government announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965, the British government and other European countries responded by imposing economic sanctions on Ian Smith’s government.
To counter that, the Rhodesian government put in place a long-term economic vision policy framework which would save the country become economically self-sufficient. This saw the modernisation and growth of the manufacturing and mining sectors. The processing of local raw materials grew rapidly. Major growth industries included steel and steel products, heavy equipment, transportation equipment, ferrochrome, textiles and food processing.
The industry diversified and created import-substitution to compensate for loss of sources of imports due to sanctions. This took nearly a decade and that economic vibrancy is what we inherited at independence and destroyed over the past three decades.
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Between 1980 and now, there were different variations of national plans, most of which prescriptions by the international finance institutions and therefore, were never really implemented whole-heartedly. But even if they were implemented, their intention was never to help developing countries grow. While politics played a part in destroying the economy, in the absence of a national broad-based vision, the economy was still going to plunge due to ageing manufacturing equipment and lack of rejuvenating ideas. We were on cruise mode.
With the July 30 elections behind us, some political scientists have disputably described this period as the second republic. However, what is clear is that we have started on a new journey in a new tenure, but void of a long-term rallying vision. To make matters worse, our ability to lift our heads and map a long-term way forward is impaired by the emerging urgent challenges such as disease outbreaks, unemployment, increasing destitution and a biting liquidity crisis.
As a result, the government will be forced to succumb to the stampede by investors (including the unorthodox ones) and well-wishers willing to address the symptoms. In previous installments, I have discussed, how new capitalists have learnt to swoop on troubled countries without regard for the long-term development needs of a country. In addition, this will make the country vulnerable to unwise allocation of resources and excessive dependence on foreign trade and investment, which may appear like one bringing growth.
In juxtaposition with the various fire-fighting policies by various ministries, the government needs to put in place, as matter of urgency, a national vision committee to spearhead the process of drafting one. This committee must be drawn from all walks of life, with each sector contributing what they envision in the next three to four decades. Central to this national vision is to define how our country can become self-sustaining through creation of wealth to support human development and protection of the environment. The current obsession with dependence on foreign trade and investment vitiates our ability, autonomy and freedom to direct, control and manage our resources towards our national priorities.
Some African countries that have put in place national visions are reaping the fruits. On the sidelines of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa discussions 1991, South Africa was mapping its own vision of sustaining their economy post-independence. Ethiopia and Rwanda are among the fastest growing economies in Africa because they have put in place long-term national visions which they religiously follow and implement. It is possible.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa