By Cliff Chiduku
IT’S the economy, stupid — is a phrase coined by United States political strategist James Carville, while advising Bill Clinton on how to successfully run for the White House.
In 1992, the US was experiencing a recession and the incumbent President George HW Bush was regarded as out of touch with reality. Carville told pro-Clinton campaigners to hammer home the importance of the economy at every opportunity. He went as far as to hang a sign at the Democrats party office reading: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
The phrase, however, has endless possible variations; it could be: “It’s the environment, stupid,” or “It’s education, stupid,” and so forth. The mantra is used to highlight the source of a society’s ills. And for Zimbabwe: “It’s politics, stupid!”
The current economic environment is degrading, frustrating and hope-sapping. And any policy measure or strategy that is being put in place is not helping in any way to rescue us from the accelerating plunge.
If there was ever a national emergency, this is one. There are outcries and sighs of hopelessness all round. Since independence, on paper Zimbabwe has had good economic blueprints, but it is common knowledge that their failure has been rooted in our politics.
It is at the political level that decisions on retirement, education, health, environment — literally on everything — are made. Politics is ubiquitous. So when politics catches a cold, the economy sneezes big time. This is simply because the economy is run by politicians. Anything they do spells either doom or boom. Any decision politicians make determines the destiny of the economy.
The economy is highly sensitive to political whims. No policy meant to trigger an economic rebound can work in a highly volatile and tense political environment. In 2008, Zimbabwe’s political temperature reached boiling point and it was self-evident that there was no escape for the country’s economy; and it shuttered into pieces only to be salvaged by a shaky Government of National Unity (GNU) and dollarisation.
When the economy goes off rails like ours, it is crucial that ideas are allowed to flow freely from everyone on how we can steer the train back on track. This requires setting aside political differences and taking ideas and criticisms from anyone regardless of political affiliation.
Sadly for us, we have a background of politics of hate and intolerance. Politicians, in their quest for power, have a tendency of throwing punches and diatribe at each other. Could it be the reason why some say politics is a dirty game? There is hate that goes beyond differences in political views, spilling into personal lives and intellectual discrimination.
This legacy of hate in politics has made politicians of different persuasions to view each other as enemies. At times, it is hard to believe that we are all Zimbabweans.
This rotten legacy has become so rooted, especially in Zanu PF that it only takes a little criticism of its policies for anyone within or without the party to be “massacred” by a barrage of vitriol or even to disappear from the face of the earth. So in the end, many end up choosing to just spectate from the sidelines as the economy burns down to the last strand — they have resigned to fate. And the leadership is nowhere near prepared to swallow their pride, admit that they are failing somewhere and call for collaborative approach to deal with our economy.
Zimbabweans passionately loathe the situation facing their country, but clearly do not have the wherewithal to alter it. They are simply going on with the tide of a catastrophe they cannot stop.
If only the politicians, especially those who has been jealously holding on to the reins of power for the past 42 years, could only come to realise that their mode of politics is all wrong and is killing the country as well as divide citizens, would things quickly turn for the better in no time.
This self-evident truth was symptomatic of the former President Robert Mugabe (Zanu PF) — Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T)’s political feud, which culminated in the formation of 2009 GNU. Could we have again gone full circle given the current stand-off between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa, amid a tanking economy? Zimbabwe’s situation is untenable as the two protagonists square off with one having political power and the other wielding economic influence.
Today, Zimbabwe finds itself caught up in a situation in which the economic crisis is nothing, but a silhouette of the serious political problem bedeviling it. This simply points to one thing: Zimbabwean problems reveal something deeply wrong with our politics.
Without pulling punches, the real key to unlocking the situation in Zimbabwe is to start by fixing our politics. As long as nothing happens in the way of political reform, then the country still has a long way to go. We may as well kiss goodbye to the attainment of an upper middle class economy by 2030.
It is a given that one of the worst things about the current administration is its dismal failure to win the confidence of Zimbabweans. This so called re-engagement should actually start at home, right here in Zimbabwe and not in foreign lands such as London or Washington DC. The sages say: Charity begins at home!
For example, it is an open secret that Zimbabweans have plenty of foreign currency stashed in their bedrooms because they do not trust local banks. Why? History has contributed to this general apprehension. People remain sceptical of taking their hard-earned cash to banks because they fear that their government can suddenly wake up any day with changed banking rules as it has done on countless occasions in the past.
Because politics is everywhere in this country citizens would be fools to trust a politically-charged government in which political decisions supersedes economics. Their lack of confidence in the Government of Zimbabwe is, indeed not misplaced.
Fixing the Zimbabwean crisis is not as easy as dollarising or adopting the South African rand as an alternative currency.
In the absence of production, where almost everything is imported owing to an archaic industrial infrastructure, then no economy can be revamped. It sounds rather trite, yet it is the truth about the Zimbabwean crisis.
Zimbabwe is a country of massive potential, but remains trapped in economic paralysis whose major panacea simply lies in refreshing our politics. Our politics is characterised by hate; it’s exclusive, tribal and self-centered.
Ours is the politics of stupid. It is scaring away the best brains. It is now about brawn, not brains. Now tomfoolery is characterising our politics.
There is no way things will ever be right in Zimbabwe as long as citizens are afraid of their government because it staunchly practices a religion of hating and literally killing all those who do not believe in its politics. Zimbabwe simply needs to get its politics right, period. Political instability has severely undermined Zimbabwe’s massive economic potential.
As long as this kind of politics is allowed to find comfort in our country, no economic measure or policy, even a blueprint by extraterrestrials from beyond galaxies, will ever work for us because it is politics that determines the health of an economy and not vice-versa.
Food for thought!
- Cliff Chiduku is a media practitioner, public policy and governance analyst based in Harare. He can be contacted on +263775716517, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ChifChiduku.