43 years of Zim’s epic economic turmoil

The Zimbabwean crisis continues unabated, leading many people to continue to flee to South Africa, some of them swimming across the crocodile infested Limpopo River.

ZIMBABWE has long been stuck in the middle of an economic polycrisis.  It does not need one to erect a mountain of statistical data to prove that Zimbabwe’s economy is in turmoil. 

The Fanonian Les Damnes de la Terre (the Wretched of the Earth) who have been roaming the economic wilderness for over 43 years are readily available to retell their sad story of Zimbabwe’ s post-liberation era.

Their story is a narrative of pain of unemployment and under-employment, primitive salary structures, income policy and pensions, universal mass immiseration, stagnation, grinding poverty and mucous penury among others.

The majority of the ordinary Zimbabweans have no access to clean water, primary healthcare, electricity, descent shelter, education and food.

Right across the country, the infrastructure is grossly inadequate, in disrepair and decrepit. The middle class can be described as non-existent or emasculated while the informal sector is asphyxiated and the rural people are only remembered as voters and not as people with rights enshrined in the constitution.

 How did we get here?

The path to this point is signposted with an admixture of endogenous and exogenous economic and non-economic factors. On its part, the Government of Zimbabwe whether led by the late Robert Mugabe or by the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, would like everyone to believe that the current economic stasis in the country should be attributed to external factors, such as the Euro-Western sanctions/restrictive measures, the effects of climate change and global warming, Covid-19 pandemic and the global impact of the Russia-Ukraine war.

As far as both the Robert Mugabe and the Emmerson Mnangagwa administrations are concerned, their governments have done everything humanly possible to steer the country to economic development.

They pat their own backs, pop champagnes, and self- congratulate. In their balance sheet of governmentality, the credit side far outweighs the debit side.

Their spokespersons can write an equivalence of a bible about the imagined successes of successive post-liberation governments of Zimbabwe.

 There is no denying the fact that the geopolitical and geo-economic factors have had their fair share in sustaining some of the colonialities of power and economy across the continent.

In particular, the neoliberal policy prescriptions imposed by the global financial institutions, including the bitter economic pills of deregulation, decontrol, destatisation, desubsidisation and downsizing contributed towards the economic fallout in the 1980s and 1990s across Africa and the rest of the global South.

These have served to maintain the economically vulnerable countries stuck on the lower rungs of the global geo-economic governance. Moreover, there is sufficient evidence in literature about the imperial effects of the austerity measures and structural adjustment programmes.

With respect to Zimbabwe, a number of academic luminaries and public intellectuals including Brian Raftopoulos, John Makumbe, Lupi Mushakarara, Kempton Makamure, Munyaradzi Gwisai, Masipula Sithole, Mthandazo Ndema Ngwenya and Sam Moyo and many others have written tomes about the darkerside of the neoliberal policy prescriptions hence there is no value in regurgitating their arguments here except to simply footnote their intellectual labour.

A bane and not boon

While it has become a ritual for the Government of Zimbabwe to apportion blame to the external factors, its story is incomplete.

The other part is that the last 43 years have been a bane and not a boon to the majority of Zimbabweans and the large part of the problem lies squarely on the doorsteps of the ruling elite.

From the Gukurahundi years to the current Gold Mafia era, the economy of Zimbabwe has been bled to comatose by the wrongheaded policies of the post-independence authorities.

Beginning with Gukurahundi of the 1980s to the post -2000s years, the country’s poisoned politics has adversely affected the economics to the point of grounding it down.

In the face of political instability, uncertainty over property rights, and violence, many investors have been circumspect to invest in the country.

Of course phantom investments have never seized to mop up the country’s natural wealth and financial capital with the help of political compradors.

In the process, Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of “will to power” has been the major driving force in Zimbabwe as compared to “will to good” which should be a vector of democratic governance.

 The “will to power” is almost always associated with self-enrichment. The private enrichment of the corrupt and thieving elite in control of government and its organs and agencies has been the major poverty factor in Zimbabwe.

The phenomenon of looting by the elite in power is thus fundamental in explaining and understanding the ability of the state to invest in the people and their needs and aspirations.

As rampant corruption allowed a small group of people to amass large sums of money, the country has witnessed widespread money laundering as amply demonstrated by the recent Al Jazeera Gold Mafia documentary.

To this extent, the problem with Zimbabwe is not lack of fiscal resources but that of looting by the ruling elite.

Corruptocracy, kleptocracy, lootocracy and adhocracy are the main defining features of the elite-culture since the day the country changed the colour of its flag and the lyrics of its national anthem in 1980 to this day.

 As such, curbing systemic corruption in Zimbabwe is a challenge that is likely to require strong measures and resources than most “corruption fighters” usually think. 

Policymakers in collaboration with other stakeholders including civil society, the church, private sector, political parties and the media, need to rethink a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy.

There is need for the anti-corruption agencies that are truly independent and not tied to the executive arm of government in order for them to withstand the political pressure.

Unsustainable debt

The story of Zimbabwe cannot be complete without  a specific reference to the debt crisis. Over the last 43 years, the political elite in power have only demonstrated an inadequate understanding of the fundamental problems of the economy hence most of their internally formulated policy instruments and economic measures have been disastrously wrongheaded.

These policies have created unsustainable debt that has been corrosive to the national economy. Zimbabwe will struggle to break out of a cycle of debilitating debt repayment without reform.

In the current global context, the country’s excessive level of public debt is weakening the investors’ confidence and at the same time hurting growth prospects. 

Without sounding pessimistic, the effort of the President of the African Development Bank Dr Akinwumi Adesina to help the country restructure its debts is not likely to bear any sweet fruits as long as the politics in Zimbabwe remains toxic.

Even a bailout will only act as band-aid. It may stop the bleeding for the moment, but there is no guarantee that it will magically solve the polycrisis without reforming the economic system that is currently tied deeply to self-interested political leadership and connected to the rise of illiberal state in Zimbabwe.

Notwithstanding the polycrisis facing Zimbabwe from the Gukurahundi to Gold Mafia years, the country can still rise from its ashes and claim its rightful place in the comity of nations if concerted and decisive efforts are swiftly applied.

The starting point should be the Government’s realisation of the importance of people’s collective intelligence which can be harnessed through multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder dialogue.

  • Dr Moyo is the director of the Public Policy and Research Institute of Zimbabwe. He is also an expert in African Agency, Global Development Finance and Emerging Markets and Developing Economies. These weekly New Perspectives/New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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