Thursday, 20 March 2014

Zim nationalists need to listen more and be less defensive

*I am almost always disappointed by the characteristic response of the "nationalists" to arguments and observations by white commentators about the failures of the nationalist government over the post-independence period, such as the one below by Eddie Cross. First, they never fail to emphasise their interlocutor's race and Rhodesian past as an attempt at invalidating such observations and perspectives. And the irony is that Zimbabwe's economic and physical infrastructure also has a  Rhodesian past, which has served as a brilliant legacy that gave the post-independence government a starting position that many other African countries could only have dreamt of at the point of their own assumption of self-rule.
This is what Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa did recently in response to the white economist John Robertson at a workshop/conference in Harare, for which he was chided by the Herald columnist "Nathaniel Manheru" for failing to give an "intellectual" response to Robertson. Secondly, the more intellectual nationalist response retreats to a claimed ideological and moral high ground which is meant to put such "neo-colonial" and "neo-liberal" perspectives into the shade . The whole effort trips over a litany of excuses as it battles spiritedly to deflect responsibility for all that has failed to go well in the Zimbabwean economy after independence.
I don't necessarily agree with all of Eddie Cross's explanations for what has gone wrong in the Zimbabwean economy, or all of his prescriptions on what must be done. But I also strongly object to the view by some who have expressed themselves here before, that on historical and ideological grounds (and racial, though thats not made explicit) the likes of Eddie cannot hold a valid opinion that isn't favourable to the nationalist party and its government without being "unrepetant Rhodies" now pushing a "neo-liberal" agenda.
My own view is that the party in power has a very thin skin, is very sensitive to criticism, doesn't admit any responsibility for getting anything wrong in the economy, and especially abhors comparisons of its economic performance with that of its Rhodesian predecessor, to the point of denying the positives in the legacy that it inherited from Rhodesia, not least in the form of the very infrastructure that our national economy has subsisted on for the past 34 years and which is now dated and creaking and lacking much needed repair and rehabilitation. Secondly, that the nationalist government has very limited capacity for listening, is too defensive for its own good, and undermines its potential to establish gainful economic relations with the world by holding a distorted view of national sovereignty that says we can do as we please, such as unilaterally violating bilateral investment protection agreements, and yet still expect the world to not be uncomfortable doing business with us.

After this lengthy caveat, you may now proceed to read Eddie Cross's article below.

Stark Realities

At a seminar this week, a senior Chinese businessman said that in 1979 he had been in charge of the Chinese project to build the TanZam Railway from Dar es Salaam to Ndola in Zambia. He had finished the project that year and was moving back to his base in China. He described how he had packed his bags with sugar, milk powder and baby food; all basic needs that he knew were in short supply at home.

In 1980 the leadership of China changed and Deng Zhou Ping became the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and launched his campaign to bring China into the main stream of the world economy. He stated that “it does not matter that the cat is black or white, what matters is does it catch mice”. Today, 35 years later China has the second largest economy in the world and has brought nearly a billion people out of abject poverty and into relative prosperity. The transformation is breathtaking and the talk of the rest of the world.

The businessman did not have to point out the stark contrast with the history of the past 35 years in Zimbabwe. In 1980 we were a middle income country with a higher GDP per capita than China, we had virtually no debt and a currency that was worth twice the value of the US dollar. We produced 90 per cent of what was sold in our supermarkets and our farmers employed 350 000 people, supplied 60 per cent of the inputs required for our industry, generated half of all exports and provided food at prices that were well below any other country in the region.

Today our GDP per capita is among the lowest in the world with half our population in abject poverty. Only 5 per cent of our population is working in the formal sector, we import 70 per cent of our food and pay higher prices for it than any of our neighbors. Only half of what we buy in our supermarkets is made in Zimbabwe – and even then most local products are produced using imported raw materials. Nearly half our children under 5 years of age are malnourished and we have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world and child and maternal mortality rates that are well above those in all other southern African States.

Our leadership in 1980 included 19 men and women with a PhD or more behind their names. I would have thought that they would have constituted the most highly qualified administration in Africa. Our Prime Minister, soon to be President had 6 degrees, spoke English as if it was his first language and was acknowledged as a very intelligent person. He was also tough and a clever, intuitive politician. Zimbabwe came to life with everything; a good climate, well educated elite, a balanced, mixed economy with abundant mineral resources and the full support of a global community that wanted us to succeed in every way.

As he spoke to the seminar, which was attended by the Vice President, Ministers, Diplomats and nearly all Senators and Members of Parliament, total silence claimed the Conference Center we were in. We all reflected on just what we had done wrong that our two countries – starting out with such hope and ambition in 1980 and yet ending up in such different places.

Two weeks ago I wrote a piece that stated that we did not have to do a great deal to get our country back on track into the future. I was criticized for that comment by people who thought that I was praising the Rhodesians for how they ran the country before Independence and minimizing the difficulties – some claimed it was all about “sanctions”. But the truth is we have to answer for what we have done with what we inherited in 1980. We have to answer to our children if none other because it is their future that we have destroyed.

At the same seminar we heard speaker after speaker, none from the UK or the USA, many from other developing States, all of whom said two things – we would love to invest in your future but sadly, your rules and behavior deny us the opportunity. The Indian Ambassador was blunt, “how can you expect Indian business to invest in Zimbabwe when the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement signed in 1999, ratified by the Parliament of India in 2000 has not been ratified by Zimbabwe in 14 years?’’

The message they all gave was quite clear. We must respect and enforce the rule of law, we must enforce compliance with contracts, we must guarantee investment and protection of private property, must pay full compensation when those rights are violated for whatever reason. We must create an investor friendly and conducive environment where business can expect to make a fair return on their capital and technology. We must guarantee all essential support services – education and health services for staff and management, transport and communications, access to regional and global markets at a reasonable cost. We must curb corruption and the activities of parasitic State agencies that must collect rents from our enterprise to survive.

They all said that our desire to control what goes on in our economy was similar to the position of all their governments. They did not think that indigenisation was a threat in any way – but we had to pay for our equity and respect the needs and requirements of our partners. They asked for strong government that was principled and for consistency and predictability with the ground rules being set out clearly and with guarantees that they will not change once the game is underway. They said that they always took a long term view of the situation into which they were investing time, technology and resources.

A quick review of what we have done to the mining industry (which grew at 35 per cent per annum in the period of the GNU) shows very clearly where we have gone wrong. Not only has the line Ministry been corrupt, demanding large payments for decisions and in the case of the Marange diamond fields, violating, without compensation, the rights of ACR who found the diamonds and had legal rights to a large part of the deposit and then simply taking over and exploiting the largest diamond find in a century. There was no transparency; no accountability and the wealth created found its way to a few politically connected people. Then, without consultation, we imposed massive fees on the industry and then in early 2014 new rates of royalties that are already closing down hundreds of small mines throughout the country.

When three world class mining companies invested billions in the platinum industry, employing thousands of Zimbabweans and virtually no expatriates, instead of being proud of what they had accomplished, we threatened them, made unreasonable demands on them, forced them to enter into share deals that were not in the interests of the company or the communities they work amongst. Now we have imposed heavy royalties and threatened punitive taxes on “unprocessed” platinum being exported, even though the value addition is minimal. The present product being exported is highly processed and concentrated and there is little financial prejudice to the country and in any event we cannot provide the electrical energy needed for such development.

As for agriculture our track record is even worse. We have taken over by force, the assets of over 6000 companies and individuals, we have destroyed the productive infrastructure that had been built up and paid for over the previous 100 years by enterprise and effort. We have not paid compensation or dealt with the human suffering that has resulted. We point to the partial recovery in tobacco production and the increased number of players without recognizing that the same effect could have been achieved without disruption. We have taken more than $10 billion in assets out of the economy and the great majority of these once productive enterprises are now derelict and abandoned.

Right now we cannot pay for even the most basic needs and priorities in Government. The economy is again contracting and State revenues declining. If we want to get out of the hole we are in we have no choice but to harness our business sector and get foreign direct investment in large quantities into our economy. There is no alternative, we have to change the way we are doing things, that is the stark reality facing Zimbabwe.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 15th March 2014

Monday, 10 March 2014

On the EU's lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe

President Mugabe and his wife Grace are the last two names on EU's sanctions list
Recently I took part in a discussion on Press TV's Africa Today programme with Association of African Owned Enterprises chair Washington Kapapiro and academic George Shire about the EU's lifting of sanctions on President Robert Mugabe's government whilst retaining restrictive measures on Mugabe himself and his wife Grace. As argued by many others before, including Oxford academic Blessing-Miles Tendi, the EU's singling out of Mugabe brought home the hypocrisy that has dogged its foreign policy on Zimbabwe at a time when the bloc is about to engage the ICC-indicted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta as part of the EU-Africa Summit.

Indeed, the gesture, touted as a reward for the passing of a new constitution and decline in political violence in the 2013 elections, is widely seen as a climb-down in order to allow members of the EU to re-enter Zimbabwe's economy, where the Chinese dragon currently enjoys free rein. Belgium has been instrumental in pushing for the EU's climb down in order to clear the way for Zimbabwe's alluvial diamonds to markets in Antwerp. The ridiculous retention of Mugabe and his wife on the sanctions list was a compromise to Britain, whose visceral dislike of Mugabe was so hammered by politicians and the media into the heart of public opinion that to now proclaim Mugabe as free to visit Britain and elsewhere in Europe as he likes would produce a public backlash.

And so the British are, in this respect, prisoners of their successful demonisation of Robert Mugabe. It is not that the veteran nationalist has no checkered human rights record to answer to; rather, it is the inconsistency in the implementation of what the late former UK foreign secretary Robin Cook claimed to be an 'ethical foreign policy' that has left the UK's Zimbabwe policy in an untenable position. In this sense, the retention of sanctions on Mugabe and his wife whilst letting off his entire government and security chiefs comes across as no more than a fig leaf for the UK. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Permanent election mode hurts economy: Mzembi

THE Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi (WM), was recently in London for the 2013 edition of the World Travel Market, a leading global tourism expo. Journalist Chofamba Sithole (CS) got a few moments with Mzembi just before his address to members of the Zimbabwean community at Zimbabwe House. He addressed the political processes inside the ruling party, Zanu PF, vis-à-vis the challenge of delivering on its election manifesto pledges, as well as on international re-engagement.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi
CS: In terms of governmental focus on delivering on your manifesto pledges, your party has gone into election mode after the general elections, and there has been criticism that this has taken your eye off the ball. Do you feel that this was a priority to engage with at this moment, and assure the people that the government really does mean business?

WM: We are a very constitutionally compliant nation; elections are held when they are due and we have done that consistently, inspired by the party’s own intra-party democracy where we are also very constitutionally compliant. However, having said that, obviously intra-party contestations take a lot of energy away from the government thrust on resuscitating the economy. And one hopes that we quickly realise that and just readjust our timings to reflect our priorities at this juncture and also begin to induce a culture in the country which does not take all the energy in one direction but distributes that energy equitably through all the national priority areas.

CS: Your elective congress is due next year and that is possibly another major electoral period that your party, and indeed the country, will be going into. Does this permanent election mode not thwart the momentum of efforts to revive and strengthen the national economy?

WM: But that happens in any democracy. When you have Democratic conventions and Republican conventions in the United States, or Conservative, Labour and Lib Dems conferences here in the UK, those are precursors to any governmental or national general election and must be held when they are due. But if you look at ours, what I can concede to you is that perhaps we could have looked at collapsing the intra-party provincial elections with the elective congress to next year so that we focus our attention now on government business and to alleviating the suffering of our people. That I concede to you and in terms of planning I think it should have been done.

CS: Is there not a concern in Zanu PF that the question of a perpetual election mode, especially with the undercurrents of succession politics, may overshadow the government’s main agenda, which is the economy, as we enter into 2014?

WM: Of course, the question of a perpetual election mode is making our people very weary and tired. Whilst they may not have avenues of complaining directly to the powers that be, they do tell us their representatives, that why don’t you give us a break so that we focus on the bread and butter issues at least for one full year before we move on to another election. So clearly for the provincial elections, the timing was not people friendly. They have just come out of an election, they didn’t really need one; that saps their energy and takes their focus away from preparing for an agricultural season and reasserting themselves in business and other economic priorities. So I would hope that it’s something that we take into consideration even as we prepare for the elective congress next year.

CS: On international re-engagement, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is reported to have said that since government efforts to engage the West have been unrequited as sanctions remain in place, we will not expend further energy engaging them. Was this a statement merely to goad the other party to be more responsive, or is this the government’s substantive position that you will not attempt rapprochement any further? And would that not be at variance with the reality of your presence here in London as minister of tourism, engaging as you’re doing?

WM: No, what I’m doing here is commercial diplomacy. What he refers to is his brief, which is political diplomacy, the knocking at each other’s doors at the political level that he has to do himself. I’m dealing with a bridge that has always been open since the time of the inclusive government. And that is the people to people diplomatic bridge; nobody can stop that. In this global village, no one has the capacity to stop the people of Zimbabwe from travelling wherever they may want, or the people of the world from visiting Zimbabwe if and when they want to.

This whole issue has a philosophical and spiritual foundation, found in [the book of the prophet] Isaiah chapter 60:11, which says “Therefore your gates shall be open continually; They shall not be shut day or night, That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, And their kings in procession…” So it’s a Biblical foundation that if you want to enjoy the wealth of the world, you keep your gates open, obviously with your eyes open for intrusion which may not necessarily be bringing wealth and goodwill.

One wants to say that once we have dealt with this commercial side of diplomacy it should certainly be a precursor to facilitate political reconnection. So I’m very clear about what I’m doing here, and I’m sure Minister Mumbengegwi is also very clear about what he’s talking about and hopefully we’ll take him there though commercial diplomacy.

CS: So you’ve not met with any political figures from the British establishment?

WM: I haven’t, except for just handshakes.

CS: Lastly, media perceptions are critical in your sector especially in promoting brand Zimbabwe; from the favourable coverage you’ve had in the British media, can you say that you’re seeing a shift in perceptions of Zimbabwe and also in the reception which you’re receiving as officials of that government?

WM: I think the media is assisting the British government to climb down, because the media is out there and are able to pick political sentiment in other establishments about how this relationship between Zimbabwe and the UK should go. They’re simply trying to assist their own government to climb down from its high horse and understand that we’re both equals in the world of sovereign nations. And by receiving us in the manner that they’ve done – I’ve been the most sought after product here, going by the media reviews - I think they seek to get me to assist them to communicate that message to their own government, that we are not bad for business, that we are a credible partner to deal with going forward. I think they’ve done that job very well in the space that they’ve created for us to communicate our message.

CS: In your own backyard as well, your government as felt itself to be under siege from these powerful international forces and the state media likewise adopted a defensive mode where they are quick to suss out where hostility against the government is coming from. Now, in this new phase of media diplomacy where we notice this climbing down by the British media, do you feel that this is also happening with the state media in Zimbabwe?

WM: I think the new Minister [of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo] has certainly taken a very mature and reconciliatory approach with not just what was referred to as independent media, but also with our own state media. He has exercised a lot of restraint and patience with some of the idiosyncrasies that have been taking place there. I get the impression that he wants to take a very mature and collected role to fully assess what it’s beset with and direct our media to play its role of assisting in the packaging of brand Zimbabwe.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Is Zanu PF equal to the challenge of reform?

Zanu PF has decided to stick with its long serving leader, 89 year-old President Robert Mugabe, as its candidate in the forthcoming general elections.
 This post arose from a Facebook thread that asked what would happen if Zanu PF lost the forthcoming general elections. A contributor on the thread argued that a spell in opposition could do Zanu PF a world of good in terms of shedding dead skin and rediscovering its ideological compass, and I agree with him. Any serious Zanu PF supporter who does not acknowledge that the party has since ceased to be a hegemonic force can't be of true service to its future. Hegemony means more than state power; it relates also to the prevailing ideas, vision and the embodiment of popular aspirations.

Zanu PF has become stripped down to a political machine for gaining and keeping state power. It is afraid of losing control of the ideological state apparatus (the media, especially broadcast media, and the state bureaucracy) and the coercive state apparatus (soldiers, police, intelligence, youth militia) because those are the two pillars of central resort without which it becomes an ordinary party, exposed for its governmental failures and excesses. The main challenge to reforming Zanu PF is that it has been overrun by lifelong careerists and treasure hunters.

President Mugabe's desire to rule for life opened the door to all his comrades who go back to the liberation struggle to also see their role in government as lifelong. In that sense, Zanu PF has failed to emulate the leadership renewal that its fellow National Liberation Movements in SADC have done, such as Chama Chama Pinduzi in Tanzania, Frelimo in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa, and SWAPO in Namibia. Only MPLA in Angola shares Zanu PF's experience, but again Angola spent more than 20 years of post-independence locked in a brutal civil war.

Secondly, the system of patronage that evolved to secure this long incumbency also sustained a culture of patronage spreading its tentacles deep into the national economy. So, when Phillip Chiyangwa said recently on national radio that he told aspiring businessmen that they couldn't be rich unless they joined Zanu PF, he was right! Every treasure hunter in town now knows that, and the entry requirements are simply that one should be able to chant a party slogan and throw empty epithets against the imperialists (even though the treasure hunter really wants to be able to fly to imperialist America and Europe and enjoy his Zanu-enabled money, purchasing BMWs, Benzes and Range Rovers!). Even the party President Mugabe himself has come out on numerous occasions attacking moneyed people who think they can buy their way into positions in party structures. Sadly, many a times they have, and such distortions of participatory frameworks have caused much rancour during candidate selection primaries.

Is it possible for Zanu PF to reform while in power? Certainly, the possibility for some form of reform does exist because the MDC (taken together) has failed to develop into an AUTOMATIC alternative (I didn't say that it’s not an alternative at all; it is, but it has to work hard to totally eclipse its rival). The MDC has failed to evolve from its coalition roots to achieve ideological clarity. It remains a ‘spaghetti mix’, as described by its leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. A Bolognese, more likely! The MDC has been forthright in its critique of Zanu PF’s failures and in its clamour for further democratisation of state and society. But it has failed to connect with the original agenda of national liberation because it has deliberately ignored doing so.

Testament to this is its failure to engage proactively with land reform, at worst appearing totally antithetical to the agenda for wholesale land redistribution (senior officials such as Fidelis Mhashu went on British television to announce that the MDC would return land to white farmers). And while the current economic indigenisation programme is deeply flawed, it nonetheless holds an unassailable principle at its core and instead of being totally thrown out it needs more fine tuning. But again, there is also a glaring absence of policy debate on that score within the MDC; instead there is umbrage and vows to roll back the programme once in government – alone. By contrast, the debate in Zanu PF is heated and it is centred on alternative approaches to indigenisation. RBZ Governor Gideon Gono has proposed a supply side approach to indigenisation while advocating restraint on the financial sector (which, truth be told, is already indigenised).

When Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara joined the MDC proclaiming that he stands on the shoulders of Tongogara and Nikita Mangena, he was trying to infuse something that was damagingly missing in the MDC movement's ideological lenses. He correctly read that national liberation is the bedrock that makes everything else possible and that while attacking the failures of the party of liberation, the MDC equally had to clearly and unambiguously voice their support and defence of the values and aspirations of national liberation. 

But unfortunately, the MDC parties have largely failed to do this even after more than 13 years in existence. This explains their failure to attract significant following among war veterans. For such a widely popular movement, it is amiss that the MDC's prominent ex-military men are all former Rhodesian Front, including the MDC-T’s long-serving defence secretary, Giles Mutsekwa. It is no wonder, therefore, that there has not been any real engagement between the MDC and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces on the much talked about security sector reforms.

So in a word, because the MDC is an incomplete post-nationalist alternative that has ignored the necessity of deliberately connecting with the bedrock of national liberation and being as vocal about it as they have with the democratisation agenda, there is a possibility that Zanu PF can repair their car while they're driving it. But do they have the courage to make a pit stop and take a look at the engine while the tyres are changed? By sticking with the 89 year old President Mugabe, it doesn't appear so. They're determined to cross the finish line on the old tyres first before they can really look at major repairs in the safety of a fresh term. What worries most people is how Zanu PF will ensure their gamble of sticking with President Mugabe and the entire old guard intact will secure that much needed fresh term without resorting to violence and electoral chicanery. One hopes that conditions akin to that of the June 27 presidential runoff in 2008 aren’t revisited.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Is big money distorting American democracy?

President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle applaud supporters after results showed he had been returned to the White House for a second term . Copyright Craig Warga/New York Daily News.

For a presidential election that centred on fiscal prudence, it is a telling irony that the just ended race for the White House between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney was also the most expensive in US history. The two candidates spent well over a billion dollars each. The independent research group Centre for Responsive Politics estimated the entire election to have cost $5.8 billion, more than the entire GDP of Malawi.
These staggering figures do not include the very significant contributions of independent groups which cannot be legally tied to a candidate but can generally support their cause or policies. According to the New York Times, these independent groups spent at least $522 million on television advertisements and other efforts to sway voters’ choice of candidate. 

The biggest of these ‘political action committees’ can raise vast amounts of money from individuals, corporations and trade unions. And herein lies the threat to American democracy. New analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by the consumer group US PIRG reveals that much of the election campaign spending by independent groups has been fuelled by ‘dark money and unlimited fundraising from a small number of wealthy donors’.

“On Election Day, we're all supposed to have an equal say. However, over the course of the election a small group of millionaires and billionaires have had more influence than millions of middle class families,” wrote Blair Bowie and AdamLioz in a Huffington Post blog days before the election. It is a discomfort shared by most American citizens who believe in the sanctity of their democracy and the egalitarianism that lies at its centre. 

“It’s really not democratic, most American do not agree with the level of money in politics,” a young American studying in London told the BBC on Wednesday.

The prominence of big money in the world’s leading democracy is even more jarring when viewed from across the Atlantic. It makes UK election spending look miniscule by comparison. According to the BBC, a total of £31 million was spent by all parties in the 2010 general election, making US spending 120 times as much.

Obama and Romney both chose to refuse public funding, preferring to rely on their private efforts and avoid any caps on their spending. However, the case for public financing of election candidates remains strong if influence peddling by powerful interests is to be kept from distorting democracy. 

Without public funding or caps on private election war chests, it is inevitable that only big money candidates will ever afford to make a bid for the White House. Less resourced candidates are doomed to obscurity, regardless of how loudly their policies may resonate with voters. In the end, democracy is the biggest loser.