HARARE – Zimbabwe has, of late, been the butt of jokes on the social media after Finance minister Tendai Biti claimed the country only has about $217 in the coffers.
Whether this is reality or melodramatic exaggeration intended for effect, Zimbabwe finds itself a laughing stock once more after the record inflation which turned virtually every one into, at least, a millionaire a few years ago.
Back then, we were dubbed “Zimbabwe’s unwilling millionaires.” Zimbabweans remain unwilling to accept that the coalition government can be so bankrupt amid such a wealth of natural resources.
Biti also says if Zimbabwe was a company, it would have been shut down.
Obviously, a country can never be closed down but the point he makes is well understood.
Zimbabwe has had one chief executive, Robert Mugabe, for nearly 33 years now. In any serious company, a chief executive would not survive after presiding over such dismal performance.
A chief executive works with line managers. However, over the years, Mugabe has failed to dismiss under-performing “managers” as any chief executive ought to do.
The common description for his lacklustre ministerial team before the coalition has been “dead wood.” This now sounds quite a charitable term; the wood has, in fact, decayed.
Zanu PF ministers have under-performed with reckless abandon over the years without any fear of losing their jobs. Rather, they have been aware they would only be reshuffled, and are guaranteed jobs for life.
The reason being that Zanu PF has imposed itself as the sole shareholder in Zimbabwe PLC on account of its participation in the liberation war.
So Zanu PF believes Zimbabwe is its private property. The rest, apparently with no so-called liberation war credentials, should have no say on how Zimbabwe is run.
It is only the Zanu PF shareholders that have enjoyed the “fruits of independence” while the rest starve. The current coalition only resulted from external intervention with the aim of making every Zimbabwean a shareholder in their country as we should all be.
These shareholders should be free to decide who runs Zimbabwe.
Running a successful company entails good customer relations. Mugabe, as chief executive, has failed to nurture external relations to make Zimbabwean goods acceptable worldwide.
His failure to establish political stability has also made it difficult for external customers to consume local goods. In recent months, political leaders have been proclaiming Zimbabwe is now ready to do business after some political stability spawned by the coalition.
But the next elections, likely to be held before the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly in Victoria Falls in August, will put this claim to the test.
Zimbabwe has virtually been cut off from the international community after leaving the Commonwealth and attracting sanctions from European Union, the United States and other individual countries.
The UNWTO will be a step towards international re-engagement. It presents an important opportunity for Zimbabwe to demonstrate it is truly open for business with the rest of the world.
It is too early to claim Zimbabwe is ready for business. Much will depend on the conduct of the next elections.
Zimbabwe will need to demonstrate its readiness by first meeting internationally-accepted democratic standards.
The poor conduct of elections, farm invasions and violence were chiefly to blame for Zimbabwe’s alienation from the international community. The next elections are, therefore, a chance for redemption.
If the forthcoming elections are characterised by rigging and violence, the UNWTO General Assembly may not go ahead in Zimbabwe or, if it does, some individual countries will refuse to attend in protest.
This will keep Zimbabwe internationally-isolated. Furthermore, a negative image will have impact on tourist arrivals.
Democracy and a successful tourism industry are correlated. Tourists want to take their families to countries that enjoy the rule of law, peace and stability that true democracy so often provides.
Therefore, if Zimbabwe is a “company” that is ready to do business, we will need to conduct free, fair and peaceful elections. By the time of the UNWTO, a legitimate government should be in place. – Conrad Nyamutata