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Was November 2017 a false start?

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By Eddie Cross

THEN there was the incident in New York on 9/11, I drove into the garden of my daughter and her husband and they shouted at me to come and see what was happening.

I walked into the house and saw the second plane fly into the twin towers on television. I knew it would change the World.

Then there was the retirement of Robert Mugabe in November 2017. I was
in Parliament and was seated in the National Conference Centre waiting
to participate in the impeachment and removal of Mugabe from the
presidency after 37 years under his dictatorship.

Just before we got underway, the Speaker of the House of Assembly
stood up and announced his resignation. There was uproar and when I
tried to leave the building I found we were surrounded by thousands of
people who had been waiting outside for a result.

But it was the next day that was so significant for me and another one
of those days you will never forget. My son and I drove downtown to
see what was happening and we found millions on the street.

We attempted to get to Highfield for a planned rally and never got
within three kilometres of the venue.

The atmosphere was electric, people hugging army soldiers sitting on
tanks and other military vehicles, people singing and flying flags. It
was a day to remember.

But was it what was promised, a new start for us as a country?

Most Zimbabweans would say no, it was a false start, but I want to
counter that and say that in many ways Zimbabwe is a much better
country than it was and that perhaps for the first time we can start
to see our way forward.

First we have to deal with unrealistic expectations. Whatever the
significance of the November revolution, our expectations and the
expectations of the international community were never going to be
realistic.

We were in a mess, a deep hole, and whoever was in charge, was going
to have a long haul ahead of them to get back on the road. The list of
our challenges in December 2017 is so long it is difficult to recite:

λWe had destroyed our accumulated savings of a 100 years of enterprise
and hard work. Every bank, every financial institution, every pension
fund was basically bankrupt;

λWe had destroyed our agriculture and were importing three quarters of
our food, our industry which did so much to give us economic
independence, was putting just 5 percent of the goods that were on our
shelves;

λThe only records we were breaking were the negatives — highest infant
mortality, highest maternal mortality, collapsed health and education
institutions, millions migrating to greener pastures;

λA fiscal deficit that was breaking records, an overvalued currency
that could not be sustained, subsidies and distortions in prices that
were emasculating what remained of our economy; and

λBroken infrastructure of roads, railways, air transport, water
supplies and waste management.

In the field of diplomatic and international relations we were
completely isolated except for a residual connection to China and
Russia that was one sided.

Regionally, where once we had held almost pride of place, we were a
laughing stock and a stark example of simply how not to do things.

In a continent where the economy of Africa was now expanding and
living standards rising, we destroyed our own and saw life
expectancies crash.

What made it all worse, is that it came after the brief flirtation
with sanity during the Government of National Unity from 2009 to 2013.

To all of the above, we might add that the new government which took
over from the Mugabe regime was deeply divided and conflicted and this
made decision making difficult and arduous.

The revolution had not touched the ingrained corruption that had so
tainted the last years of the Mugabe era. Many of those responsible
for the mess we were in were still part of the system. I was reminded
of that European scribe who wrote that revolutions seldom change the
societies they are supposed to.

But in reality the process of change really only began after the July
2018 elections.

The first sign of change was the publication of the Transitional
Stabilisation Programme immediately after the appointment of the
Cabinet.

It was clear that a great deal of work had gone into this document,
most people did not bother to read it and few gave it any credence.

But the fact is that the government followed its dictates and when the
programme was closed down at the end of 2020, about 80 percent of its
targets had been met.

Even today little credit is given for this and I would just highlight
the following achievements in the two-and-a-half years that the TSP
ran:

λThe fiscal deficit which was running at 40 per cent of all
expenditure, was resolved and once the Budget had moved into surplus,
the Government, despite all the pressure to increase spending,
maintained a cash budget and only spent what it was able to collect.
In 2019 and 2020, we ran a significant budget surplus.

λ The issue of the overvalued local currency (the RTGS dollar) was
dealt with by allowing the local currency to float against the main
foreign currencies in use and inflation did the rest. By mid-2020, the
currency reflected its true value and in fact was undervalued very
considerably.

λIn June, the President instructed the monetary authorities to start
auctioning foreign exchange and introduced a mechanism for determining
a market based exchange rate based on supply and demand. The benefits
were immediately apparent and relative stability has resulted with
monthly inflation rates declining to 4 per cent.

λEconomic recovery has started with the supply of locally manufactured
goods on market shelves rising to 45 per cent, from 5 percent three
years before. Exports have risen rapidly and imports have declined
creating a balance of payments surplus for the first time in many
years.

λAgriculture is receiving more attention and output rose significantly
in 2020 and is expected to increase again in 2021.

λThe re-alignment of local legislation to conform to the basic rules
laid out in the 2013 Constitution has also received attention with the
realignment of some 150 Acts of Parliament.

λThe security sector, previously bloated and corrupt, has also seen
changes with some right sizing in terms of employment and changes in
leadership and culture.

Massive problems remain, our public health and education systems are a
mess. Salaries are too low to retain key staff and standards have
declined. The only solution to these problems is more money and here
we face numerous problems. We have to grow our economy – we have laid
the foundations for growth in the past two years but remain isolated
politically and diplomatically and the financial sanctions on us under
ZIDERA (the US system) limits our ability to tap into the global
financial system and to borrow on lines of credit for our private
sector. A growing economy needs much more money than a shrinking one.
This was not an issue before, now it is critical.

Even though the international Community has committed itself to the
provision of health care to the poor and the principle of universal
education for children, we receive virtually nothing from
international agencies or the so called “Development Partners.” In
fact, the IMF even denied us aid to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

This highlights the final issue that is on the table. When will the
changes engendered by the post November 2017 government receive
sufficient recognition for the international Community to start
treating us like any other developing State?

The recent imposition of “sanctions” on four military officers here
simply demonstrates the ignorance of the Foreign Office in London
regarding the very real changes that have taken place here and the
total failure of policy by the same department in respect to Myanmar.

It shows no understanding of our complexities or fundamentals and is a
largely cosmetic decision which will not influence affairs here but
will continue to needlessly label the Government of Zimbabwe as
somehow a rogue State. We deserve better.

λCross is former MP of the MDC and now a member of the Monetary Policy
Committee of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe

1 Comment
  1. Tendai Mvere says

    All he is saying is as rubbish as he is, Eddie Cross. who is he to judge President Mugabe.

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