Was November 2017 a False Start?

It is strange how certain events stick in your mind. I can remember clearly the day Ian Smith declared independence from Britain in 1965, I was driving my car and I pulled over and listened to the statement with a sinking feeling. I knew what lay ahead and that it was going to be very tough, on all of us.

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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 an 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 down town to see what was happening and we found millions on the street. We attempted to get to Highfields for a planned rally and never got within 3 kilometers 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:

o   We 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;

o   We 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 per cent of the goods that were on our shelves, we were importing bread;

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

o   A 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

o   Broken infrastructures 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 that 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 program was closed down at the end of 2020, about 80 per cent 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 half years that the TSP ran:

o   The 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.

o   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.

o   In June, the President instructed the monetary authorities to start auctioning foreign exchange and that 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.

o   Economic 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.

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

o   The 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.

o   The 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 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.

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