Lance Mambondiani

Lance Mambondiani is an Investment Executive at Coronation Financial

Elections, politicians and a bag of maize

IN PREPARATION for the next elections, the two main political parties, Zanu PF and MDC-T have tabled diverging economic policies on how they intend to improve the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans if voted into office. The people they seek to govern, with different persuasions, have been discussing and fiercely debating the Juice versus Indigenisation policies in the mainstream media and on social networking sites.

We cannot be as naive as to believe that in this coming election, politicians will be elected entirely on the merits of their policies instead of the size of their sjamboks, or the votes they can buy with the farming inputs they distribute. Is it possible, however, that we are experiencing a shift in the maturity of the voter in which politicians are held to account based on their policies than their rhetoric. A debate on policy by the mainstream parties and by the ordinary people has to be encouraged as a progressive development.

With the kind of economic challenges we face, the country cannot afford another decade of failed policies, self serving politicians or pseudo nationalists. The country deserves better. Our people deserves better. Politicians are creatures of habit, they have perfected the art of ‘selling bottled air’. In the end however, it boils down to this – how will all these policies improve the lives of millions of Zimbabweans who have suffered hyperinflation, joblessness, rising poverty and the collapse of services and infrastructure?

Here comes the Maize seeds – It’s Election Time

A concerned and informed electorate is necessary to establish and maintain an efficient and effective democratic society. Eligible voters are expected to take time to study the issues and the candidates and then carefully weigh the relevant information before deciding how and who to vote for. Although an informed citizenry is desirable from a social point of view, our past politics suggests that the battle is often won in the recesses of the countryside, deep down in ‘dreaded’ constituencies like Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe (pronounced using the monotone of an electoral commission spokesperson for dramatic effect). In these regions, Juice or Indigenisation may not be as important as who has donated a bag of fertiliser or seeds for the next cropping season.

Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney was credited to the so called ‘Grand Coalition’ of youths, women and minority groups. In our case, some politicians appear to perpetually benefit from a ‘grand coalition of the poor’ using cyclical food handouts and morsels of bread at election time without real or lasting solutions on how to uplift people out of poverty, spur economic growth or create sustainable jobs. More than 30 years after independence, it should be a ‘crime against humanity’ to come back to your constituency with nothing more than a bag of fertilizer to show for a 5 year term.

Who is offering what?

MDC-T’s Economic Policy document (JUICE) and Zanu PF’s Indigenisation Policy advances two divergent views on how to grow the economy for long term sustainability. For the MDC-T, Juice lays out a broad based economic empowerment model based on a growing economy, creating jobs, improving and capacitating SMEs and the implementation of a cluster based developmental model which extends economic activities to all parts of the country, such as growth points, peri-urban areas and other marginalised towns and cities. To its credit, the policy framework outlines clear benchmarks and deliverables regarding how the policies will benefit you and me; a US$10 billion economy by 2040, one million jobs in the next five years, a projected average growth rate of 9-10 %, single digit inflation and increasing the country’s power generation capacity to 6,000 Megawatts by 2018 as some of the key highlights.

Does the MDC have the Juice?

On paper, the economic policies suggested are empirically sound and forward looking. The main concern is how the policy will be implemented and financed and capacitated. A number of critics have argued that some of the policies may be ambitious and unachievable, they may be correct. The key however, is that the policy document sets out a plan for economic stabilisation, long term prosperity and a credible route to a 21st century economy, the kind of mess we are in may require leaders with oversized ambitions, dreaming bigger than our current circumstances. Should they form the next government; MDC-T can be held to account on its own benchmarks.

Whilst the other MDC (led by Professor Ncube) is yet to fully outline their economic policies, recent publications suggest that the party believes devolution is the best way to stimulate economic activity. Besides devolution, which is not entirely within the party’s hands to deliver, their economic policy, if this were the case, appears patchy and poorly articulated. The devolution argument is also similar to one of the ten key policies in the MDC-T Economic Blueprint which proposes a ‘cluster based developmental model’ by creating growth nodes and economic clusters in rural areas and peri-urban zones. The MDC (N), cannot expect to waltz into power based on their ‘good looks’ Zimbabweans need to know what their economic policies are. Devolution maybe a way of implementing representative and geographically inclusive growth, in itself, it cannot be the route to achieve it.

Zanu PF favours a redistribution model

In comparison, Zanu PF economic policy is hinged on the indigenisation of the means of production to achieve equity. This is consistent with the party’s land redistribution exercise launched ahead of the June 2000 elections. The core of the indigenisation policy is the directive for all companies with a share capital above US500 000 dollars to arrange for 51 percent of their shares or interests to be owned by indigenous Zimbabweans. Indigenisation has led to the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund, currently valued at approximately US$1 billion following the Zimplats deal, Community Share Ownership Trusts and some Employee Share Ownership arrangements as mechanisms to create jobs and address issues of equity. To date, reports suggest that over 200 empowerment plans have been approved all of which seems impressive.

However, whilst the indigenisation policy may be successful is shifting ownership and control of the economy by empowering the historically oppressed to play a leading role, the policy fails to address the economic challenges the country is currently facing and how these will be addressed under a Zanu PF government. It’s like a father who has to provide for his starving family, focusing on who gets what bread crumbs may be a short-term but it will not provide another loaf of bread. The indigenisation policy’s negative impact on foreign direct investment is well documented and requires no further mention.

An effective empowerment model should put together policies concerned with economic transformation through interventions which look beyond equity ownership and redistribution. With economic challenges such as ours, the major weakness of the party’s economic agenda could be that it fails to provide a plan on how to address issues such as high unemployment, rising poverty and inequality, a poorly capacitated civil service, a high budget deficit, collapsing infrastructure among others. It may be an incredibly successful plan to remedy the past, but is short on addressing present challenges or a vision for the future.

The economy we want 

An effective economic policy should focus on empowering the 80 percent unemployed through an equitable business environment which supports entrepreneurship, small businesses and integration of the informal sector into the mainstream economy.  Our policies must provide the most enabling conditions for the flourishing of the talents of all our people, to harness and develop their productive potential to ensure they play a leading role in the allocation of national resources and that they get their dues in the country’s wealth.

After years of endless conflict, Zimbabweans deserve an economy in which the state, private capital and other forms of social ownership complement each other in an integrated way to eliminate poverty and spur economic growth. To grow and transform our economy, we require an effective, democratic and developmental state with the capacity to mobilise resources towards a common national agenda. We need a vibrant private sector and policies which encourage investment and growth. This requires us to face and take ownership of our economic problems, have a clear plan on how to address them. We need to implement a social dialogue with internal and external economic stakeholders.

Perhaps the greatest benefit for the people, coming out of the Juice vs. Indigenisation debate is that for the first time, we have been consumed with discussions on policy and how they will benefit ordinary Zimbabweans and not who has beaten who, shout the most or the often infantile accusations directed at those who don’t agree with our policies as British agents or sell-outs. Although the issues may be complicated, requiring a great deal of technical knowledge to make an informed judgment on them, the next election may, or should be about the economy. It should be about how to provide a sustainable livelihood to the grandmother in Mutorashanga so that in the next planting season, she won’t need a bag of maize seed or fertilizer from a politician because capacity has been created for her to feed herself.

Dr Lance Mambondiani is a Development Economist and Zimbabwe banking expert. He can be contacted on lancem@btinternet.com