So much to do with limited resources and capacity to revive Zimbabwean economy

COLUMNIST – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono joined Hon. Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, in officially launching the government’s 'Short-Term Emergency Recovery Programme' (STERP).

The plan is to be in force for the period ending December 2009. Both Minister Biti and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara had indicated the need to come up with a new economic framework to inform the complex transition process.

It appears that a consensus now exists between all the political players that Zimbabwe cannot go it alone. It is also apparent that SADC and AU, the principal backers of the GPA, will not provide any significant funds, if any, to help facilitate the economic turnaround.

Even South Africa will not be able to provide any meaningful financial assistance other than in the form of credit lines to help South African exporters to access the Zimbabwean market in a manner that may undermine Zimbabwe’s long-term economic prospects.

There is so much that needs to be done. It was evident from President Mugabe’s speech at the launch that a new realization that Zimbabwe has to look outside Africa for assistance has dawned.

The framing of STERP and the honesty that underpins it helps all role players to begin to address the real issues that are at play.

President Mugabe, however, still believes that Zimbabwe’s productive sectors such as mining; manufacturing, trade and tourism have been devastated exclusively by sanctions. He made an impassioned plea to external partners to assist Zimbabwe in ensuring the successful implementation of the programme.

The contestation for power that has characterized the political atmosphere during the last 10 years continues to be framed as a foreign engineered conflict with no or little domestic content and context.

To President Mugabe, concerns about the rule of law, respect of human and property rights, political legitimacy and media controls can never be genuinely considered to be domestically motivated.

In agreeing to be part of the inclusive government, President Mugabe genuinely believes that there is a causal link between land reform, the emergence of MDC as a political force, and sanctions.

To the extent that former political adversaries are now in the same government, it is now expected that MDC should do the right thing i.e. join the call for the removal of sanctions.

However, challenges facing the Zimbabwean economy started prior to the land reform program and the Economic Structural Adjustment Program that President Mugabe reluctantly embraced in the early 1990s was introduced out of realization that fundamental reforms were required and necessary.

Such reforms were not implemented to their logical conclusion and the worldview that helped create the economic distortions of the late 1980s has not changed to allow any rational mind to expect that STERP will produce the kind of outcomes that the country requires.

By domesticating and regionalizing the content and context of STERP’s conceptualization, there is no doubt that President Mugabe will have no choice but to play along as long as the message that there is a link to the economic decay and sanctions informs any possible dialogue between the inclusive government and the West.

Can donor support solve the problems facing Zimbabwe? I am one that is convinced that attitudes determine altitude.

There is no doubt that the mountain that Zimbabwe has to climb is steep. The journey is long and full of complications. The state is broke and without external benevolence, it is clear even to President Mugabe that there are limited options.

The days of opaque policymaking and quasi-fiscal activities are gone. However, it is unlikely that in the face of a diminishing economic cake and a sufficiently undermined domestic production base, that politicians will walk the talk of restraint and fiscal responsibility.

As long as arguments on where sovereignty lies, it is probable that if the West does not respond with the required resources, a real risk exists that Gono’s unorthodox methods will be revisited just like the slashed zeros before demonstrated their stubbornness by resurfacing even when policymakers were claiming otherwise.

The inconvenient truth is that democracy and respect for human and property rights are necessary ingredients to any progressive nation building experiment. The formation of the inclusive government exposed the challenges that Zimbabwe still confronts after 29 years to build a firm democratic constitutional order.

In the long term we all may be dead but in the short-term we have no choice but to make the inconvenient truths about how certain state actors took advantage of the so-called sanctions regime to transform the state into a corrupt and criminal enterprise.

As Minister Biti and his colleagues prepare to engage the sanctions imposers, it is important that domestic voices also become vocal about what kind of Zimbabwe they want to see. It should not be the Zimbabwe that donors want to see.

Many Zimbabweans are still afraid to speak their minds preferring to vote with their feet. The need for citizens to be engaged on the key issues of the day cannot be underestimated.

What needs to happen? A lot needs to happen including the President making the same passionate plea to Zimbabweans irrespective of their race to look at Zimbabwe differently. The days of state arrogance are gone and it is time for government to reach out to all who can make a difference to be part of the solution.

President Mugabe rightly observed that: "As a nation, and at all levels, we should move away from expending our energies and resources by engaging in unproductive, divisive and destructive activities and devote ourselves to constructive and beneficial socio-economic reconstruction programmes that will create national wealth and uplift the living standards of our people."

Can President Mugabe be trusted to be the father that the country requires to energize its citizens to believe in the future again? If Tsvangirai and Mutambara can trust him to be the head of state and government during this crucial phase of the turnaround then it is incumbent upon all to invest in the change we want to see.

However, the President challenged the business community to desist from profiteering, a tendency that he believes detracts from noble Government initiatives. Profit is the measure of success or failure of an economic enterprise.

He must know by now that an unstable economy is susceptible to speculative pricing and any attempt to convert business into some kind of a salvation army will not work.

The obligation of responsible citizenship should not lie only on business actors rather it should also apply to state actors. Citizens respect a responsible state that seeks to advance national interest.

President Mugabe is yet to be convinced that ZANU-PF state actors can be irresponsible and it behooves on the new players in government who have access to him to expose the manner in which the state has been operating.

Minister Biti by launching STERP whose implications are far reaching on rent seekers, who had invested in no change politics, has opened a can of political worms that will soon be evident as individuals and institutions that were surviving on parasitic and predatory behavior look for cover.

It will take time to re-orientate state institutions but through STERP the first step has been made and the rest of the journey will surely be interesting and turbulent.

Will President Mugabe want to see the rest of the journey when his colleagues get exposed for undermining the state that they took an oath to protect?

Most of the Ministers who have been retained in cabinet would not want President Mugabe to know their true nature. As President Mugabe gets to know that: "Mr. consider it done my brother", for example, is no longer in charge, then he will have to rely on the new players to know the true state of the economy.

Zimbabwe can only change if citizens want it to change. Sustainable change has to come from organized citizens who must now know that the future is their responsibility and Zimbabwe does not belong to politicians.