The Political Economy of Post-2000 Zimbabwe: An Engagement with Recent Zimbabwean Scholarship

Lloyd Sachikonye, 2012, Zimbabwe’s Lost Decade: Politics, Development & Society, Harare, Zimbabwe, Weaver Press.

 

Brian Raftopoulos (Ed.), 2013, The Hard Road to Reform: The Politics of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement, Harare,Zimbabwe, Weaver Press.

 

Prosper Matondi, 2012, Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform, Uppsala, Sweden, Nordic Africa Institute and London, U.K., Zed Books.

 

As Zimbabweans assess cloudy future prospects given the most recent unexpected electoral result with Robert Mugabe and his ZANU (PF) party so soundly trouncing Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC in the July 31, 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections that reportedly many on the victorious side were surprised by the breadth of victory amidst widespread allegations of electoral irregularities, this is an opportune time to discuss three recent publications assessing key political and economic features of the country by some of Zimbabwe’s leading scholars. Lloyd Sachikonye’s Zimbabwe’s Lost Decade: Politics, Development & Society, Brian Raftopoulos’s edited volume The Hard Road to Reform: The Politics of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement, and Prosper Matondi’s Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform, all provide great insight intounderstanding recent events and conditions in this southern African country. They also help suggest what should be done to potentially help address some of the many political and economic challenges facing Zimbabwe.

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Review: Zimbabwe’s Lost Decade

Zimbabwe’s Lost Decade by Lloyd Sachikonye

Reviewed by

Rosetta Codling in the National European Literary Scene Examiner

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Review of A decade of Economic Madness - Mukai/Vukani - Gift Mambipiri

 

A decade of economic madness

Zimbabwe’s lost decade: politics, Development and Society,

by Lloyd Sachikonye, Weaver Press, Harare, 2012

Review by Gift Mambipiri

Reviewed in Mukai/Vukani 61, June 2012

The author of this book has made a name researching on governance issues in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. This book is the 9th of what he has published since 1991.

In this book, the focus is on how Zimbabwe has failed to develop economically since independence. His lenses are firmly fixed on the period between 1998 and 2008 though with some background information from preceding years that help explain why we have this  economic underdevelopment.

During the period he calls ‘Zimbabwe’s lost decade’, the country’s economy shrank from an estimated USD 9 billion in 1997 to USD 4 billion in 2008. This is surprising as much as it is disappointing. The surprise stems from the country’s inheritance of the second most industrialized and diversified economy, and with an enviable infrastructure, on the African continent. Its economy was also the most balanced in terms of sector participation. Also compared to its immediate neighbors Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, Zimbabwe was well endowed with natural and human resources, resources which should have provided it with a head start in growth and development.

The book acknowledges that though Zimbabwe had massive social growth in terms of health and education, some after independence, the same growth was never felt in the economy. If the economy had grown steadily, projections say we would have hit Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of US $15 billions by now. So what went wrong? These are some of the questions that this book seeks to answer.

There was a sharp contraction of the Zimbabwean economy starting from 1997. The basis for this had been laid by other imprudent approaches, like ESAP, that had set the economy on a knife’s edge. And events and interventions employed from 1997 only fueled the rot. The explanation for the rot given by Sachikonye is in the “collapse of the social contract” (96.) This collapse was signaled by the decline in living standards and unemployment. Various social groups ranging from labour to commercial farmers and commercial farmers and informal economy operators and industrialists to war veterans were pessimistic about the capacity of the Mugabe government to make the economy grow after the stagnation brought by ESAP. There were 232 strikes recorded that year as workers, war veterans and civil society agitated for their rights (97). The year also saw the longest and most acrimonious public sector strike since independence (97).

War veterans demanded payoffs for their service during the liberation struggle. This was perhaps the most expensive and disastrous demand by any group. The gratuities, forced from government under duress, forced the largest devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar in one November day, triggering a crisis that would become full blown in 2000. These payments were followed by an expensive military intervention in the DRC which gobbled about US$30 million a month. Food riots broke out in 1998 as prices went up.

Though this book tries to stick to the economic decline during the lost decade, it acknowledges the inter-connections that existed with political developments. And what compromised the government’s fight to restore the economy as the rot intensified was its loss in the constitutional referendum and the 2000 general elections that greatly reduced its majority. The economic decisions and programmes employed from then onwards were simply meant to prolong the government’s stay in office. The game was to stall, or delay as long as possible, ‘regime change’ (99).

Quoting a UNDP 2008 report, Sachikonye concurs that political imperatives took precedence over economic goals, most marked in the land reform programme, but also in exchange rate policy, the pricing policy of parastatals…and the Indigenization and Economic and Empowerment Act. Zimbabwe slowly became a predatory State in which conventional macroeconomic and regulatory policy levers are deemed inadequate and authorities seek to secure direct control of markets and economic actors. There were deliberate decisions to make political appointments to strategic institutions like the RBZ and any attempt towards medium to long term planning was abandoned.

The RBZ then  took centre stage with quasi-fiscal activities at the core of its functions, rebuking conventional economic practices as “textbook or bookish economics” (101). The central bank had its hands in everything –financing agriculture, stabilizing supplies to the health sector, supervising national examinations in 2008, logistical support in fights against cholera, importing fuel, electricity,  fertilizer and grain –among many other necessary things. The financing for such was done by printing money and fuelling inflation. The real cost of all that, in monetary terms, is the USD 1.2  billion debt the bank was saddled with as at 2010 (103).

The decade long crisis resulted in significant de-industrialization as well as capacity under-utilisation. Retrenchments were widespread. And with unemployment rates at above 80%, this contributed to an informal economy that saw people in vending, cross-border trade, gold panning, sewing, carpentry, currency trading, amongst others. Many of these were merely coping mechanisms that generated not even enough for basic needs.

Sachikonye acknowledges the effect of sanctions on the Zimbabwean crisis. He argues that although estranged relations with the West did not lead to break in trading relations, it did adversely affect Zimbabwe’s access to loans from such institutions like the IMF and World Bank.

The results of the decade long madness include massive migration of up to a quarter of the population. The majority of migrants who left as economic refugees found themselves in lowly-skilled jobs and poorly paid positions that were not commensurate with their positions (164). UNICEF weighed in with a gloomy picture in the education field, in which it decried the falling education standards in the country as a result of limited access.

The extreme changes in politics, economics and society at large also had shifts in the sphere of culture, values and ideas (170). HIV/AIDS and large-scale migration could not fail to have a profound effect on the family as an institution. With the economically active migrating, the care of the family was left to the elderly and/or orphans having to run child headed families. Such instances left families exposed with the elderly left to do care work under conditions of poverty, stigma, abuse and lack of support. The adolescent orphans were forced out of school and to work. There were deprived of life skills and sex education resulting in early sexual activities and multiple, casual partners.

This book is relevant to all responsible world citizens who want to understand what becomes of a country when its keepers become predators who sacrifice the common good for narrow self-interest.