Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Economic crisis in Zim shifts to a new high

Views

THE ascendency to power of the incumbent President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on November 24, 2017 was a genesis to the generality of Zimbabweans; a genesis – or so it seemed, but today, exactly 17 months after his inauguration, Zimbabweans cannot reconcile themselves to the ghastly reality directly staring at them. Could it be that no one saw it coming? Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabe's rule, could not be described as better at all.

Nonetheless, the prevailing situation in Zimbabwe today makes Mugabe's rule, at least economically speaking, appear angelic. In the later days on the throne, Mugabe and his garrulous wife Grace drew the ire of people by their privatisation of the country, extravagancy, repression and total disregard of the rule of law.

While Zimbabweans loathed the geriatric's sense of political rule and failure to restrain his loquacious wife, they never fully appreciated the "economic stability" of that era until recently. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe today has clearly shifted to another level.

When Mnangagwa took over power in a military-assisted operation, a lot was expected from him by the long-suffering Zimbabweans. There was a colossal air of anticipation that the incoming government would ease the anguish of Zimbabweans in many ways. Mnangagwa was expected to democratise the political governance culture and, more fundamentally, stabilise the economy.

Under Mugabe, the existence of the multiple currency system was a yoke too heavy for the people of Zimbabwe. The bond notes kept losing value against the United States dollar.

Consequently, Mnangagwa's acid test when he assumed power was to stabilise currency rates. In fact, it was expected that he would begin by phasing out bond notes because they created a fertile ground for erosion of people's incomes. ED's rule was not, in the very least, expected to be any worse than that of Mugabe. Price increases were unthinkable; the logic was that if Mugabe, with his despised rule could still keep inflation under control then a new government would do it better.

Zimbabweans had complained of a high unemployment rate, collapse of the education and health delivery systems, all the things that the new administration was meant to resolve, but today the story in Zimbabwe is horrendous, unfathomable and beyond scary to say the least.

Zimbabwe has been rocked by widespread protests over the government's tenure, mainly driven by jaw-dropping fuel price increases. Prices of basic commodities have shot through the roof, and the petrol and diesel prices for Zimbabwe are currently the most expensive in the world. In its quest to avert fuel shortages and crack down on the illegal trading of fuel, prices have risen to ZWL$4,97 per litre and ZWL$4,89 per litre respectively.

Economically, this spells disaster. Zimbabwe imports all its petroleum products and essentially requires hard currency for this. It is exactly here that the crisis shifts to a higher level because the country simply is in critical short supply of hard currency. The foreign currency is scarce.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, sometime back, indicated that the scarce foreign currency had been allocated to other more pressing sectors, but still this could not pacify the restless Zimbabweans as more and more protests loom.

The unbearable hardships that have visited the people of Zimbabwe have given birth to a number of theories. What is obtaining today is hardly anything new. At the height of one of the worst patches in Zimbabwe's economy in 2008, all sorts of blame theories came to the fore.

At one time, the then Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono even set traps for petrol service stations that were dealing illegally, but the problem could not be contained. With no clue as to end the economic suffering, blaming became the major preoccupation of Mugabe's government back then.

The same is happening with the present administration. The government has accused people of hoarding fuel and then selling it on the black market at imported prices. And because Zimbabwe's fuel had been deemed cheaper than that of neighbouring countries, smuggling has also been an excuse.

The only problem with the blame theories as evidenced by the experience under Mugabe is that, whether they are true or not, they do not alleviate the pain of the nation. Mugabe tried it through spin doctors fully employed to denigrate and shift blame on the West, but still that did not work in his favour. The nation remained agitated culminating in him losing elections to Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008 before retaining it through a brutal tactics in a run-off election.

Government certainly needs to think in other terms. Under the circumstances, the temptation for the government to wallow in self-pity and view itself as a victim of some mythical forces will not help in the slightest. The challenges and pains of Zimbabweans are real. Life has become unbearable.

The year 2019 is fast morphing into a duplicate of the despicable year 2008. The crisis has shifted to another level and a higher level of thinking is urgently required.

----- Learnmore Zuze is a legal officer and writes here in his personal capacity.