The simple solution is that the government needs to follow the reformist agenda they preach, curb rampant corruption in public service as well as prioritise expenditure to developmental and constructive sectors than for personal gratification – Masawi.

Not all is lost for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe still has the potential to regain it’s breadbasket status in Southern Africa, and with the right policies in place this is achievable – Moyo.

NAIROBI, KenyaThe Smart Africa [SA] Editor Elvis Mboya interviewed Zimbabwean journalists Tabby Moyo and Tiri Masawi to diagnose state of the country’s economy and to further recommend practical solutions on how best the Southern African country can regain her lost glory, even in the face of the pandemic, as the country marked 41 years of independence on Sunday April 18.

‘BIRTH’: Frontpage of the Chronicle newspaper on April 18 1980. -BBC.

SA: During Zimbabwe’s inaugural Independence celebrations on April 18 1980 at Rufaro Stadium in Harare and with the black majority rule, many wished for jobs, peace and economic growth. However, after 37 years at the helm, Founding President Robert Mugabe left with his share of economic, human rights and democratic ruin. Where was the turning point for “The Jewell of Africa”?

Masawi: Zimbabwe’s economic challenges could be traced back to the late 1990s and also the early turn of the millennium when the country participated in the DRC war without sufficient resources, while the haphazard land reform programme is largely blamed for the investor apathy that the country faces today.

While there is no better way of repossessing land, the way the redistribution was done is the major reason why respect for property rights in Zimbabwe has been under scrutiny. The major challenge has also been that the land distribution has largely been a preserve of a few none productive farmers who have some sort of inclination to the ruling party while those that have the ability do not benefit.

This perhaps explains why despite Zimbabwe having ran one of the largest farm mechanisation programmes [in Africa] to empower farmers, very few have been productive and have dismally failed to repay the loans they accessed through the Reserve Bank. The worst defaulters on this programme has largely been politically exposed people who eventually pushed for taxpayer to inherit their bills through the Debt Assumption Act. So there is quite a multi-dimensional challenge to Zimbabwe’s economic ruin.

Moyo: Zimbabwe’s story is a bit complex. While there were restrictions imposed by the Lancaster Agreement, which prevented the country from implementing some key programmes of reversing the effects of colonial rule, I can say the real turning point was the chaotic land reform programme which saw productive white-owned farms being invaded and occupied by ex-combatants. As agriculture is the mainstay of Zimbabwe, the lack of productivity on most of the grabbed farms meant the country suffered huge financial losses which resulted in the government failing to meet most of its obligations.

SA: Since then Zimbabwe seems to be continuously moving backwards into political intolerance, corruption and a failing economy, with a few regional peers openly trying to direct second President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the right direction. What level of intervention do Zimbabweans expect from the SADC and AU?

Masawi: The answer to Zimbabwe’s challenges is with Zimbabweans themselves to deal with. It will be rather naive to expect the SADC bloc or AU to come up with intervention measures. The simple solution is that the government needs to follow the reformist agenda they preach as well as curb rampant corruption in public service as well as prioritise expenditure to developmental and constructive sectors than for personal gratification.

Moyo: Strictly speaking, Zimbabweans do not really expect much from the AU and SADC. They know that these are “Old Boys” clubs serving the interests of those in power. However, Zimbabweans expect SADC and the AU, in particular SADC, to be open with the Zimbabwean Government and tell it to respect rule of law, human rights and protect investor interests in the country. Without it no serious investor will consider investing in a country that doesn’t seem to have direction.

SA: The current regime under President Mnangagwa seems to have steered the country even into deeper challenges for the past four years despite promising reforms across board. But, what else has he done right to revive the country from past political and economic regressions?

OATH: Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn in as Zimbabwe’s second president. – CNN.

Masawi: President Mnangagwa came in making the right noises and portraying a reformist agenda and tried to reach out to the international community. However as time went on his regime went back to default settings and used violence in elections, failed to abide by its constitution and saw corruption spiralling beyond control. While he is sending the right songs for a better future he has done little to change the situation on the ground nor has he shown political will to improve the country’s situation in terms of rule of law, fighting corruption, minimizing military role in politics and also curbing arrest of dissenting voices.

Moyo: I wouldn’t say there is anything tangible that has been done to redress the past regressions. I think the status quo that prevailed under Mugabe still continues, if not even on a far worse scale now. Zimbabweans are very resilient people who invent ways to survive on a daily basis. Nobody relies on Government. Even the few civil servants that go to work only go there to use the free internet and telephones to push their deals. The country has sun deeper into despair with the Mnangagwa regime offering no tangible solutions to pull the country out of its quagmire.

SA: We can spend the whole day and acres of pages talking about the existing negatives about the country but that won’t help solve the problem facing Zimbabweans. Fast forward, aside from leadership that’s wanting, which are the key pillars that if unlocked can put the country back on track to economic growth and prosperity?

Masawi: The country must align laws to its constitution of 2013 which is largely liberal, stop the conflation of site and party as exhibited now and create a conducive environment for investment with secure property rights.

Moyo: The leadership issue is crucial in unlocking the potential that Zimbabwe has. Without a credible leadership the country cannot go anywhere. As you are aware Zimbabwe is endowed with vast mineral resources – gold, platinum, chrome, diamonds, you name it. These resources are currently being plundered with little filtering through to the government and to the masses. Zimbabwe had one of the largest diamond deposits in the world. Now we hear there’s nothing left of this. Who mined it and who benefitted? The country did not benefit. Even the areas where the diamonds were discovered in Zimbabwe no development has taken place. So for the economy, with its great mineral potential and agriculture prowess, to be unlocked, we need a leadership that serves the interests of the nation first not their own interests or those of their cronies.

SA: It can’t be all gloom and doom in Zimbabwe. According to recent Bloomberg report, the inflation is slowing rapidly — albeit it’s still 322% — and the government expects the economy to expand 7.4% this year, rebounding from a 4.1% contraction. How is this progress in the right direction?

FOOD BASKET: Mechanised farming in Zimbabwe. -Nkosizile Ndlovu.

Masawi: It is not enough to celebrate inflationary decrease that is way above a normal threshold. 322% is by far too much. Inflation figures should be single digits in normal economies.

SA: Reports have indicated that heavy rains are expected to result in the biggest corn crop since 1984 and have filled the world’s largest man-made reservoir, allowing more electricity to be generated from the Kariba South hydropower plant and Gold and platinum prices have risen over the past year, boosting mining income. Are these good tidings to boost food banks and mining sector?

Masawi: Bumper harvest is indeed welcome and will go a long way in reducing the country’s import bill and have that money used in productive sectors. It is also important for the government to plug loopholes that have seen the country losing more than US$1 billion in smuggled gold which is normally done by the connected.

Moyo: Of course it’s not all doom and gloom. There is some glimmer of hope with some industries seemingly bouncing back. Zimbabwe is this year expected to record a bumper maize and tobacco harvest following the good rains received in the region (southern Africa). However, with an over 80% unemployment rate, the majority of Zimbabweans will still find the going tough.

SA: Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has also taken tough steps of devaluing the local currency and enforcing discipline in government spending. There’s been some investment in energy projects and in reviving horticulture, once one of the country’s export mainstays, while Afreximbank offered respite on debt by agreeing to reorganize its $1.4 billion the nation owes it. Have these pronouncements actualized?

Masawi: The Minister of Finance has also been singing the right tunes but not implementing anything. There seems to be a glaring lack of political will to go through with proposed economic reforms and this has left the ambitious minister stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Moyo: Unfortunately, Mthuli Ncube cannot enforce discipline in government spending. That’s not how Zanu PF operates. The Finance minister tows the party line, so whatever good intentions he may have these may be rejected at party level. We continue to see government spending only on unnecessary items, e.g the recent purchase of an US$18 million helicopter by the presidency while hospitals are at a standstill due to lack of basic medicines. As for the second part of your question I wouldn’t be the right person to answer it. Ask Mthuli himself.

SA: Early March, President Mnangagwa took his first shot of the Sinovac vaccine to launch the second phase of the vaccination programme that is intended for the residents of Victoria Falls, in a symbolic move aimed at promoting tourism recovery, after losing about $1billion in potential revenue to tourism last year as a result of the pandemic. With this positive gesture, what else can be done to revive the tourism sector in the face of the ‘new normal’?

TOURISM: A bird’s eyeview of AZambezi Lodge, Victoria Falls. -Rainbow Tourism Group.

Masawi: The tourism industry is going to take some time to be revived in Zimbabwe and anywhere else in the world until a time when the vaccine has been widely accessed and travelling become a norm again. Perhaps for now he has to try and push regional and domestic tourism until things normalise.

Moyo: If there’s one area where I can give credit to President Mnangagwa is how he has championed the issue of Covid-19 vaccines. Unlike other heads of state in Africa who have shied away from taking the vaccines or encouraging their citizens to do so, Mnangagwa and his Vice President (Who is also Minister of Health) have been at the forefront of the campaign by taking the vaccines themselves thereby creating confidence in the populace over the Covid-19 vaccines.

SA: Still, for a fully-fledged economic recovery plan, leadership/strong political will, remain the elephant in the room. Now, if you are given that Presidential Seat now, what will you do differently in the first 100 days?

Moyo: Well, certainly Zimbabwe needs more than a mere 100 day to fix or even to start fixing it. There’s need to rebuild confidence and trust in the country. We need to put the fundamentals right. Ensure rule of law, respect of human rights, re-engage with our friends in the West and show the world that we are committed to real reforms. After that we need strong policies against corruption and we need to ensure that the limited resources we have are properly used for the benefit of the majority and not just a few individuals.

Tabby Moyo is a veteran newspaper editor and communication consultant.  

Tiri Masawi is a senior business journalist and media entrepreneur.

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