FIFTY-ONE years ago, the colonial Rhodesian regime led by the late Ian Douglas Smith declared independence from Britain on November 11, 1965.
This was the second time that a British colony had broken away after the United States had declared its own independence two centuries before in July 1776.
Britain, the Commonwealth and the United Nations immediately announced that Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence was illegal, leading to the country being slapped with the first ever UN sanctions.
But Smith remained adamant as he began building a stronger economy regardless of the country’s isolation.
This is what Zimbabwe inherited in 1980: A leading and prosperous economy, supported by a strong agricultural sector, vibrant manufacturing industry and a productive mining sector.
Given the miserable state of the country today, this is just one hard fact of history that has become so difficult to swallow, especially for those who eschewed a better Zimbabwe at independence in 1980.
Ruling ZANU-PF propagandists have found excuses to explain how their regime failed to take the country to the next level, although these have fallen short of being convincing.
Hard as it may have tried to forge its own destiny, under a new regime led by the former guerilla war fighters who had fought a protracted bush war against Smith, Zimbabwe somehow appears to be getting it all wrong at each and every attempt.
The narrative that has been shoved down everyone’s throat by President Robert Mugabe’s government, which has been in power for the past 36 years, is that the present sad situation the country finds itself in is a result of the sanctions Britain and its allies imposed on Zimbabwe over human rights violations.
ZANU-PF denies the human rights violations saying the restrictions were in fact meant to penalise the regime for embarking on the chaotic land reform programme in 2000.
Incidentally, that land reform programme was the first major effort by the ZANU-PF government to redress past historical imbalances, 20 years after it had gained majority black rule in 1980 through a compromised deal that principally maintained the status quo, whereby the former colonial masters remained in charge of the economy.
Zimbabwe’s own declaration of independence came in the form of an attempt to right a century-old wrong that had seen indigenous black people being disposed of their land by an invading British colonialist, Cecil John Rhodes, whose surname was later incorporated into the name of the Rhodesian State.
Because of the diplomatic tiff between Zimbabwe and the western states, Harare took the emotional decision to withdraw its membership from the commonwealth in December 2003.
If one is to go by ZANU-PF’s argument that the country’s economy has collapsed because of sanctions, why then is it that the Rhodesian government prospered under all manner of sanctions? How did Zimbabwe fail where Smith succeeded against all odds?
It has been argued before that while sanctions have contributed to the current crisis, their impact has been minimal compared to government’s own incompetence.
For example, the indigenisation policy, whereupon government sought to compel foreigners to cede majority control to blacks, has been a monumental disaster.
While President Mugabe has now sought to clarify certain issues unnerving investors, it has been a matter of too little, too late.
Currently, government is also taking steps to amend the Mining Act, in a harsh manner that would make it even more unpopular with capitalists.
The land reform programme was another monumental disaster, and nothing is being done to redress maladies impeding the agricultural sector from driving the country’s economic engine.
Efforts such as the current command agriculture initiative are under constant threat from corruption.
Over the years, government has come up with so many policies to deal with its pressing economic challenges.
While on paper, most of the policies look okay, the devil has always been in the implementation.
At the moment, government is stuck with the ambitious Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset) blueprint, which requires funding to the tune of US$27 billion.
But what has really been wrong with our policies? Or maybe what has been negatively affecting the implementation of these policies?
“We have had very good policies and blueprints, but as soon as these policies and blueprints are introduced we fail to make a follow-up on these policies,” said Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president, Davison Norupiri.
“We are failing to review the impact of these policies, whether negative of positive…We need consistency in terms of monitoring and evaluation of these policies, so we end up having challenges. I strongly believe that for all our policies we need monitoring and evaluation teams that help identify loopholes for the policies to be effective,” he added.
Economist, John Robertson, believes the country’s policies can hardly be called policies because they are simply “wish lists” that are never followed through.
“These policies amount to a declaration of intent… They (government) intend to do something about what is said in the policy, but in the end they actually do nothing about it…A policy doesn’t actually become policy at all. They believe that releasing a policy statement is enough in itself. Many people in government don’t seem to understand that there is need to bring the change after making a policy statement,” said Robertson, adding: “What we need are policies that attract investment. But what we now have are policies that are unattractive to investment. Government has created a very hostile and unwelcoming environment for investors, which I think needs to be fixed first.”
And the results of this hostility are evident as even the locals are wary of investing in their own country.
As a result, Zimbabwe’s once attractive and bustling economic hubs such as Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, Kadoma, Mutare and the capital Harare are now virtually ghost towns and cities.
Even small towns such as Norton and Chegutu that once upon a time had a contribution to make to the country’s economy are derelict with no sign that any of the nation’s protectionist policies have been effective in boosting production.
It is like going through a very bad dream to imagine that Bulawayo, since it was founded in 1894, had seen the establishment of big companies such as the Tregers Group, the Zimbabwe Engineering Company, Hubert Davies, Merlin Textiles, Stewarts & Lloyds, Build Elect, Dunlop, Hunyani Holdings and G&D Shoes.
Fast forward to today, the second largest city is now practically a ghost city.
Harare has, meanwhile, turned into a vendors’ city, while Gweru and Kwekwe — home to steel factories and foundries since independence in 1980 — have been reduced to industrial ruins.
To the east of the country, Mutare saw more than a dozen companies closing shop a year after government announced its Zim-Asset blueprint in 2013.
Some are arguing that government’s is not doing enough homework before producing its policy blueprints.
It, however, does not need rocket science to figure out that what is lacking is just the political will to do the right thing. – Financial Gazette