This time last year there was an excitement in the air. Things were going to change. Investment was on its way. Zimbabwe just might get back on track after the Mugabe years. I was getting numerous enquiries from potential investors in agriculture who had come across this blog, for instance. Not that I had much to offer, but I encouraged them to explore options. Today they are silent. The uncertainties in the economy have meant that people are seeking other alternatives. Zimbabwe may be losing its moment. A year is a long time in Zimbabwe.
What then needs to be done in 2019 to turn things around? Many options can be implemented if the government is brave and confident. Others require outsiders to be convinced that change is afoot. In 2018, there have been important moves. The mood music is right, and the post-election cabinet is slimmer and more competent. But actions must follow words.
Many Zimbabwean commentators are offering their advice for the new year. Hopewell Chin’ono for example identifies the need to get agriculture moving again as a key priority. I agree. The 10 priorities I spelled out a year ago still apply. Chin’ono also highlights the importance of paying compensation to former farmers, and seeing through the land audit. Again, I agree, as also discussed many times over the last years. While he suggests there is masses of underutlised land, I suspect much of this is the result of failures to invest because of lack of financing, rather than an unwillingness or disinterest. The rhetoric around underutilised land in Zimbabwe has a long history, as I have pointed out before. But the issue remains: particularly in the A2 areas, there needs to be a step-change in investment and production, and command agriculture is only part of the solution.
As argued on this blog before, the land audit needs to address these issues, and head on; no matter what the political sensitivities. The Land Commission has indeed initiated the audit, but only 500 A2 farms are expected to be issued with 99-year leases this year. This is too slow. And because funds have become available only for elements of what is required, the audit is not necessarily being connected to galvanising other areas of land administration and investment. My suggestions of last year – the need for a comprehensive, district based approach – still stands. But this needs to be done quickly and comprehensively to show that it is possible and successful, based on pilot areas. This will generate the confidence that investors need to engage in the post-land reform setting.
Eddie Cross has some good recommendations for the president on wider policy change, all of which I agree with. The emphasis was on implementing the agreed Constitution and ensuring key institutions are functioning. Growth and investment follow from effective institutions, as trust increases. His ideas echo those of prolific commentator, Alex Magaisa, in his most recent BSR, and in an earlier one on the problems – for both capital (such as Delta) and labour (such as the junior doctors) of having a parallel currency arrangement. Along with many others, I would add in security sector reform to the list, but the key elements are there. Much will flow from such actions aimed at legitimising and reinforcing key political and economic institutions, including positive consequences for the agriculture sector.
Cross’ six suggestions are worth repeating:
“Firstly, please bring the market chaos under control – not by dictate because that would just make matters worse, but by allowing market forces to sort out supply and demand and set values. Take the Reserve Bank out of the market for currency, stop stealing hard currency, allow our banks to trade and float the local dollar. And do not delay, do it like we did on the 17th February 2009. You will be very surprised by the market response.
Secondly, set a clear timetable and list of targets for the reform of our legal system so that we implement the 2013 Constitution in full in three years. Do not do it by subterfuge, like indigenisation, but do it openly and properly so that the world can see we are at last putting our legal and political house in order.
Thirdly, start the process of cleaning up our politicized and compromised Judicial system. Begin with the Chief Justice and the Judge President and then allow them to review the entire bench down to Magistrate level. Give us a powerful and totally independent Prosecutor General who will take no prisoners when it comes to fighting corruption and enforcing the law.
Fourthly, respect our property rights. Start by fulfilling your commitment to pay compensation that is fair and affordable to all those who have lost property to the State – and it’s not just the former farmers – it includes Mawere. Stop all those who are using their political connections to abuse the rights of others. Insist on the Courts enforcing contracts and the Police in following Court instructions – to the letter.
Fifthly, if taking your comrades to the cleaners over past violations of the law or corruption is too much to ask, draw a line in the sand and say that all who did those sorts of things before the recent elections are given a blanket Presidential Pardon and protection from prosecution. But then, demand that all such activities stop immediately or else those who are continuing to abuse their posts will face severe penalties and the full weight of the law for both present and past violations of the law.
Finally, insist on everyone making decisions on all outstanding matters, even if in the process some mistakes are made. No decisions are much more damaging than poor decisions. The present situation where nothing is moving ahead, no Parastatals are being privatised, new investments are being held up by Officials and Ministers who have no stakes in the outcome….. This has cost Zimbabwe billions of dollars in new investment and GDP, even exports.”
I have just one quibble with Cross’ list. I agree that respecting past rights is essential – and that includes compensation for expropriated property – but this is not of course the same as advocating private title for the future; an issue on which I diverge significantly from Cross’ prescriptions. This however does not undermine the argument for addressing the compensation issue, even if future land tenure arrangements should be different to the past.
More generally, as Hopewell Chin’ono argues, a new attitude in government is required, one that grabs the opportunities and does not blame outside forces for all ills. This was the narrative of the Mugabe era. It is true that on-going sanctions, even if directed only at certain individuals, are hampering investment indirectly. ZIDERA in particular is a big blockage. But the government needs to address the conditions squarely, while not conceding everything.
A more confident, pro-active stance on land, agriculture and investment, combined with an acknowledgement of the need for compensation for former land owners, will go a long way towards convincing outsiders – maybe even the United States government – that Zimbabwe is serious, and the second republic has a chance of flourishing with external support.