Tag Archives: corruption

Zimbabwe’s economy goes from bad to worse

Zimbabwe’s economy continues to decline, with inflation spiralling and the new local currency losing value by the day. The IMF’s recent report makes grim reading, with negative growth recorded for last year, and an expectation of effectively no growth, growing inflation and a devaluing currency into 2020. The underlying macro-economic instability has been made worse by major climate impacts during 2019 – both the drought and cyclone Idai. The situation is bad, and getting worse.

With the failure of government to address the required reforms, the prospects of renewed external support with the necessary debt write-offs look minimal. The stand-off with the international community continues, with international sanctions and a lack of investment continuing. With external public debt rising to over 50% of GDP, much of it in arrears, there is little chance of the Zimbabwean state repaying. Bail-outs at some point will be required, and the scale of investment needed for basic infrastructure and services is estimated at US$16 billion. But instead of Zimbabwe, Somalia seems to be the focus of favourable terms, with Zimbabwe being left to decline further.

The embedded corruption at the heart of state failure becomes intensified as the economic chaos deepens. Those able to profit from parallel currency deals and leverage resource from state-led programmes are the elite few, connected to the political-military elite. And who suffers? Ordinary people, and especially the poor. The consequences of economic collapse are most felt in the urban areas, where safety nets are non-existent. While those in the rural areas have their own production to fall back on; even though this year the effects of drought have hit rural livelihoods hard too.

As the state tries to ameliorate the situation, things only get worse. For example, the Finance Minister announced the creation of ‘garrison shops’ so a restive army could buy goods on favourable terms. It was supposed to be financed by a levy on civil servants. But another parallel economy only creates opportunities for hoarding and profit, and punitive taxation on already struggling people causes resentment. Policy is being made on the hoof. Almost as soon as it was announced, it seems the tax was rescinded, or deemed voluntary, and so a big unbudgeted expenditure was added to the inflation pressures.

The uncovering of the massive rent-seeking in the milling industry, directly fuelled by state-sponsored grain buying for food relief, has exposed the problems. An apparently well-meaning policy is naively implemented, and those in the system exploit its benefits ruthlessly. In this case, with many alleged connections right to the top. The sense that those in charge are wholly out their depth or exploiting the system for their own benefit (or possibly both) is palpable. The IMF review team, in appropriately guarded language, clearly felt this.

Mentioned only obliquely was the cause celebre of this chaos – command agriculture. The corruption at the heart of this programme has been widely exposed, not least by the Public Accounts committee, chaired by opposition MP, Tendai Biti. Around US$3 billion is alleged to have been misused, through a complex web of government funding, private companies and military involvement. A recent ZDI report has highlighted the nexus of corruption at the heart of the party-state and military.

Under normal circumstances a public-private partnership for contract financing of commercial agriculture would have some credibility – just as would subsidised produce for the armed forces or state purchasing of grain through milling companies. But circumstances aren’t normal in Zimbabwe. Despite attempts at restructuring, the grip of corruption is so intense, and often led by networks close to those in power and running these initiatives, that these apparently sensible schemes become the basis for significant extraction, no matter what their worth.

No-one has quite got to the bottom of the command agriculture story as yet. The political economy is clear, but there have certainly been benefits. In our study areas for example, command agriculture resources have unquestionably resulted in boosts in production, especially on A2 farms. Repayments have been inconsistent, but many have been pursued rigorously. Not everyone can get away with just exploiting the system. But this is the point – it is just a few that continue to profit, getting massively rich while the rest suffer.

Is there a way out of this downward spiral? Attempts by the technocrats in the state to do what is required are foiled with each move it seems. Policies seem to be concocted at random, desperately responding to situation that is out of hand. One day it was illegal to sell fuel in US dollars to protect the local currency, the next day it is permitted across the country. Secret printing of money to offset US dollar losses in the mining industry solve one problem, but create many others.

The loss of trust in the government by key players – the IMF, western donor governments, even the Chinese – is clear. Sanctions (or other ‘restrictive measures’) are still in place, with influential players within and outside Zimbabwe arguing that they should remain until the regime changes. Investors are shying away, despite the occasional positive effort to rebuild key parts of the economy. Moves to create political coalitions across the divides are viewed with great scepticism given the experience of the Government of National Unity from 2009-13. It’s stale-mate. Some are holding out for an ‘uprising’ (usually those sitting in comfort firing off tweets), while others think it will have to get much worse before there is a change.

It is not a happy story, and given the dire food security situation this year, the consequences for livelihoods are severe. In agriculture, the glimmers of progress seen up to 2016 on the back of greater economy stability are fast being stamped out. Things are currently very fragile, and most farmers are holding back on investing further.

Today, like Somalia, Zimbabwe has a collapsed economy with vanishingly little state capacity, but, unlike Somalia, seems to be unable to convince the IMF, AfDB or other donors and investors to provide support. Another shock – whether further drought, the spread of coronavirus or something else – may create cascading, disastrous effects, with the elite being able to escape, while the poor (and this now includes a large portion of the population) will have to bear the brunt.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Beyond the ‘politics of disorder’: how bureaucratic professionalism persists in Zimbabwe’s public services

One paper on Zimbabwe at the recent ASA-UK conference that I found really interesting was the examination of the micro-politics of the Attorney General’s Office by Susanne Verheul. The paper is available from the Journal of Southern African Studies. And because it won a prize, it’s free to access.

The paper argues that the ‘politics of disorder’ frame so often used to describe Zimbabwe is inappropriate, even in that most political of offices, that of the AG. Simplistic, generalised assessments of politics, painting things in broad-brush terms as corrupt, neo-patrimonial, patronage driven or disorderly and chaotic, are too simplistic. A more fine-grained account instead shows that politics and practice operate on multiple registers. For sure many of the practices described in terms of corruption and patronage occur, but there is also a register embedded in commitments to rigour, professionalism and justice. These work in parallel, often in tension, in the day-to-day practices of the office, she argues.

In particular these tensions between registers occur within individuals. The paper offers two cases of lawyers working in the AG’s office, based on interviews carried out in 2010 and 2012. Both had started work at the peak of the economic crisis in 2008. Salaries were not feasible to live on, and everyone had to seek other sources of livelihoods. Some sought these outside the office, abandoning their work; others made money from the job: through bribes and corrupt practices. These were legitimised in terms of survival, and then routinized as part of normalised behaviours. The new recruits, fresh out of law school, were horrified. This did not match their ideals of delivering professional legal support and justice for all. Yet they were torn, and accepted that for some compromises had to be made.

Of course such behaviours are not the large-scale corrupt practices that have been widely commented upon. But as small acts accrete, they create a new way of working, undermining old norms of professionalism, and in the end challenging the effectiveness of the system as a whole. Across public services, perhaps most notably with the police, this has been a consequence of those years when professional conduct was superseded by the need to survive: to feed one’s family, pay school fees, treat the sick, bury the dead. Over years this has become a new normal, one that is very difficult to shift, as too many people benefit, even if the immediate need has gone.

Yet despite this, there are many who resist. And those who indulge are often torn, expressing feelings of shame and embarrassment. The two registers operate in tandem. Simply writing off public services – the courts, the police, local government, the technical line ministries – as corrupt and incompetent does not do justice to the internal, often quite personal, struggles that exist. What struck me through the period of crisis in the 2000s was how committed many of those we were working with in the Ministries of Agriculture, Lands, Environment and so on remained. They were not being paid anything near a living wage, yet came to the office. They remained committed, yet necessarily had to have outside jobs. The vets sold drugs, extension officers took payments, the lands people offered a range of services for payment. And all had other jobs, many gaining farms as a result of land reform that kept them engaged in the sector, although took them away from their formal posts.

After the stabilisation of the economy, viable salaries returned, but many of the practices persisted. But for some, like Susanne’s informants in the AG’s office, professional conduct, and shunning other practices was possible. This was certainly the case in the land and agriculture related technical services. Despite everything – the decimation of staff by HIV/AIDS, the flood of people out of government jobs to the private sector (including farming) or abroad, poor and often confused political leadership from the centre, and continued lack of funding, due to the fiscal challenges of government and the lack of donor support – it remains remarkable to me that Zimbabwe has such a committed group of public servants still in post. Highly trained, deeply committed, these are top professionals who continue against the odds. Compared to many others you meet in similar jobs elsewhere in the region, many (for sure not all) Zimbabwean public servants stand out, despite the poor conditions. Susanne’s paper offers a nuanced and sympathetic profile of two such individuals in the AG’s office, where the political spotlights shines especially brightly. But there are thousands of others elsewhere. Perhaps more in the technical ministries and in the districts further away from the political meddling who continue to uphold standards, and provide a professional service with commitment and passion. It’s far from ideal, but it’s not without hope.

Rebuilding the bureaucratic state, and its capacity to deliver, as part of the ongoing negotiation of a stable political settlement, must rely on such individuals. It must appeal to their commitment and professionalism, and reward this. Meeting these people in offices in far-flung parts of the country, without resources, but with ideas, understandings and a real zeal to make a difference, definitely gives me hope.

Writing off the state, and its government services, as simply a tool of a corrupt party elite is too simple, and the result of sloppy analysis. The state and its bureaucratic machinery is too complex and varied, made up of too many individuals with diverse motivations to be wholly captured in this way. A more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of politics in Zimbabwe is needed, and the sort of micro-study of a particular office offered by Susanne’s paper is one way of opening up this complexity, and finding ways forward.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized