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Two years after the coup

BY ALEX MAGAISA

For all the shortcomings of his two-year-old administration, Emmerson Mnangagwa might have been excused by many Zimbabweans and might have been glorified as a hero, had he performed a Houdini Act on the economy.

True, the coup that catapulted Mnangagwa into power in November 2017 took place against the backdrop of an on-going and long-running economic quagmire.
But he came in with great verve and a show of undaunted spirit.

He spoke a lot and promised much and in doing so, raised great expectations.

He touted it as “the new dispensation” and promised to do things differently from the old regime.

However, his performance in the two years after the coup has been flaccid at best.

It has been a much ado about nothing affair, which has sunk the country into serious economic and political doldrums.

In any event, he lacks the licence to divorce himself from the deep-rooted causes of that economic collapse, having been Mugabe’s top lieutenant and chief enforcer since independence in 1980.

It would not be unfair to say that if Mugabe was the architect of the economic collapse, Mnangagwa was more than a handyman.

Two years on, Zimbabwe is still in dire-straits, a ready example in many an economics class of how not to run an economy.

Some locals say things are worse than when he arrived but even if that might be marked as an exaggeration, the mere fact that he is being compared to his predecessor is damning enough.

The only way after Mugabe should have been upwards. But under Mnangagwa Zimbabwe has failed to defy the economics version of the law of gravity.
  
The indicators are not good. Although the government suspended official year-on-year inflation data, the IMF put it at 300% in August 2019 and independent observers say it’s over 400%.

There has been no improvement on the employment front with more than 90% of the working population unemployed.

Companies continue to close down while others have been forced to scale down operations. Loss-making public enterprises are still draining the national coffers.

The majority have crossed over to the informal sector.

More than 60% of the population is in need of food aid, thanks in part to natural disasters but largely to poor agricultural policies.

There have been serious shortages or increase in the prices of basics including fuel, electricity, bread and cooking oil.

Wages have fallen well below inflation.

There have also been continued cash shortages. Civil servants have been striking with doctors and teachers leading the pack.

Hospitals are dysfunctional and some say there’s a slow genocide taking place with thousands dying of curable ailments.

Instead of working to find an amicable solution, the government claims to have fired doctors.

But just as they did under the Mugabe regime, when they experience as much as a cough, senior ministers hop on the plane and fly to South Africa or overseas for medical treatment.

There is virtually no incentive on their part as public officers to ensure that the healthcare system is fit for purpose. More of these indicators are examined in greater detail in this article.

There is an overwhelming air of hopelessness. They go to college and graduate.

Mnangagwa, as chancellor of all state universities attends every graduation ceremony to cap them.

It is doubtful that the irony registers in his mind as he attends these ceremonies, that the majority will be transitioning into redundancy, thanks to the parlous economic conditions.

If there is an opportunity to leave, the average young Zimbabwean will grab it without hesitation.  

Already a big problem in the past, public debt has increased over the two year period.

The Finance minister admits in his latest budget statement, that public debt is “unsustainably high, due to the accumulation of arrears, as well as expansion of domestic debt”.

The minister admits that without alternative sources of funding, the government has over-relied on domestic sources of financing which has resulted in rising domestic debt.

In the previous budget, Ncube told the nation that from December 2017 the government had gone on a borrowing spree from the central bank.

Its overdraft facility at the RBZ rose from US$1,4 billion in December 2017 to US$2,5 billion in September 2018. In just 10 months the regime had taken US$1,1 billion from the central bank. According to the 2019 budget statement, lending to government from the RBZ rose by US$1,11 billion between January and September 2018.

The new Mnangagwa administration had gone on spree of issuing Treasury Bills after the coup — most probably to fund their election campaign.

Civil society watchdogs believe the public debt is understated and they have called for a comprehensive audit so that a true picture is revealed.

For example, this year the government took over the US$1,2 billion legacy debt from commercial banks.

This includes debts owed to foreign airlines for airfares which the banks didn’t repatriate in foreign currency due to shortages.

This foreign currency crunch and inability to repatriate profits has also dissuaded investors from the country.

Mnangagwa had a great opportunity and much goodwill when he arrived on the scene, his shortcomings notwithstanding.

That he squandered it all at the altar of political expediency is hard to explain because it is the political equivalent of self-immolation.

His invitation to the great gathering of capitalist barons and financiers at Davos a few weeks after the coup was an invitation to a treat; itself a signal of the over-excitement and hype that gripped an audience beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.

He had just toppled one of the world’s most notorious leaders and he was enjoying the limelight.

His supporters sold him to the world as “pragmatic” and “business savvy”.

If they were selling products on the market, they would have been guilty of fraud and mis-selling.

Even as early as Davos, he got overwhelmed by the occasion and created seeds of doubt instead of optimism.

The overall performance in the two years since the coup: a lot of bluster, an abundance of rhetoric, so many promises, but ultimately no substance and reluctance to be change agents.

Those who were hopeful are grossly disheartened while those who foresaw disaster find no comfort in saying we told you so. Prospects? The absence of competence makes it improbable.

*This is a truncated version of Alex Magaisa’s article titled Big Saturday Read: Two Years After the Coup – The Economy that was first published on his blog

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