No Such Thing As A Free Recovery

Since President Mnangagwa’s inauguration last November, Zimbabwe’s government has sent emissaries the world over to encourage those citizens in the diaspora to return home and invest. This campaign is hinged on patriotism, a romanticised idea of Zimbabwe and an unsubstantiated belief that those who left the country for a myriad of reasons are willing to set those aside, pack up their belongings and return to Zimbabwe for a fresh start for no other reasons than because Mugabe is gone and they miss home. Well, the government has quickly found out that that’s not quite how things work.

Not every diaspora is a potential investor and not every diasporan who could invest is interested in doing so. Diasporans are, for good reason, probably the most jaded group of citizens when it comes to Zimbabwe. Many left Zimbabwe with nothing after being wiped out by bad economic decisions or literally being chased from their homes by some who sit in government today.

There have been no such assurances for the millions of black Zimbabweans who equally lost all they had since land reform triggered an economic crisis and either stayed on or left the country.

The Zimbabwean exodus is a crime against humanity, over three decades millions were displaced with no hope of ever being restored to their previous way of life. On the other hand, white commercial farmers who lost their properties during the land reform programme have been promised compensation and encouraged to return under the protection of the new government. There have been no such assurances for the millions of black Zimbabweans who equally lost all they had since land reform triggered an economic crisis and either stayed on or left the country. It is therefore disingenuous for this government to encourage diasporans to return without first acknowledging the state’s role in causing these people to leave in the first place, mitigating the risk they would incur by giving up the lives they have built and starting over for a third time. Simultaneously, government needs to deal with the question of the losses incurred by victims of bad policy decisions since at least 1998 who stayed. To just say “the past is the past” is not enough.

no country in history has managed any sort of successful economic recovery without first gaining the trust and compliance of it’s people.

Zimbabwe is a country with a trust deficit between the government and the people. The current administration has missed glaring opportunities to restore this trust as it focuses it’s efforts on mending international relations and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). Unfortunately, history is not on the government’s side, no country has managed any sort of successful economic recovery without first gaining the trust and compliance of it’s people. If the people are not at the centre of al recovery plans then government runs the risk of selling them out for whoever has the biggest FDI package with no consideration for what the long term effects will be. That is what we see today in Zimbabwe with a government that is more about business than it is about people.

What’s to stop government working with consultants with vested interests who may direct business towards themselves under the guise of offering assistance? It creates an environment where government officials are now gatekeepers of largesse which they direct to people they benefit from in some way. 

With this trust deficit government has to do much more to convince all Zimbabweans to participate in the recovery. Besides appeals to patriotism, there has to be a clear message of what is in it for those who participate in the recovery to avoid opportunities for corruption. Since his inauguration President Mnangagwa has pushed cabinet to develop various strategies for recovery and attracting investment. Cabinet officials have in turn appealed to whoever is willing to aid in the development of these strategies, with some ministries creating think-tanks to solve for specific challenges. However, because there is no budget or policy a lot of these activities are being conducted on a voluntary basis and ministers are left to decide if and how to compensate those who offer their services. This is where corruption comes in. What’s to stop government working with consultants with vested interests who may direct business towards themselves under the guise of offering assistance? It creates an environment where government officials are now gatekeepers of largesse which they direct to people they benefit from in some way.

It is remarkable that government would expect anyone to do for free the job that they are paid a salary for.

This is how you create a new elite that has a symbiotic corrupt relationship with government that only gets more difficult to dislodge the longer it goes on for. It is remarkable that government would expect anyone to do for free the job that they are paid a salary for. What government urgently needs to do is come up with clear policy guidelines on how to engage and compensate consultants and review all current consultancy-government relationships to see if they comply with this new policy.

As Zimbabwe celebrates thirty eight years of independence today, it does so for the first time without Robert Mugabe at the helm. Unfortunately, much of the practices that existed under Mugabe are alive or being revitalised creating potential risk for this new dispensation before it has an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of citizens. The only way out of this is with clear policy that considers the damage of the last thirty eight years and is structured not only to repair the damage but also ensures the country never finds itself in the same situation again.

 Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on ricky@remnes.com