Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, Herbert Murerwa, heaved a sigh of relief after going through his mid-term review last week. He was booed by both members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and those of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) so many times that he started stammering as he read his speech. It must have become apparent to Murerwa that he was selling a dud.
The minister had no solutions to the country’s most pressing problems- the shortage of food, fuel and foreign currency. Though he admitted that inflation was the country’s number one enemy, his supplementary budget itself was inflationary.
He was ploughing $6.6 trillion to fund recurrent expenditure, new ministries whose real role no one could define as they were duplicating services already catered for by existing ministries, and a senate whose role no one could clearly define, except that it was a way of accommodating ruling party cronies.
Murerwa did not say anything about how the government was going to solve the crippling fuel crisis. Most people had expected him to increase the price from the current $10 000 a litre because it is now selling at US$1 a litre at selected service stations and is going for anything between $45 000 and $70 000 a litre.
Central bank governor Gideon Gono, a workaholic who toured the entire country in June and July trying to sell his economic recovery programme after things started falling apart, has also suddenly gone quiet.
The good old days when he was hailed as a turnaround expert seem to have gone. There are now fears that Gono who had vowed that “failure is not an option”, may have to eat humble pie. It must have dawned on him by now that what is bedeviling Zimbabwe is not the economic fundamentals but the politics. And if this is not resolved urgently, it could drag him down with it.
Political scientist John Makumbe, a renowned critic of President Robert Mugabe and a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, said there was no menu that could see Zimbabwe’s economy turn around as long as Mugabe was at the helm.
“He is now a liability to the nation because he has alienated himself from all those who have the money,” Makumbe said. “He can look East as far as he can but he will never get balance of payments support (necessary to boost foreign currency) from there. All he can get is military equipment. The Chinese are not interested in development assistance but in straight business, that is, in selling goods to Zimbabwe.”
Makumbe said Mugabe’s “Look East” policy was not likely to work because Mugabe had tried it with Malaysia, but it had not worked. He had tried it with Singapore and it had not worked.
He said right now, Mugabe was the problem and not ZANU-PF per se. “If Mugabe were to go now and ZANU-PF remained in power, there would be a turnaround. It is not ZANU-PF that the West is against but Mugabe as a person,” he said.
Political commentator, Lawton Hikwa, a lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, agreed that political transformation was the only way forward for the country’s economic turnaround to succeed.
“Everything is now in the hands of politicians,” he said. Hikwa, who is known to be sympathetic to the ruling party, said that South African President Thabo Mbeki was right when he said Zimbabweans must sort out their own problems.
“There has to be dialogue between the two major political parties,” Hikwa said.
Asked how this was possible since ZANU-PF insisted that dialogue with the opposition MDC could only be through Parliament, Hikwa said, the two parties should take advantage of that channel.
“Members of the House should now begin to show some commonality. They should put Zimbabwe, and not their parties, first. Both sides that is. There should be patronage to the country rather than to the party,” he said.
Independent Member of Parliament for Tsholotsho Jonathan Moyo, once Mugabe’s chief spin-doctor but now at the forefront of calling for his ouster, concurred. He said political transformation was essential for the country’s economic turnaround.
“We need a political settlement so that ordinary Zimbabweans can regain confidence in themselves. It should no longer just be a case of scoring points,” Moyo said. “We have to accept that the present leaders of ZANU-PF were great liberators. No one can take that away from them. But they were not great democrats.”
“We have now come to the end of the road. The economic situation will not improve unless we improve the political situation. And that means Mugabe has to go. If he doesn’t go through the electoral door, he will go through God’s door,” he said.
Moyo is probably right. Zimbabwe’s worst enemy at the moment is not British Prime Minister Tony Blair or American President George Bush as ZANU-PF leaders continue to hammer, but Zimbabweans themselves. They have lost faith in their leaders and in themselves.