Zimbabweans, desperate for news about anything that can pull the country out of the current doldrums, were left in a quandary over the appointment of Gideon Gono as governor of the Reserve bank of Zimbabwe. The pro-government media hailed the appointment claiming Gono was the prescription that the country needed, but the private media was divided.
The Financial Gazette, in which Gono is reported to have a stake, said he was ready for the task but he had no illusions about the gravity of the country’s economic problems. The Standard, which is edited by former government spokesman now turned critic, Bornwell Chakaodza, described the appointment as “much ado about nothing”. It even trashed Gono’s qualifications and said he was not likely to change anything as he was a Mugabe apologist who was likely to toe the party line.
“Obviously ZANU-PF leaders, who are in the twilight of their rule, will try by all means to ‘arm twist’ Gono for him to pursue short-lived monetary policies that will ‘reap maximum benefits’ in the shortest moment,” the paper said. The Standard said Gono’s appointment was symbolic and empty as he was also among Mugabe’s lieutenants who had been slapped with an international travel ban.
But Gono, who was described by a number of analysts quoted in the pro-government media as a turn-around strategist, largely because of the way he turned around the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, told the Financial Gazette , that he wanted it known from the outset that the monetary function of the central bank alone was not adequate to turn around the economy.
“For us to succeed, there has to be a host of collaborative efforts by all stakeholders which must compliment and reinforce the actions that would be taken by the central bank. The nation has no choice but to embrace itself in unity of purpose while taking measures, tough as they may seem, to correct past mistakes while at the same time moving ahead to place our economy on a sound footing.”
As chief executive of the fourth largest bank in the country, Gono must have weighed his prospects at the new appointment carefully unless, like most business people who have made it, he now wants to “rule”. Gono has been an astute businessman. He is a successful commercial farmer. He has built a publishing empire that includes the country’s most widely read magazine, Parade, as well as the most influential financial paper, The Financial Gazette. He has also played a key role in the country’s favourite sport, soccer, by arranging funding for the national soccer team. He has arranged fuel deals for the country.
But the post of governor of central bank is different. It is a highly influential post that requires political clout because decisions the bank chief makes can win or cost elections. The major question, therefore, is whether Gono will get the necessary political support from President Robert Mugabe to implement measures that can turn around the country’s economy.
Diplomats have always argued that the real Minister of Finance in Zimbabwe is President Mugabe. What he says goes. He can overrule both the minister and the central bank governor, who should be chief advisor to the government.
But Mugabe is probably misunderstood by a lot of people. He is quite open to individual contributions provided these are channelled through the party and come out as a collective decision. Gono seems to have worked with Mugabe over the procurement of fuel and other deals to bail out the country. With his advancing years, Mugabe is desperate for a noble exit. He does not want to go down in history as someone who wrecked Africa’s breadbasket. And having “delivered” land to the people, he is likely to listen to Gono if he believes this will resuscitate the ailing economy.
But Gono will have a formidable task. He does not have the political clout needed for the governor’s job, as ideally this is a job that needs someone who sits in the ZANU-PF central committee as well as in its politburo. Party leaders who might think he will become too powerful than them can shoot down his ideas.
Turning around the country’s economy does not just require zeal, patriotism and commitment, it also requires political clout. Bernard Chidzero, left his top paying United Nations job only to see his career falter because no one listened to him. Simba Makoni faced the same fate. Leonard Tsumba did the same thing. Most people forget he headed Zimbabwe Financial Holdings which also faced collapse at one stage.
But there is too much at stake for Gono. He has more than his reputation to protect. He has a point to prove, especially since he has already been written off by some sections of the media and those members of society who believe nothing good can come out of the Mugabe administration.