United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Joseph Sullivan was not impressed by the Movement for Democratic Change’s RESTART programme describing it as “broad in scope but short on specifics”.
RESTART stood for the MDC’s economic programme for Reconstruction, Stabilisation, Recovery, and Transformation.
Both MDC Shadow Minister for Economic Affairs Tendai Biti and Shadow Minister of Finance Tapiwa Mashakada briefed United States embassy officials on the 60-page plus document, which they said had taken the party a year to come up with.
Viewing cable 03HARARE1971, MDC SHADOW MINISTERS PREVIEW PARTY’S ECONOMIC
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001971
DEPT. FOR AF KANSTEINER AND DUNLAP, AF/S DELISI AND RAYNOR
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JFRAZER
LONDON FOR CGURNEY
PARIS FOR CNEARY
NAIROBI FOR TPFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: MDC SHADOW MINISTERS PREVIEW PARTY’S ECONOMIC
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: MDC shadow minister for economic affairs
and MDC MP Tendai Biti on September 23 summarized to emboff
the elements of the party’s economic plan, called RESTART.
The plan, which he cast as essentially a social democratic
platform, was being circulated for comment and could be
expected to be released publicly by the end of the year.
Broad in scope but short on specifics, the lengthy policy
paper is not likely to alter the political dynamic here, but
some elements could find their way onto the agenda of
inter-party talks. Shadow Finance Minister Tapiwa Mashakada
on September 24 shared with the Embassy a draft of RESTART,
for which he sought international support. END SUMMARY.
RESTART Lays Out “Social Democratic” Agenda
¶2. (SBU) Tendai Biti elaborated to emboff on September 23 a
chapter-by-chapter summary of the principal chapters in a
60-plus page policy paper that had been a year in the making.
The opening chapter laid out general principles,
establishing the party’s economic approach as essentially
“social democratic.” Principal objectives underscored up
front included establishment of a more participatory
democracy, measures to create a functioning economy, and
effecting redistributive justice.
¶3. (SBU) Chapter two outlined immediate priorities to be
addressed: (1) reconstituion of the political structure,
including the civil service, (2) measures to turn around
failing social infrastructure, such as health, education, and
transportation systems, (3) the HIV/AIDS crisis, (4) job
creation, (5) and land reform. Biti observed that the
degraded civil service would pose one of the party’s biggest
challenges upon assumption of power, although a hardy core of
professionals yet survived the onslaught of political and
economic pressures. Chapter Three addressed “cross-cutting
issues”, such as labor, gender, land productivity, and
¶4. (SBU) Biti described Chapter Four, which focused on
macroeconomic issues, as the paper’s most weighty. Sketched
out without too much detail would be interest rate and
foreign exchange policies, and measures to stem spiralling
inflation. The paper called for 100 percent retention of
foreign currency by exporters and a more realistic exchange
rate, among other things. Budget deficits were likely to be
severe — 25 percent of GDP after the first year “if we’re
lucky.” The paper’s vetting process had resulted in a
scaling back of earlier expensive party promises, such as
free anti-retrovirals for needy patients. Biti acknowledged
that some of even the most obvious remedies would be
difficult for certain segments of the public to swallow, but
the most knowledgeable, including some within ZANU-PF,
recognized their necessity. Indeed, he expected that ZANU-PF
would borrow some of the ideas, and that some proposals could
find their way onto an agenda for inter-party talks. Chapter
Five would describe the treatment of various sectors,
including mining, agriculture, and transportation.
Redistributive Justice Under Land Reform
¶5. (SBU) On land reform, Biti said the paper was based on
the premise that the country could not afford either the
status quo or the status quo ante. He asserted that the
paper’s treatment of the topic was built on the party’s
“Synopsis of Land Reform” released in April 2000, which built
on the 1998 donors’ conference on land reform. The approach
hinged on four basic principles: (1) conveyance would be
voluntary, (2) one-man one-farm, (3) maximum plot sizes would
be determined regionally, (4) a punitive tax would be imposed
on unused land. Redistribution would be conducted in three
phases: a land audit to determine actual occupancy and use on
a farm-by-farm basis; an examination of historical and legal
claims to the property; and the awarding of legal possession
by a land commission. He said possession would be based
largely on long-term leases along the lines of the model
employed in Zambia, with beneficiaries determined according
to needs and abilities.
International Role Under RESTART
¶6. (SBU) As for an international role in Zimbabwe’s
recovery, Biti said the paper did not expressly address it
but that everybody recognized its importance. The party
would be approaching the diplomatic community at the
appropriate time to encourage formation of a “Marshall Plan”
for Zimbabwe. He conceded that the country would probably
require at least three years of sustained structural reform
before foreign direct investment was likely to become a
significant economic factor.
¶7. (SBU) Biti said the paper had been circulated to
prominent Zimbabwean and regional academics for comment. He
expected that some of their comments to be incorporated in
the next draft, which was due out by the end of September.
That draft would be sent to wider audiences for comment,
including to the USG.
¶8. (SBU) Shadow Finance Minister Tapiwa Mashakada on
September 24 presented econoff with a draft of RESTART, a
copy of which Embassy is pouching to the AF/S. Mashakada was
more explicit than Biti in stressing the need to line up
donor funding for RESTART and a future MDC government.
¶9. (SBU) A cursory review of the RESTART draft shared by
Mashakada shows it to be extremely vague in critical areas,
perhaps a consequence of the MDC’s very large “tent” that
includes business and labor, white farmers, and socialists.
It is mostly a rehash and update of “The Bridge,” the party’s
economic campaign document for the 2002 presidential
elections. RESTART is perhaps not as specific an economic
manifesto as we would hope from a party ready to govern, but
it is certainly an improvement on the unrealistic or
non-existent economic planning of the current government.
¶10. (SBU) Because meaningful political change is generally
accepted as a necessary precondition for meaningful economic
change here, the MDC’s paper is likely to remain principally
an academic exercise for some time. Nonetheless, MDC
attention to difficult economic issues is a positive and
overdue development, even if its prescriptions remain vague
and unrealistic in some areas. For now, the party enjoys the
luxury of time and the absence of publicity or public
expectation in crafting its economic policies. The paper may
face a bumpy road, though, when subjected to greater scrutiny
among the diverse interests represented in the MDC’s
leadership and broad membership, particularly from trade
unionists and academics who tend to reject “liberal
economics.” The recommendations can be expected to provoke
knee-jerk opposition by the ruling party in the short term,
but could become relevant to an agenda for inter-party talks
— should they ever move forward.
¶11. (SBU) Biti and Mashakada may be emerging as rivals for
control of MDC economic policy. Neither would appear to make
an initially-promising economic minister given the gravity of
Zimbabwe’s economic condition. Both are well under 40 while
lacking substantive private-sector business or public-sector
budgeting background. Many moderate, working-level ZANU PF
administrators in the Finance, Trade and the technical
Ministries bring considerably more hands-on experience and
expertise to the table (even if their proposals are being
presently stymied by Mugabe and hardline ZANU-PF ideologues).
Most businessmen hope an MDC president would enlist a
prominent private-sector figure to steer a Finance Ministry
tasked with turning around what has been – by some measures –
the world’s fastest declining economy over the past 3 years,
rewarding young and loyal MDC stalwarts like Biti and
Mashakada with deputy minister and permsec positions.
¶12. (SBU) BIO NOTE: An extremely energetic and engaging
interlocutor, Biti is at once confident and self-effacing. A
successful labor and constitutional lawyer with an old-line
Harare firm, he readily conceded his lack of credentials in
economics. Nonetheless, he was very enthusiastic about
economic themes and stressed his interest in the experiences
of other developing countries emerging from political strife,
such as Chile, Peru, and even post-war Europe. He emphasized
his excitement in being at the fulcrum of Zimbabwean history
but claimed to be tired of politics, notwithstanding his
youth. Biti said he did not intend to run for parliament in
the next election, and speculated that he may pursue an
academic or business position overseas for some time after
his term expired, with a view to learning first hand about a
“successful developing country model”, such as Malaysia.