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Zimbabwe: The state of the nation

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I HAVE always thought that the American idea of an annual “State of the Nation” address by the president to both Houses in Washington DC was a great idea. It serves both as an opportunity to look back and then to assess where the country is right now and last year and a look into the future.

The New Year of 2014 is just ahead of us and I thought it would be an appropriate time to do some thinking about the state of Zimbabwe as a nation. First some retrospection:

My great grandfather, G W Cross came out to Africa in 1867. About that time the first tentative incursions of people with a European background began to occur Zimbabwe. Most crossed the Limpopo and came either as missionaries or hunters. They were preceded by slavers and explorers from Portugal and other places in the Mediterranean region.

In 1893 the first really major incursion took place and the colonisation of Zimbabwe began. After two short wars against the indigenous population, the flag was run up a pole in Harare and we became an outpost of the British Empire.

In 1923 the tiny handful of settlers decided not to join the new Union of South Africa but to become a dominion — just like Canada and Australia. What followed was nearly 60 years of settler government — the World War II, our own civil war of liberation and then Independence in 1980.

For all their faults, the European settlers did a remarkable job; they established a small modern State with a Constitution, the rule of law (Roman Dutch) and an elected legislature. They built thousands of kilometres of railway line, tens of thousands of kilometres of roads and a national electricity generation and distribution system and in the process created a diversified economy anchored on agriculture, industry and mining.

A tiny army (two brigades at half strength) and a remarkable civil service that was apolitical and proficient as well as honest. By 1979 over 90% of what we bought in a supermarket was made in Zimbabwe and we had a currency which was worth twice as much as the US dollar and virtually no debt.

But it was not sustainable in either political or economic terms and after a savage “low-intensity guerilla war” that lasted a decade, we came to independence. Whatever our view of history the facts are inescapable — nowhere in the world could a small (2% of the population) racial minority expect to maintain its grip on power and the State.

Whatever his virtues, Ian Smith failed his community and his country by not accepting the inevitable and negotiating the future while he had the strength to do so.

In the following 33 years the country has gone through a roller coaster of experience — the heady early days of independence with rapid growth and the dramatic expansion of health and education services, the emergence of a majority rule State with the inevitable shortcomings.

The genocide of Gukurahundi, the systematic destruction of opposition groups and then finally the war with the MDC and the collapse of the economy along with our legal system and respect for all the rights that had been the objective of the war of liberation in the ’60s and ’70s. We were rescued from the total collapse of the State in 2008 by international intervention and the Government of National Unity.

This brought stability and some economic recovery but failed to resolve the fundamental problems of legitimacy, human rights and security of tenure. So we come to the State of Zimbabwe today (at the end of 2013):

We are in a parlous State — our imports exceed our exports by a margin of 2 to 1, the current account deficit is over 20% of our gross domestic product (GDP), our accumulated debt is well over 100% of GDP and completely unserviceable. Our agriculture and industry sectors are only producing 30% of what they did 15 years ago and our tourism industry is down to 20%.

Our Finance minister has presented a budget that graphically illustrates the straight jacket he is in and the very limited options available to him. He cannot run a deficit with us using the US dollar as our currency and the International Monetary Fund prescriptions for the management of the fiscus leaves precious little discretion.

The banking industry is in a state of collapse with a quarter of all banks facing liquidation and closure with the near total loss of the deposits lodged with them.

Not a pretty sight at all and very little to celebrate. We all know that Zimbabwe has great potential — we are resource rich, strategically located in a region that is growing rapidly, have a productive and educated people and should be able to attract both investment and long term financing on very advantageous terms.

In respect to security of assets, they have, over the past 13 years taken some $15 billion in assets from some 6 000 individuals and firms without compensation or recognition of their rights. In reality, until they deal with this issue in an open, transparent and legal manner, no one has any real security over assets of any sort in Zimbabwe and in combination these two issues virtually close the door on investment by anyone – local or foreign.

Without investment — there is no future for anyone in Zimbabwe.

Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South

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