THE post-Unity Accord period was marked by the introduction of the economic structural adjustment programme (ESAP) in Zimbabwe at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
According to IMF, Zimbabwe was supposed to transform its economic structure by making significant changes in economic policy.
The country was forced to cut back on social services and direct more of public funds to help the private sector become competitive both internally and externally. Budgets in education and health, areas which the Zanu PF government had achieved impressive progress, were cut back significantly.
Various laws were relaxed to facilitate foreign investment with the hope that this would lead to both social and economic development.
Sadly, ESAP facilitated an economic growth model that undermined people’s welfare. In fact, many people became poor as companies retrenched employees as part of cost cutting measures. The effects of ESAP infuriated even its advocates who had been impressed by this programme driven by the Washington Consensus doctrine.
Washington Consensus, coined by John Williamson in 1989, entails ten policies that Williamson successfully sold to the Washington political elite as a necessary economic policy intervention for Latin America. These ten policies were meant to help the debtor countries overcome their debt burden through significant changes in economic policy. The ten policies include, fiscal discipline, reordering public expenditure priorities, tax reform, liberalizing interest rates, a competitive exchange rate, trade liberalization, liberalization of inward foreign direct investment, privatization, deregulation, property rights.
Those who approved the design and implementation of the concept were in Washington and had very little or no understanding of the needs of countries such as Zimbabwe. An economic framework wrongly designed for Latin American countries was further wrongly imposed on Zimbabwe.
The disastrous effects of ESAP such as high unemployment, and deteriorating public services provided a perfect breeding ground for growing opposition against the Zanu PF government. From the mid-1990s onwards, we saw a surge in the support for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) by mainly Western countries culminating in the formation and sponsorship of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which later split into several factions.
The NGOs and the MDC succeeded in exploiting the disaffection of many youths who were victims of unemployment and poverty. Many of these born-frees were of the opinion that they were engaging in an epoch-defining political struggle to replace liberation struggle politics as represented by Zanu PF, with one inspired by cosmopolitan, liberal democracy. They would stop at nothing to achieve their goal, even if it meant destroying the country. They supported the imposition of economic sanctions on the country; something they did not realize would undermine their own immediate and future economic and social interests.
Of course, the hope was that when the liberation struggle politics had been overturned, well-paying jobs for everyone would be created through a foreign investor-based economic model. The young political force failed to understand that the foreign investor model as a force for positive social development and sustainable economic growth was a mirage. Foreign investors, as the name implies, come to invest and not to spread around charity. They maximize on savings and minimize on charity!
The model benefits foreign investors and the local elite who were responsible for whipping up and exploiting the emotions of these youths for political gain. The rags to riches stories of many opposition leaders, leaving the youth in poverty, provides evidence to my assertion.
Sadly, the youth were made to feel as if they were engaging in an unprecedented world defining moment, which would see them overthrow a liberation struggle government. Little did they know that this sort of attack on liberation struggle governments has been ongoing around the world and many such projects have failed spectacularly.
The first lesson learned is that Zimbabweans need to understand what they commit themselves to. Some cried for ESAP only because they were convinced by glamorous institutions and sleek economic men that it would help Zimbabwe. But it proved to be reckless or ignorance in understanding the nature of ESAP. The legacy of that recklessness or ignorance is structural and will affect Zimbabwe for a long time to come.
Second, born-frees were not the first people to engage in a political struggle. Their fathers and mothers were engaged in a political struggle as well. So they were, and are supposed not to behave as if they are the sole vanguard of the country’s politics; adults have a stake too, as well as future generations. Kindly respect other stakeholders.
Third, multipartyism creates a strong opposition field that keeps check on the government. However, providing opposition requires responsible behaviour, not in a way which destroys the country as the economic sanctions did. Like ESAP, the effects of economic sanctions will be felt for a long time to come.
Kuthula Njokweni is a Zimbabwean based in Canada