As the countdown to Zimbabwe’s July 30 general elections reaches a crescendo, amid frenzied politicking, it is important for everyone to remember that there is an economy to revive and build — no matter the outcome of this plebiscite.
This country has been in perpetual election mode for far too long. Resultantly, there has been a disproportionate focus on electioneering at the expense of economic planning and development. Zimbabwe has become a nation that prioritises politics over economics — and the tragedy of this folly can be witnessed in a decayed economy, dilapidated infrastructure, low quality of life, runaway poverty, collapse in service delivery, an exodus of refugees, and low rankings in virtually every indicator of human development.
There has been a regrettable tendency in this country to expend energy on cheap point scoring instead of focussing on issues that make a difference in people’s lives. It should be a source of collective national shame — 38 years after independence — that the United Nations says more than 72% of Zimbabweans live in “extreme poverty”.
Treasury has already allocated US$95,5 million to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for the running of Monday’s general elections. The commission wanted US$178 million. Elections do not come cheap. This is happening in a country where one in every three children is stunted and a record number of minors from poor families are dropping out of school.
Electioneering has inflicted a hefty cost on the public purse. According to the 2018 first quarter Treasury Bulletin, recurrent expenses as at February stood at 77% of the total national budget and 90% of the total revenue collected by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. This level of expenditure was already unsustainable, but the recent decision by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to award a “special allowance” to public servants has catapulted those numbers to the stratosphere.
There is a real danger that this populist move — an obvious attempt to garner votes — will backfire in a devastating manner. With prices of fuel and basic commodities on an upward trajectory, the country could be plunged into hyper-inflation.
It is regrettable that an election which was supposed to mark the restoration of democracy has become a charade meant to deceive the international community. The elites who rode roughshod over the citizenry during the Robert Mugabe days are essentially still in charge.
This country needs sober-minded leaders who fully understand the gravity of the problems the nation faces at this critical moment in its troubled history. In the heat of election campaigns, politicians have promised a lot of hot air on the economy. They pledged to build a multi-billion-dollar economy within a few years — and their overzealous calculations defied all logic. The idea that dozens of super-rich foreign investors are poised to flock to Zimbabwe with suitcases full of United States dollars is a falsehood peddled by irresponsible politicians taking advantage of the gullibility of poverty-stricken citizens who are desperate for an imaginary economic messiah. None but ourselves can revive this economy — but it also depends on the calibre of leaders we elect on Monday.