By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
FOLLOWING the massive countrywide demonstrations on November 18 2017 in support of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ Operation Restore Legacy, the nation has witnessed euphoric public expressions of high morale and goodwill which have brought together Madzimbahwe across political party lines, across religious denominations and faiths and among all generations.
Such massive expression of goodwill must be appreciated and celebrated as the result of hard work on the part of the liberation war veterans and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, with their long history and experience of working with civilian populations during United Nations peace-keeping missions abroad and during times of emergency and disaster at home.
Madzimbahwe indeed need to feel both humble and grateful, especially when they realise that nations in the rest of Africa have not been so lucky or blessed in times of disagreements such as those we have witnessed here since 2014: Mozambique to the east has still not settled the RENAMO-FRELIMO conflict which has often flared into armed skirmishes.
Kenya suffered post-election conflict which almost degenerated into civil war in 2007-2008.
The 2017 elections in Kenya were not only annulled by a court order but were marred by violence which resulted in tens of people being killed.
The DRC continues to be plagued by endless insurgencies.
Our biggest neighbour, South Africa, has suffered periodic anti-immigrant violence in which Africans express self-hatred by alienating and attacking suspected African immigrants while generally sparing whites regardless of their immigrant status.
So, in this world-context, the peace and goodwill characterising events which in November 2017 concluded with the inauguration of President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa may be celebrated as a miracle, even though we know it is the result of good planning and hard work on the part of several co-operating organisations and institutions.
But we must go beyond the euphoria to examine the quality of our contributions toward the new agenda of rebuilding Zimbabwe which the President articulated in his inaugural speech.
It is to these supposed contributions, as shown through various post-inauguration media programmes, newspaper articles, editorials and columns, that I now want to turn to.
They are, unfortunately, characterised by too much second-guessing and inadequate investigative reporting, which if carried out and presented well, would yield objective reports and analyses on which the new President and his Cabinet could base their decisions.
Let me explain the sense in which I use the term ‘second-guessing’.
There are two different meanings.
The first means to attempt to foretell, predict, or anticipate a person or thing.
In this sense, to second-guess is to try to speculate in advance what the President and his Cabinet will do, or to guess what will happen during the tenure of his administration; and to proceed to judge him on the basis of the guesses.
The second meaning of ‘second-guessing’ is to criticise someone or a decision as an afterthought or using hindsight.
The meaning of ‘second-guessing’ which I am using here is the first one, meaning speculative prescription.
Let me refer to actual examples:
– There are a number of talk shows on several radio stations featuring, especially ‘economists’.
But these economists have not described the state of the Zimbabwe economy in ways that show a clear understanding of where the people are: peasants, small-scale resettled farmers, small-scale enterprises, self-employed producers, manufacturers and how they feature in the national economy.
The economists talk like single-issue activists in pursuit of pet projects or in defence of their favourite sectors or companies.
There is too much begging the question and advocacy without even the simplest descriptive analysis of the actual ‘economy’ being experienced by those massive crowds who came out in support of Operation Restore Legacy.
One radio talk show host spent a huge amount of public time coaxing his listeners to speculate whether or not President Mnangagwa was going to ‘bring back the Zimbabwe dollar!’
That is useless talk because it merely seeks to incite highly charged, urban-centric, sectional biases and prejudices on a national platform without any reference to the full context of the currency issue and without any scientific data on the thinking of the 15 million Madzimbahwe in their diverse sectors.
In no particular order, some examples of second-guessing from print media include the following:
– ‘New Zim: A roadmap for transformation’, Zimbabwe Independent, November 24 2017;
– ‘New Cabinet must include technocrats’, NewsDay, November 28 2017;
– ‘GNU is the way to go for Zim’, NewsDay, November 28 2017;
– ‘Mnangagwa must focus on basic needs’, NewsDay November 28 2017;
– ‘Cabinet pick to show if ED is breaking with past’, Daily News, November 28 2017;
– ‘Time for serious talks with global financiers’, The Sunday Mail, November 26 2017;
– ‘Five things a ‘new era’ must address’, The Herald, November 23 2017;
– ‘Government should develop mineral beneficiation policy’, The Herald Business, November 23 2017.
Prescriptive things said on radio and television and demonstrating what I call ‘second-guessing’ are far worse than what appears in print.
Economists cover up, with textbook prescriptions, their dismal ignorance and lack of tangible research into the actual Zimbabwe economy.
The concern I am voicing here is about the proportion of prescriptive messages to evidence-based, research-based reviews of the actual historical economy which people are experiencing as well as dominant trends in that economy and what they seem to suggest (indicate) for the immediate, medium-term and long term future.
What would be more useful than speculative prescriptions are objective and analytical studies dominated by scientific reviews of what has happened, what continues to happen and what the actual trends are in the urban and rural economy and its national, regional and global context.
The actual strategies and policies recommended to the new President and his team(s) would arise mainly from the appreciation of a diverse collection of those objective, research-based reviews including possible scenarios taking into account actual trends.
Talk programmes which ignore this glaring need succeed mainly in promoting what some media observers have called ‘talking heads’.
As Professor Tony Lawson says, the most serious problem of economics is that for the most part it is committed to irrelevance and incomprehension when it is held up against the daily real-time and real-world experiences of the bulk of humankind.
What Madzimbahwe are experiencing today is contrary to what urban-centric economists, reporters and analysts servicing them have been promising over the last 20 years; just as the real daily economic experiences of the people of Greece today are also the exact opposite of what they have been told and promised by a similar elite and its backers at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Jon Kofas wrote an article recently called, ‘Ten myths about Greek relations with the European Union, the IMF and the US’.
All the ten myths were perpetrated by economists, economic analysts and reporters working together.
The 1991 Nobel Laureate in economics Ronald Coase wrote in The Harvard Business Review that: “This separation of economics from the working economy has severely damaged both the business community and the academic discipline.
It is suicidal for the economics field to slide into a hard science of choice, ignoring the influences of society, history, culture and politics on the working of the economy.”
In our case, it is about time economists, technocrats and journalists took Zimbabwe’s land revolution as an integral part of economics in Zimbabwe.
– The third major cause of economists’ ignorance is over-specialisation.
Jim Worstall in The US Federal Reserve’s Major Problem Is Simple Ignorance of Economists listed several causes of that ignorance, one of which was that ‘while we have a reasonable handle on the basics of theory, here we are not entirely sure how all the different pieces plug together’. The main theories of capitalist development are linear and not relational.
Relating a dozen-or-so factors is viewed as too complicated.
So too many economists believe the factors they have eliminated or suspended from their paper or computer calculations will also remain suspended or eliminated in reality.
But the marching masses who came out in full force on November 18 2017 live and subsist in a real world consisting of a whole nexus of factors which cry out for meticulous study before one can engage in arm-chair posturing and second-guessing the new administration.