‘Time to focus on economy’

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

PRESIDENT EMMERSON MNANGAGWA’s call to the nation to put politics behind us and focus on the economy has been welcomed by most players in all sectors.
But it is not wise to assume that focusing on the economy means the same thing to all the sectors and all players because for the longest time there has been no consensus on what constitutes the Zimbabwe economy or what its commanding heights are, which, if attended to, will galvanise other sectors and mobilise the people.
The problem of negative attitudes, a defeatist mentality and poor orientation is often mentioned as a key impediment to the needed focus on development.
This is usually expressed as ‘lack of confidence’.
In the last instalment, I focused on the example of mass media outlets that have benefitted throughout the history of their existence from disaster and despondency mongering, to the extent they can generalise the views of a handful of vendors from Harare alone and make them appear to represent hopelessness on a nationwide scale.
At one time on ZTV, I challenged leaders of an NGO, Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe (CiZC), to explain in each of the 16 indigenous languages the meaning of such a name and the reasons for the existence of such an entity named after beautiful Zimbabwe.
The leaders choked on their first attempt to explain in Shona and they abandoned the effort in no time at all.
The question that arose was: “If it is really the case that most Zimbabweans lack confidence in themselves and in their leaders and institutions, how can it be necessary for outsiders to organise and finance organisations dedicated to the destruction of national confidence and cohesion?
How could it become necessary for outside powers to organise and finance political parties dedicated to the destruction of economic confidence by asking for economic sanctions while giving the same economic war measures names such as ‘targeted measures’ or ‘measures targeting only individuals’?”
The recognised need for confidence is an admission that the people are the economy, since it is only the people who need confidence and can build confidence.
The urban-centred elites, however, appear to have lots of confidence in stock markets, balance of payments, foreign direct investment (FDI) and even foreign currency substituted for national currency.
And they have organised strong teams to pursue these factors.
There are no equally strong teams organised and financed in pursuit of the local factors which alone can partner the foreign and complete the full picture of focusing on the whole economy.
For example: Without articulation of local national economic units of production, can movement in external factors alone create adequate movement in internal factors?
What if the FDI is suddenly moved out?
For a long time the internal stagnation of the economy was characterised by service units and production units for which many assets had become a liability because they could not be moved and traded easily due to lack of currency.
There were stories of companies engaging in barter but they represented exceptions and, even then, the results were not wholly satisfactory.
So, the gap between urban and rural or suburban and high density township is not always expressed as wealthy versus poor.
People in rural areas now have significant assets as a result of the land revolution.
However, they cannot move and trade their assets easily for lack of an adequate and appropriate medium in the form of money.
Plastic money for them is too expensive and hampered by lack of power and infrastructure.
Too many people live far away from banking services; and the indigenous banks which had taken the risk to spread out to remote areas closed their branches or went out of business due to hyperinflation or for lack of cash.
A national currency is the ‘articular cartilage’ which connects national production and service components of the internal economy especially in those crevices, nooks and enclaves where FDI has no business and no interest.
For lack of a generous circulating national currency, national production and service units of the economy have not been optimally articulated for a long time.
The dictionary meaning of ‘articulate’ is: “Consisting of segments or sections united by joints.”
Focusing on the economy therefore includes finding and connecting the missing links, not just to the ‘global’ economy but especially among and between local product and trade units.
‘Articulated’ means: “Made of complementary parts; systematically and deliberately inter-related, unified and provided with proper connective joints.”
Therefore, articulation of the entire national economy through a generously circulating national currency is one way in which one could speak of balanced development.
From the point of view of production and trade, liquidity means well-articulated movement such as what results when an engine has the proper fuel and lubricants.
At present, the US dollar is like Jet A1 fuel in an economy where petrol, diesel, paraffin, coal, wood and solar are also needed.
The finance and monetary authorities used to insist that this Jet A1 fuel was
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enough to fuel the whole system.
The US dollar is like Jet A1 fuel.
It fuels our dealings with the outside world and the jets which it fuels, whether civilian or military, move in straight lines and go to enclaves called airports and runways which feed some scattered centres called towns and cities.
Even an externally fed industry such as tourism cannot be operated on the basis of Jet A1 fuel alone.
In order for tourism to reach its optional potential, tourists have to move beyond cities and towns into the communities, mountains, lakes and valleys, by means fuelled by diesel, petrol and coal or pulled by horses, donkeys and oxen.
Boats, buses, private cars, scotch carts and other means have to be used to achieve maximum circulation and to reach pockets and nooks which are otherwise remote from jets and airports.
The realm of foreign direct investment, mega projects and loans coming from outside is similar to the realm of the jets and Jet A1 fuel.
Like the tourist who needs to reach into communities and to visit really original monuments and sites, the mega projects funded via FDI also need to be linked to the realm of local trade, local production and local currency and the local economy in order to achieve balanced and equitable development.
FDI and mega projects target pre-selected points in our economy, the same way jets using jet fuel also go to pre-selected and targeted runways and airports.
The articulation, movement and circulation required to achieve the balance and equity described in the Constitution and in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-ASSET) document requires liquidity which can reach, move and lubricate all corners of the country.
Confidence in history
What of the allegations that MaDzimbahwe will not have confidence in their own national currency?
Confidence is not like a stone or a burning bush one stumbles upon and may be able to capture, hold and keep.
Confidence is cultivated, encouraged, nurtured and mobilised through people.
Often, it requires fighting against lies, rumours and prejudices in order to create and uphold the confidence.
If half of our media outlets are dedicated to generating and conveying gossip, lies and rumours, we are off to a bad start.
The US dollar was adopted as our war currency during an economic war, the same way most Zimbabweans studying or travelling abroad accepted the British passport as a war time identity document during the liberation struggle.
We had to put up with being called British subjects from Rhodesia precisely because we knew that to be a temporary war necessity.
At independence in 1980, people throughout the world had never seen a Zimbabwean passport.
MaDzimbahwe used British passports and passports of the Frontline States which were hosting and assisting the liberation movements of Zimbabwe.
But, come independence, the confidence and courage to conceive, design, publish and present a Zimbabwe passport was ours through our new Government of Zimbabwe.
There were those who indeed lacked such confidence and chose to remain British subjects.
But for the majority, once we were free, we were also most proud to present our passport and other travel papers as MaDzimbahwe.
And the world welcomed us and our papers because we welcomed and respected them ourselves.
The same was true of our diplomacy.
Before our liberation movements were recognised by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU), by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM); Russia, China and the Eastern bloc; and by the United Nations (UN), it was hard to exercise our diplomacy, let alone appoint representatives.
But once that recognition came, it was now a matter of extending it until it became almost universal.
The same can be said about the armed liberation forces in the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwe Peoples Liberation Army (ZPRA).
Outside the OAU, the Eastern bloc, NAM and the Frontline States, ZANLA and ZPRA were labelled and denounced as terrorists.
But after they brought our freedom and independence and they were moulded into one Zimbabwe Defence Forces institution, even our enemies honoured them and invited them to train others and to keep or enforce peace around the world.
Because MaDzimbahwe were proud of their liberation forces, the rest of the world accepted and even praised them.
Why should it be different with the re-conception, redesign, promotion and adoption of a national currency as part and parcel of the new focus on the economy and a move away from the politics of despair and despondency?

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