HAPPY New Year Zimbabwe, I say this as a compliment that is expected of all men of goodwill, but the chaos on the horizon means the country has to hold candid talks between and among its citizens on how the economic malaise should be addressed.
Zimbabwe over the past two years has been toying with the idea of a corporatist State, a classic textbook implementation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic structural programmes. IMF policies are generally broken down into three main issues – privatisation, stabilisation and liberalisation – euphemisms for State leaving issues to private players and markets (capital).
The IMF has since 1970 dumped the currency/economic stabilisation function that it was created to perform at the end of World War 2. The institution has been stealthily taken over by the Chicago Boys – former Chicago School of Economics students – a group that was trained by Milton Friedman a neo-liberal economist who believes in deregulated economies and free market economics.
In other words, the IMF dumped the Keynesian mixed economics that left room for States to control certain sectors of the economy to protect vulnerable groups that capital has no regard for except chasing profits.
To understand how the IMF has changed one can get a lot of insight from Naomi Klein book: The Shock Doctrine, the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. This is a book that dissects how the IMF since the 1970s under control of the Chicago Boys has moved from Keynesian economics (pro-development) to unpopular free-market economics using the shock doctrine – a combination of military force or currency destabilisation – leaving the population in a state of shock and resigned to fate.
The shock doctrine has been implemented with disastrous consequences in South America – Chile, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentine, in Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and South Korea during the 1998 financial crises, China after the Tianmen Square massacre, Poland in 1989, Russia under Boris Yelstin, United States after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Iraq in 2003.
All these countries taking the IMF medication – privatisation, stabilisation and liberalisation – have spawned hundreds of billionaires who bought privatised State enterprises, driving most of the middle class into poverty and leaving their economies vulnerable to the whims of capitalists who could move their money across borders without any regulations.
Since President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed power via a November 2017 coup and appointed Mthuli Ncube as Treasury boss, Zimbabwe has undergone some form of shock doctrine and structural adjustment without resistance from a shocked country. Following the July 30, 2018 elections, the military went onto the streets to quell protests by mainly opposition supporters demanding the early release of presidential vote results. Six people were killed in cold blood and as soon as the Cabinet was announced Ncube did not miss the opportunity to unleash austerity to a shocked people.
People lost their savings after Ncube floated the bond note and separated the nostro-accounts from general savings accounts, igniting hyperinflation and stagnant incomes. The citizens tried to come out in January 2019 after a 150% fuel increase and a more brutal treatment awaited them, 17 lost their lives, hundreds were left maimed and women raped.
Zimbabweans were thrown into deep shock. They have no will to resist. The currency change went ahead and privatisation of State-owned enterprises was hastened. The unions are weak, civil society and opposition are emasculated and cannot organise protests against their own impoverishment.
The capitalist vultures are circling, like in South Korea then, to get bargains in the energy, transport and communication sectors. With a falling Zimdollar against the greenback and further limited fiscal space the family silver would be sold for a song, creating a new breed of billionaires feeding on State-owned companies.
This would not be the end, like in Asia, Europe and United States after the 2008 global recession due to deregulation and capital’s unrestrained power – Zimbabwe would remain in peril despite some temporary respite as the country would be powerless in driving the economy. It will be at the mess of capital.
It is time that Zimbabweans robustly discuss the economic future of the country. Should it be left to the Washington Consensus (Chicago Boys) or we can go back to Keynesian developmental economics? Or alternatively try the Chinese or Malaysian model where the State keep certain sectors under its control despite pressure from the IMF. A laissez faire approach to economics does not work and will not work as has been exposed by past IMF interventions across the world.
Zimbabwe needs new leadership, but the old is refusing to die and the new to be born.
A leadership that cares about the working class and the poor, a leadership that does not worship capital and knows that the State needs to have control of important sectors like energy, transport, health, water and education.
Probably it is time to show the Chicago Boys the exit door.
Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist and writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org