The end of one year and the beginning of the next is often a time for reflection. We examine the trials, tribulations and victories experienced in the last year and ponder ways we can do things differently in the next. Reflecting on 2018 and looking forward to 2019 brought into sharp focus the similarities that exist between the relationship citizens have with their governments and the personal relationships, like those found between family members or romantic relationships like marriage. As citizens of Zimbabwe or of any country for that matter, we are committed to our country legally and emotionally in the same way it is in a family or marriage.
It is not a relationship one can walk in and out of easily but one where the benefits are enjoyed in full knowledge of the fact that there will be difficulties up ahead that will need to be endured and worked through.
As in a family, one does not choose the country in which they are born. Every family, as in the case of a marriage, is wholly unique in that the set of individuals that form the family group or married couple have never existed before and never shall in the future. So it is in the case of Zimbabwe that at this point in time the current citizens of Zimbabwe are wholly unique.
No person on earth has been a Zimbabwean in this moment and in this place. This is a sobering thought as we begin a new year. It forces us to ask ourselves how we intend to make the most of our position in this unique time and place. Do we continue with the same mindset and actions that characterised 2018 or do we see what we can do differently?
The relationship between Zimbabwe’s government and her citizens has been a rocky one for quite some time now. After many years of dealing with the same set of challenges, 2018 promised to bring about change.
Many of Zimbabwe’s citizens from all walks of life and sectors expected that the change would result in an improvement in their living standards and financial position. The business sector looked forward to a more predictable operating environment, citizens looked forward to having access to cash and an improvement in their personal financial position.
There was also the expectation that with Zimbabwe ending her isolation and now being open for business, there would be plenty of jobs for all. If a survey were to be carried out asking Zimbabweans if their expectations are being met in the new dispensation I believe the majority would answer in the negative. Citizens will say that the reality of Zimbabwe’s current situation is very far from their expectations. 2018 has brought about a set of challenges most hoped they would never see again.
Fuel queues, inflation, an unstable currency situation and basic commodity shortages have all characterised the latter part of 2018. All these challenges were experienced in 2018 and the response mechanisms were perfected then.
The same response mechanisms kicked in in 2018 and it is at this point that Zimbabweans can choose to carry them through to 2019 or stop and see if they can respond to them differently.
Responding differently will require a mindset change that will allow for an objective analysis of Zimbabwe’s current reality. It will be important to ask if the same issues as before are causing the visible effects of the economic malaise.
Is inflation and the currency instability being experienced the result of printing money? Is the lack of foreign currency the result of massive externalisation? Are the unemployment statistics being caused by massive investor flight as a result of hostile rhetoric that seeks to keep Zimbabwe isolated?
Such an analysis will show that Zimbabwe is definitely in a state of economic turmoil but despite the effects being similar to what has been experienced before, its causes are very different.
This time the challenges being faced by the citizens are the result of the implementation of a fiscal policy that is seeking to remedy the economic wrongs that have been committed over a very long period of time with devastating effect on the economy. As has been highlighted before, the country has a huge internal and external debt. Our budget deficit is triple that of other lowincome countries. We cannot borrow from external sources because we defaulted on repaying our external debts many years ago. This external debt means that private sector companies cannot access external loans on their own steam, they must have a bank guarantee from Zimbabwe’s central bank. This situation puts serious restrictions on the ability of the private sector to recapitalise and expand production.
A positive development that has been the result of the new government is the amount of information available to citizens to make an informed analysis. What is clear is that as a country we are on our own and have to pull through these economic challenges on our own.
As difficult as this situation is, we could try and see what opportunities are offered by these challenges. The fact that there has been no huge influx of foreign investment and external loans means that we have to deal with the boldfaced reality of our situation as a country. This is a true reality check.
If we were to use the analogy of the family, we would say that this is the moment where both parents have lost their jobs and the bulk of the household furniture and family vehicles are still on hire purchase. The family has even borrowed from family and friends and no one is willing to lend them any more money. It is clear that the lifestyle that they have previously enjoyed must change and the change will affect everyone.
It is at this point that each member of the family must assess the situation from where they stand and chart an appropriate response to the situation. When we examine our analogy most will make the assumption that the parents represent the government. This is because we have been taught that the government sits at the top of the political hierarchy and runs the country, hence carrying out a parental role of sorts.
A 2019 mindset will require us to put this assumption to bed. The reality is that despite what we have been made to think, the parental role lies with the citizens. As such the citizenry needs to develop a leadership mindset.
Firstly the citizens must respond to their current situation maturely and responsibly. Time cannot be spent harboring expectations that the current situation cannot deliver. At this point in time the myriad of expectations carried by the populace are numerous and varied and it is highly unlikely that any of these can be met in the short term.
It will be important to think through all remedies we proffer to their logical conclusion. Doing so is likely to assist us as citizens to put energy into finding more realistic solutions to our situation. We have seen some teachers and civil servants demanding payment in US dollars, a proposition that is not possible to meet.
Energy was expended marching from Mutare to Harare and time wasted arresting and releasing the marching teachers. This energy could have been spent on more useful endeavours had the teachers taken time to analyse the root of their problem. Delta beverages took the decision to demand payment for their product in US dollars.
Demanding more money from a government that is carrying the size of debt carried by the Zimbabwean government is a futile exercise. Pushing for dollarisation of the economy has us wondering where the dollars to drive the economy will come from.
At this point in time what effects will floating the bond note have on the ordinary citizens whose incomes have already been eroded by inflation? At this point in time how helpful is it for us as citizens to spend time wishing things were different and carrying expectations that are not possible to attain now. We must ask ourselves what is possible at this time and place and work towards achieving it.
So what is Zimbabwe’s reality at this moment in time? The reality is that the citizens (parents) are not engaged in activities that generate enough income for the country. There is inadequate production for the country’s own needs.
Where the possibility lies to produce our own goods for consumption, we are not doing so and are being forced to import using foreign currency. This is akin to spending money buying a bundle of chomolia vegetable everyday when you have a garden where you can grow your own vegetables.
We should be looking to see in what areas we can provide local substitutes for the goods we are importing. This in itself offers business opportunities for those Zimbabweans looking to enhance their incomes and also those needing employment.
Some will say people do not have the start up capital to begin projects like these and yet last year alone Zimra was collecting $8,5 million monthly According to a WTEx article written by Daniel Workman, vehicles are fourth on the list of Zimbabwe’s top ten imports. Zimbabwe spends more money importing vehicles than that spent on importing pharmaceuticals, cereals and fertilisers.
Phone system devices that include smartphones are some of the costliest goods imported into Zimbabwe. These statistics reveal that the request by parliamentarians for luxury vehicles and iPads is a direct reflection of the excesses that are present in Zimbabwean society at large.
Why do we expect parliamentarians to behave differently from the rest of the population when they are in public office? So perhaps as citizens (parents) and as revenue generators, we need to start thinking about how we are spending our personal income, is it on consumption or production? How do we expect our country’s financial position to change if we are consuming without producing?
Another fact that Zimbabweans must come to terms with is the fact that despite having thousands of graduates from many different disciplines, employment opportunities for these young people are not available in their various fields of study.
There are few jobs for most graduates because their areas of study are not relevant to today’s Zimbabwe. The country is not at a stage where primary production is at full capacity. This is where the focus of the young people should be because this is where the opportunities lie. It is not only large conglomerates that can provide employment but also small enterprises that collectively will be able to meet the production needs of the country.
Making peace with Zimbabwe’s current reality does not entail citizens resigning themselves to the status quo and not aspiring for an improved economic situation, quite the contrary. It requires citizens to accept Zimbabwe’s current reality and engage with the situation as it is, doing so with the intent of improving their economic lot.
While doing so, like any responsible parent who has a child with a history of errant behaviour, the citizens must monitor government very closely. There are certain policies that have been crafted and we must ensure that these are fully implemented.
We know that policy implementation has been a weakness of past governments and the citizens must ensure that it takes place.
Fiscal indiscipline is also a trait of past governments and must be curbed. This requires that we note targets set in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme and the 2019 Austerity Budget and demand regular updates and feedback on progress.
Citizens must have a long-term vision for the country rather than being solely preoccupied with current challenges. Apart from parliamentarians who are yet to prove their efficacy in their oversight role, associate bodies like the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Bankers Associations and Institute of Chartered Accountants in Zimbabwe for example, should be organising themselves to carry out this oversight role on behalf of their members and the citizens of the country.
In 2019 less time must be spent discussing how things should be and more time must be spent working with the current reality of how things actually are. This will ensure that the expectations citizens have will be met in the future.
It is important to accept that at this moment few expectations can be met. We must be mindful that we are the only Zimbabweans here at this time and in this place, we are the only ones who have the ability to change our country’s future, we must not waste this chance.