Category Archives: Uncategorized

An inconvenient Prayer

It is generally agreed that Zimbabwe is a deeply Christian country although I’ve never been convinced of the veracity of this. These days the lines between Christianity and traditional beliefs have become increasingly blurred, just go to a Catholic mass if you don’t believe me. My wife who grew up going to churches that adhere to strict Catholic doctrine was surprised at the unfamiliar songs language and drums at last Easter Sunday mass at Christ The King in Bulawayo.

As the political and economic troubles of the country have continued two places have seen a dramatic rise in patrons, churches and drinking places, though serving diametrically opposed communities both attempt to offer their patrons a chance to forget their problems and a moment of solace. I will not debate who does a better job of it but am reminded of a certain communist and his views on the masses and their opiates of choice.

In recent times I have come to question the religious fervour that has swept up so many Zimbabweans regardless of where they are in the world. This is evident on social networks which allow a window into how we relate as Zimbabweans across the globe, I doubt you can go through five “Twimbo” profiles without seeing some religious reference. An often heard and read refrain when people discuss issues Zimbabwean is “Mwari pindirai”, meaning “God intercede”. When your team loses a game you see it. When a politician says or does what politicians say or do, you hear it. When a taxi/combi driver does what taxi/combi drivers do, you hear it. A banker, lawyer, butcher or priest steals from ordinary people, you hear it. A major corruption ring is exposed, you hear it.

You hear it in just about every situation, sometimes sincerely, sometimes comically. It is the equivalent of “I give up” and I have come to believe that’s exactly how people mean it, especially when it comes to our seemingly never-ending crises. The recent exposés about ridiculous executive pay at parastatals and urban councils has seen “Mwari pindirai” take on even greater prominence in everyday language, both spoken and written. I’ve even read it in reference to the new white pressure group Zimbabweans Against Sanctions who have been met with much suspicion online.

I am tired of hearing this refrain because it is a symptomatic of a new culture of giving up, it is a copout. People abdicate their responsibilities with a well-timed but inconvenient prayer and will insist that “now it is in God’s hands there is nothing else that we can do”. It is symptomatic of a people who increasingly convince themselves that there is nothing they as individuals can do to change their lot. It is tempting to forgive Zimbabweans for being this way after so many years of all kinds of crises, or plagues if you prefer, but I am not about to do that. People continue to utter “Mwari pindirayi” as they go about their daily lives as if waiting for someone from somewhere to come and solve all their ills. This expectation of an unknown saviour has opened a space that has been quickly occupied by charismatic pastors promising any miracle you can think of, as long as you believe, and tithe of course.

A people who defined themselves by their work ethic and go anywhere attitude are now at the heart of Southern Africa’s pastorprenuer culture. Is this really what we want to be about? Are we so intent on ignoring our problems that we will take any way out that presents itself? One day we will wake up from this collective stupor and realising just how much we have given up will collectively call out “Mwari pindirai” only for a voice to answer back “but what did you do for yourself?”.

He Who Pays The Piper Calls The Tune.

The post below is in response to an article questioning whether Africa is rising for Africans: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/11/do-africans-buy-into-booming-africa-narrative-20131115104944383990.html

There is a saying, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune”. When reading an “Africa Rising” report I always look first to who wrote it and for whom. Often these reports are sponsored or authored by the likes of Goldman Sachs, Bretton-Woods institutions & western conglomerates.
We are constantly told to look at the big picture that is infrastructure development, i.e. road construction, energy & clean water provision, shiny new buildings all bigger & better than ever before, but at what cost? There is a myth told by those in investment circles to the populace that a rising tide lifts all ships, however, for you to enjoy this, you actually have to be in the water. In other words, you must be of some use to the sponsors, if you are the urban or rural poor, you don’t count because you’re not part of the target market, in fact you are an obstacle or cost centre to be minimised.
Using western measures of growth for Africa has proven to not work too well but the masters of capital have no time to waste coming up with more appropriate measures, this is evidenced by the one size fits all strategies espoused from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Take for example, the measure of un/employment in Zimbabwe which has been put by the World Bank and others at over 82% for over 10 years. Can an economy honestly survive like this? This measure fails to take into account the size of the informal economy which is the bulk of Zimbabwe’s economic activity.
Until we have African measures of African economies I will refrain from singing from the Africa Rising hymn sheet.

It is My Right To Be Mad About The Zimbabwean Elections

Anyone who says those complaining about the elections must just get over it & put Zimbabwe first are hypocritical opportunists of the first order and should stop poisoning political discourse with their ill-founded ideas.
Know that questioning the electoral process is the right thing for all Zimbabweans to do regardless of party affiliation. The constitution is for all of us & any politician who disregards it is not worth my vote nor yours.

The right to a free, fair & procedural election is simply not yours to give away at the altar of political expediency. It is our collective right as Zimbabweans and the politicians owe it to us to respect that and make good on the laws they have broken in their mad rush to the ballot box.

Those who say the majority have spoken and I should sit down are equally misinformed and should take the time to understand what it is about this process that I and others find so wrong with it. This also applies to the rabid “Friends of Mugabe/Zanu PF” in the diaspora who seem to be on a social networking mission to share their new found love for their leader and party. I highly doubt citizens of other countries who are saying the same would accept it if their politicians conspired to ignore their constitution so they could secure their political futures in an irregular election far from free and fair.
As at today, whether your candidate won or lost, you are the loser because the winning candidate has no respect for the Constitution so can hardly be expected to respect the electorate’s wishes.

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Below is a link to a page detailing the constitutional violations leading up to the Zimbabwe elections of July 31 2013 and beyond.

https://www.facebook.com/david.coltart/posts/10151603092262613

Who Will Guard The Guards?

It’s election time again in Zimbabwe and the circus that has become our version of democracy is well and truly under way. Whilst almost everyone I meet and talk to these days is concerned with the parties and candidates, I have another concern.

I have watched with trepidation the media frenzy that has already started to get out of hand with suspicious unverified stories being passed around as fact in the race to break the next big Zim election story. Over the weekend there was the claim that President Mugabe had plotted to kill President Zuma and his foreign policy advisor Lindiwe Zulu in order to scuttle the SADC push for ZANU PF’s adherence to the Global Political Agreement (GPA). A fantastically unbelievable story. The weekend also saw the on again off again opposition grand coalition along with claims and counter-claims of political violence fuelling a social media storm like never seen before in Zimbabwe.

Taking note of the global explosion of “citizen journalism” since Zimbabwe’s last Presidential election in 2008, I wish to focus on the content produced by professional journalists and media houses. These are the public/state-owned media and the private-owned media covering Zimbabwe.

Whilst  Zimbabwe is by no measure as precarious, I am reminded of the role the media played in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and ask, who will keep the media honest?

In 1994 Georges Rutaganda was a successful Kigali businessman and DJ on the popular station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). He was also a member of the Interahamwe Militia and used his position to encourage them to exterminate the “Tutsi cockroaches” and “witches”. After being arrested in 1995, in 2000 Rutaganda was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and murder. This is the most extreme example of the media as a tool of hatred in recent times and serves as a warning of just how wrong things can go when the media appoints itself the infallible voice of the nation. In his book, The Media and The Rwanda Genocide, Professor Allan Thompson gives a critical and dispassionate account of the Rwandese and international media’s role in the 1994 genocide.

In an article for today’s Guardian UK newspaper entitled “We are all subjective: why journalists should declare who they vote for”, Antony Loewenstein makes the case that journalists should practice the same level of transparency they demand of their subjects if only for the sake of fair and accurate reporting, especially when covering politics. This becomes imperative during an election period such as Zimbabwe is currently in.

I agree with Loewenstien. I have no problem with a journalist taking a side on an issue as long as they are transparent about their position to begin with and can back up what they publish. Very recently I challenged a Zimbabwean journalist on the veracity of a post, he did not take kindly to this and after failing to back up his report resorted to schoolyard insults. I thought of taking this up with the publication but the journalist in question is the managing editor so I doubt I would have found redress down this avenue.

Zimbabwean journalists fall more into the class described by Loewenstein rather than the Rwandese crop of 1994 and I am reminded of  former UK Labor leader Mark Latham’s recent comments that the press gallery are “people who want to be players in politics, but lack the integrity and courage to run for elected office in their own name”. This, however, does not excuse the often obvious bias to be found in both private and state-owned media  across film, print, radio and cyberspace.

The nation and world at large deserve better than to be taken as unintelligent, unquestioning consumers of all that is published simply because it comes out of an established media house. Just as consumers have the right to return shoddy goods, they have the right to question shoddy reporting.

The role of active citizen journalism is to keep the media honest. In a time where it is normal for journalists to join a candidate on the campaign trail or for candidates to write opinion pieces in popular publications, it falls to the active citizen to say “NOT IN OUR NAME”! The media portray themselves as the guardians of the citizenry but if citizens, as the ultimate custodians of Zimbabwe do not monitor the fourth esate, then who will do this on their behalf? Who, will guard the guards?

Why Zimbabwe doesn’t need loans and aid.

President Mugabe and Justice Minister Chinamasa are right, Zimbabwe does not need donors to fund the upcoming elections. In fact, Zimbabwe should not need ANY financial aid whatsoever.
Much was made of Minister Tendai Biti’s statement in April 2013 that South Africa was about to release Balance of Payments (BOP) support for Zimbabwe to the tune of $100 million, as we all now know, this only succeeded in embarrassing his opposite number Pravin Ghordan and both governments. Following the ensuing media storm, no money came and the country continues to live from hand to mouth. Months later not only does Zimbabwe still not have BOP support but the government has also spurned election support from the United Nations and the politicians are again haggling over election dates causing much anxiety in the country and the Southern African region. In all of this the question of how these elections are to be funded has not been answered and every time a solution seems to have been found it slips from the nation’s collective grasp. But is aid really the only option?

Externalization

It is common cause that since independence in 1980 Zimbabwe has suffered undocumented capital flight running into potentially billions of Us dollars. In 2004 this practice came to be known as externalization and examples of this include:

  • Transfer pricing in the 1980s and 1990s whereby manufacturers exported goods cheaply then imported the same goods back into Zimbabwe at hugely inflated prices.
  • Under-pricing of exports only to sell them at their proper price once off-shore and the bulk of the money kept out of Zimbabwe.
  • Blatant smuggling of precious and unprocessed minerals to avoid declaring them as exports thereby not remitting the subsequent proceeds.
  • Banking malpractice that peaked in 2003 but continues unabated today including but not limited to manipulation of exchange control regulations.

Under Reserve Bank Governor Leonard Tsumba, 1993-2003, the country began to see the effects of externalization, this peaked in 2000-2003 with the liberalisation of the financial services sector, particularly banking,  typified by the rapid unchecked growth of indigenous players. Upon his retirement Dr. Tsumba was replaced temporarily by Charles Chikaura in an acting capacity until the appointment of  Dr. Gideon Gono in late 2003. On his appointment by President Mugabe Dr. Gono promised to clean up the financial sector which by then was widely perceived as the catalyst of Zimbabwe’s economic downturn. Dr. Gono’s initiative led to five years of sensational arrests, escapes, international chases, court cases, asset seizures and more with the list of suspects including many of the country’s business leaders at the time. Some of the accused even chose self-imposed exile to escape prosecution leading to failed requests for extradition by the RBZ through the police’s Serious Economic Offences Unit. By 2008 though the whole exercise had fizzled out into nothingness amid presidential pardons and the pressure of legal challenges on constitutional grounds. Though some of the cases are still ongoing, little of the plundered wealth has been recovered.

The dollarization of the Zimbabwean economy that followed the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in late 2008 was the catalyst for the recovery of the economy and this was strengthened by promises of financial support from all SADC nations in 2009. Despite much fanfare and a number of false starts, nothing of substance has been forthcoming and Zimbabwe’s recovery has been predominantly domestically driven and has predictably, stalled.

Illicit Capital Flight In Perspective

Considering that it is reasonably suspected that there are hundreds of millions possibly billions of dollars that have been siphoned out of Zimbabwe sitting in foreign bank accounts, the mind boggles that the Ministry of Finance is not actively engaging foreign governments and banks to institute legal proceedings against the account holders in an attempt to recover these funds. Only in 2013 did a bill go before parliament with the express purpose of tackling externalization. The Microfinance Bill is yet to be signed into law but only seeks to attach assets domiciled in Zimbabwe. It is unclear how far back the act can be enforced once signed into law thought the RBZ and the Ministry of Finance have said that as at February 2013 exporters had not repatriated $360 million. As at today it is unclear what measures either institution has taken to ensure the repatriation of these funds. In 2008 the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst published a report on capital flight from forty sub-Saharan Africa in the period 1970-2004 by Zimbabwe is estimated to have lost $16 162 000 000,00. For the full report go to http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_151-200/WP166.pdf.

New International Best Practice

Recently the Lybian Transitional Authority has made global headlines in its attempts to recover tens billions of dollars funnelled out of the country by the previous administration. Particular emphasis has been on South Africa which has acknowledged the existence of such investments and indicated its willingness to repatriate the funds despite their scale not having been finalised. In Zimbabwe it is unclear if the Microfinance Bill will make provision for such action by the Ministry of Finance and if so, how the Ministry will be capacitated as it is yet to be signed into law. If the government were serious about recovering externalised funds they would have speedily enacted this Bill in 2009 and by now the nation would surely have seen results. It is an indictment on the government and the finance ministry in particular that it is not known how much the country is losing annually to externalization and no effective measures have been instituted to recover what has already left or to stop the bleeding. Kofi Anan and the president of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka have both come out strongly against capital flight from Africa fuelled by corruption and fraud. With institutions like the AfDB willing to assist in recovering illicit capital transfers to their rightful states and the precedent set by South Africa in the Lybian case, what is Minister Biti waiting for?

What Just Happened Africa?

Last week the President of the United States embarked on what some media appointed Africa analysts called an, or is it a historical, visit to our beloved Africa. This is not to say that since his appointment President Obama has not been to our fair, sometimes scary continent, according to the dominant (read Western) press, he has, but those were whistle stops between Europe and the Middle East so we’ll pretend they don’t count. No-one, well not that I’ve noticed, even seems to remember that he spoke in front of that ex-leader Hosni Mubarak’s parliament during his first term but then again, it is generally understood in these parts that to say you are in Africa only counts if you are south of the Sahara no?

Never having been north of the Malawian border-post closest to Zimbabwe I ask you to forgive my possible southern African bias in my analysis.

Last Friday I waited eagerly for the first tweet on my timeline announcing the arrival of Air Force One at the, ummm, now shall we say well known Waterkloof Air Force Base which I’ve been told is north of South Africa’s capital Pretoria. Somehow I got distracted and woke up on Saturday morning to nothing but second by second updates of the movements of America’s first family, most of them dubious. Despite my wife’s best intentions we found ourselves watching President Obama speak at the University of Johannesburg to the youth of Africa. I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of President Obama since he was first nominated as the democratic candidate in 2008 simply because of how much he achieved in such a short period of time since entering American politics but that’s a story for another blog. 

On Saturday afternoon I tuned in curious to hear what he had to say but somewhat expecting to hear the now usual lecture to Africa of how we can and should do for ourselves if we just get ourselves together. I ‘ll admit, it’s been a while since I was so wrong. President Obama spoke to so many things I relate to regarding the development of Africa that I started wondering if the NSA hadn’t passed on my tweets and Facebook posts to POTUS. Most notably:

1. Africa needs to start trading with Africa.

2. Africans need to seriously consider all investment proposals from all comers including and especially from the United States.

3. Africa needs electricity.

Since Saturday afternoon, southern African time, much has been said about President Obama’s speech, depressingly, mostly negative. Much of it has centred around how the US is late to the table and China has effectively locked up the best deals and made good on it’s promises. To an extent this has some bearing. Earlier this year China held it’s fifth China-Africa summit, President Obama announced the US’s first equivalent summit will happen next year in Washington and he is yet to send out invitations to our beloved leaders. However, what has gotten the most attention has been the $7 Billion Africa energy fund which is actually a $16 Billion fund after you throw in the $9 Billion private sector commitment already secured. This initiative is expected to double sub-Saharan Africa’s energy capacity over the next seven years. Considering that it takes South Africa, Africa’s most developed economy, about seven years to build a 4800 megawatt (MW) coal fired power plant, this is a very, very big deal. 

The skeptics and China fans were quick to write countless reams about why this won’t work. They talk of the timing of this initiative, saying President Obama is hoping to secure his legacy with one last big African deal like his two predecessors. I have a different perspective.

What if, just work with me here, the Obama administration has intentionally waited things out regarding Africa, watching the Chinese do what they do? Lest we forget, the Americans invented economic modelling, who in their right mind can assume that they missed the African renaissance? It’s simply not plausible. Consider first America’s experiences in Africa during the Clinton and Bush years, being run out of Somalia, the failure to act on the Rwanda genocide, the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombings. it only makes sense for them to have taken the time to seriously look at their relations with Africa and come up up with an economic plan they could pitch as mutually beneficial and I believe this is it. 

On Saturday afternoon President Obama spoke of how the US is willing to help make trade within the continent easier, he said something like, “why is it easier for Uganda to export to Europe than it is to transport those same goods to somewhere else in Africa?”. I’ve been asking the same of Southern African states for years. Whilst not much more was said on this I believe if the US pitches this properly, China will quickly become just another suitor to Africa’s development.

Think about it, by some estimates it is possible that Africa may already have more people than the Indian sub-Continent or even China, the world’s second biggest economy. One simply has to go into the wonderful world of Google to find that the United Nations projects that whilst developed regions’ populations are in decline, Africa’s population will double within the next 37 years making it the most populous single land mass in addition to having the highest known and estimated concentrations of yet to be exploited on or off-shore minerals, oil and gas. Managed properly, these resources could guarantee that Africa becomes one of the world’s leading economies within the next 30 years or less. If I am able to collate this from freely accessible news feeds and a keen interest in the continent, what more the most equipped government in the world?

I’m inclined to believe that whilst China has been espousing its policy of investment without sovereign interference, the US have been developing their “partnership with Africa” policy which they are now launching. This comes only a few months after BRICS nations announced their intention to create a development bank focused on Africa which will go live in five years. Unfortunately the President of the continent’s leading financial institution, the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, has questioned the establishment of a BRICS bank whilst underfunded African financial institutions exist. On multiple occasions this year, Mr. Kaberuka has challenged African governments to fund the AfDB and focus on the continent’s infrastructure needs but this has only received lip service to the best of my knowledge, possibly a gap the US has identified.

In the meantime the Brits are not sitting still either. Just a few days ago, Afua Hirsch, the west Africa correspondent for a British paper, The Guardian, wrote about how the British government is considering establishing a development bank so as to better allocate resources to developing countries in the form of repayable loans rather than the current development aid model which has had, at best mixed results. This is supposed to relieve the British taxpayer but lets face it, loans come with interest and interest means profit for the lender so in a time of waning developed economies, anything that looks like it can make a buck is probably worth a look. Despite the fact that I have never been a fan of BRICS for Africa, even a devoted advocate will acknowledge that by the time their bank launches the world, especially Africa, will be a highly competitive place. Whoever is President of South Africa by then may have some tough questions to answer.

With all this attention on Africa, I’m willing to put my money on the US having a master-plan that will ensure that China remains, at best, the world’s second biggest economy and a BRICS bank nice dinner conversation for diplomats . Somebody poked the bear and the bear is putting EVERYBODY on notice.