Not Invited to the Party

Zimbabwean economist Daniel Ndlela shares his thoughts on economic recovery as part of a conference hosted by the Southern Africa Political Economy Series Trust and the National Endowment for Democracy in May 2014. The conference, entitled “Zimbabwe Going Forward” featured Zimbabwean think tanks, private sector representatives, government and civil society. (l-r: Kupukile Mlambo, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Ndlela, and Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Regional Director for Africa, the Center for International Private Enterprise).

While 50 African heads of state prepared to visit Washington for the U.S.-Africa summit held earlier this month, one president who wasn’t invited decided to throw a party of his own. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe invited dignitaries and government officials to the State House on July 31 to mark the one year anniversary of his party’s victory over the opposition in national elections whose legitimacy was questioned by domestic and foreign observers alike.

The 90-year-old Mugabe, restricted from entering the United States due to targeted travel and financial sanctions, welcomed government friends to his official residence in Harare with a banquet and live music. Unfortunately, given Zimbabwe’s economic outlook, throwing a party is the last thing the President should be doing.

While other African leaders capitalized on the platform of the U.S.-Africa Summit to showcase opportunities for investment and discuss deals with investors, Mugabe readied his plans for his upcoming trip to China where he will likely be signing a $4 billion bailout loan. He’s already looked to Russia as well as the World Bank and IMF for bailouts in an attempt to alleviate the country’s massive debt and liquidity crisis.

Unfortunately, the government’s economic blueprint – the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIMASSET) – would require an estimated $23-27 billion to implement. With no clarity on where that financing will come from, ZIMASSET has galvanized neither substantial investment nor hope for economic turnaround. Vice President Joice Mujuru noted it may take up to 40 years for success to be seen from ZIMASSET. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe does not have 40 years to wait.

Zimbabwe’s private sector, while being hit hard by the current economic decline, has solutions to offer. Zimbabwean private sector associations and chambers of commerce should be invited to be active participants in designing a path for the country’s economic recovery. In fact, the Business Council of Zimbabwe – a coalition of nine Zimbabwean associations representing the banking, farming, tourism, and industry sectors – has already developed a five-year National Business Agenda (NBA) with policy recommendations to advance economic reform and growth for 2011-2015.

The NBA could be an excellent platform for the government to engage with its people to craft policy decisions that actually benefit the business community. The NBA process would allow representative voices of the Zimbabwean business community – including the informal sector, women entrepreneurs, and small to large firms – to identify key areas for reform.

Building an agenda mobilizes the voice of the citizens to use their skills to affect public policy by setting reform priorities and communicating them to policymakers. It provides a research-based advocacy tool on which both the public and private sectors can engage. CIPE has worked with business associations, coalitions of private sector organizations and chambers of commerce around the world using the NBA process to give a voice to the private sector to strengthen reform.

While the government of Zimbabwe has demonstrated its unwillingness to engage in consultation with many outside their borders, they are well overdue for listening to the voices of those inside the country. Their economy depends on it. Instead of affirming their rule through exclusive lavish parties, it is time to actually govern democratically.

Julie Craig is a Program Officer for Africa at CIPE.