Get Politics Right, Then Economy

The Zimbabwe crisis continues to capture headlines as negotiations enter a third week. Last week, AllAfrica sat down with Rejoice Ngwenya, a Zimbabwean writer and intellectual who was visiting Washington DC at the invitation of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. In the interview, Ngwenya, who also serves as a policy adviser to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) but does not speak for the party, discusses the current crisis, the economy, and why he thinks his country was better under the rule of Ian Smith than Robert Mugabe. Excerpts:

What do you think the outcome of the negotiations will be?

These talks are going to collapse eventually for two reasons. First of all, Robert Mugabe can never play second fiddle to anybody. Mugabe has only had two jobs in his life: he has been a teacher in Ghana and he has been the president in Zimbabwe. So it would be a gigantic act of historical transformation if he accepted to be a non-executive president. Politicians want political power. They are not interested in clean air and fish in the ocean. Morgan Tsvangirai wants to be in charge of the government, so any arrangement that does not put him into the seat of authority and control, he might also be very reluctant to accept.

[The negotiators on both sides] are very brilliant guys. You can imagine that Zimbabweans… trust the judgment of the guys. But Mugabe is a bad negotiator. He’s a bad man. He’s an evil man. He is the kind of person who negotiates with an AK-47 behind his back. We just hope… there’s going to be some kind of large-scale compromises between Mugabe’s demand for executive authority and Morgan’s demand to be the leader of the house. But we have our reservations.

What do you consider the role of outsiders – the African Union, the United States, China – if the talks collapse or if there is a government of national unity?

The role of SADC [the Southern African Development Community] and the AU [African Union] is still critical in attempting to resolve the crisis. But they’ve got a limited role in the sense that they can take the political horse to the river, but they can’t make it drink. The AU and SADC are playing a very good role in overseeing the processes and ensuring that [they]… are not defeated by personal interests. Well, they may not be doing it well but at least their presence is very important.

Now, if the negotiations succeed, what we would want to ask the AU to do is, during the process of transition, to put in a peacekeeping force because Mugabe still has a certain semblance of influence over the military. If the AU does not have a military force… you are not going to be able to neutralize Mugabe’s military stake… The African [Union] peacekeeping force can… ensure that there is no further violation of human rights and bloodshed. Once there is a force that neutralizes fear, that makes it [possible]… for people… to live their lives in a normal way, then they can begin to start thinking about ideas and projects where they can create wealth.

How feasible do you think it would be for Tsvangirai or Mugabe to accept an outside force?

For Tsvangirai it’s not going to be a problem. But Mugabe might argue that since we have agreed, and since we have set up parameters of mutual respect, why do we need an intervention force? The only person in Zimbabwe who can demilitarize the institutions of governance in Zimbabwe is either Mugabe or an external force. Police have already put it on record more than three times in eight months that "We will never ever support anyone who does not have liberation war credentials." What is it that it’s going to take to change their minds? Mugabe. If Mugabe does not tell them to change their minds, they are going to disregard the authority of the transitional authority. They need a military force they can respect. I don’t think Morgan Tshvangirai has got that capacity.

Some argue that really the military is in control in Zimbabwe. Is Mugabe still the one in power?

It’s a complete fallacy. Each and every element of governance in Zimbabwe, as contaminated as it is, is under the command of Mugabe. The carnage and the brutality that is happening in Zimbabwe falls squarely in the lap of Mugabe. Mugabe can never ever cede authority to anybody. I mean, you are talking about a guy who neutralized Mr. Joshua Nkomo.

What do you think of the exclusion of civil society from negotiations?

Civil society is a watchdog entity. [It] has no role to play in [talks] because [it is] supposed to be watching the process and hoping for slip-ups then they can point out that, "Your agreement does not take into account human rights," "Your agreement does not take into account the protection of democratic space," which is what their core business is…

This is where civil society comes in: anybody who has got a list of violations of human rights and where there’s proof that [someone] has been responsible for abducting and raping and killing citizens, [he] must face justice. Mugabe is one of them.

Do you think the economic situation will force Zanu-PF to make concessions?

At one time, not far back, when inflation was about 10,000 percent, economists were busy writing models that if inflation goes beyond 30,000 [percent] there’s going to be an implosion and suddenly everybody will stop going to work and things are going to collapse. But now inflation is 15 million percent, and people are still trying to get to work. So it would seem to me that the theory of implosion is not going to work.

Unfortunately, Zimbabweans have a certain residual resilience… Zimbabweans can improvise. There are about 2 million Zimbabweans outside Zimbabwe, gainfully employed, remitting literally one million U.S. dollars every week. And that is the money that is driving the economy.

You have said in the past that your country was better under the racist rule of Ian Smith than it is under the current government. Do you still think that?

The oppression and the violation of human rights in Rhodesia was done with a certain semblance of humanity. Ian Smith had his own excesses, but we were in a state of war, it was a contest between the colonialists and the indigenous people of Zimbabwe and we accepted that it was a civil war. Smith was very clever. He never tampered with the market economy… The engineering industry was more advanced than South Africa. We had the best tourism in the world. We had the best education system in the world. There was not a single time that my parents ever told me when I was going to school that I was not going to be able to get this and that because it’s not in the shops. There was not a single time when I woke up in Rhodesia when I was 19 years old that I never had a cup of tea with milk and bread. But today there’s no milk, there’s no bread, there’s no sugar in Zimbabwe.

I’m saying, Rhodesia was better than Zimbabwe now. And there are no political dynamics, there are no racial innuendos. We are simply saying, despite having to operate under sanctions and blockade, Ian Smith had a more sensible economic blueprint because he never tampered with the market economy. He allowed industrialists and businesspersons to run business the way business is run.

What kinds of policies would you suggest to stabilize Zimbabwe’s economy?

Consider somebody who has been run over by a train and is lying in the road. What do you do first? You need, first of all, to get their heart to start beating. Once we get our politics right, then we can establish institutions that are legitimate, institutions that everybody has confidence in. I’m talking about institutions of liberty and democracy.

If there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe, if anybody can just pick up a gun and shoot anybody, if businesspersons are being arrested for selling bread over the regulated prices – as long as we don’t have a political solution that restores confidence in the institutions of governance, we cannot talk about economics…

Economically speaking, maybe the best thing is to reconstitute the Reserve Bank so that we can curb its huge appetite for printing worthless money. We don’t want to talk about the World Bank, the IMF (International Monetary Fund). We don’t want to see them anywhere near Zimbabwe … We don’t want to have huge injections of foreign money because the geopolitics that we have now is not capable of running any aid program.

I would rather that we first of all restore the confidence we had [by] resuscitating industry. We can get… support through the African Development Bank, but we need to have a scenario where industry begins to run. All the raw materials are there in Zimbabwe: we have the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for tourism… we have gold mines, we have coal mines for thermal power stations, so we have the resources. We don’t actually need aid. What we need is a change of mentality so that we move out of this cycle of poverty that has engulfed our minds. Then we can begin to start producing our goods and services.