Friday, April 24, 2009

Old Habits + New Technology

I accidentally found myself watching a TV presentation titled “An Inconvenient Truth” last night. It is hosted by former unsuccessful (American) presidential candidate, Al Gore who has a passion about Global Warming and the consequences. Part of his message is reminiscent of “State of Fear” but another part is about hope for the future. The numbers on carbon emissions and the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are positively and horrifically scary, but he also offers hope in that he believes that the problem of the near future can be averted if we change some old habits and act now. I commend anyone who hasn’t seen this ‘Inconvenient Truth’ to see it.

One major point of his presentation is that Old Habits together with New Technology creates a potential problem for mankind. Old Habits plus Old Technology is not a problem because people with old habits using old technology are not going to create a crisis for themselves or the world. But Old Habits plus New Technology is a potential problem because people with old habits using new technology may create conditions for potential chaos. So if we are going to use New Technology, says Gore, we have to change out of the old habits and generate some new ones.

My mind moves from global warming to the problems of Africa. Is this – old habits plus new technology (and systems for that matter) – the problem of Africa? Take the commuter omnibus driver in Johannesburg or Harare for example. The driver is using ‘old habits’ to drive a motorised omnibus (new technology). This explains to some degree why the commuter bus driver stops anywhere and everywhere that he sees the opportunity for a passenger to board or alight. His passengers (using old habits) stop – not at a safely placed bus stop – but at the nearest point of relief –invariably on a corner, invariably inconveniencing other motorists and frequently causing accidents. It explains the commuter omnibus drivers’ complete disregard for other motorists, for in the old world where the old habits worked, there weren’t any other travellers to be inconvenienced.

Now extrapolate this analogy to ‘Justice, Law and Order’ where in the old world the Chief dispensed justice as the Chief saw fit without recourse to some new fangled ‘Roman-Dutch Law’ with rules for everyone, lawyers, innocence until guilt proved and the like. A member of the tribe who transgressed was probably treated with some degree of leniency, while a non-member of the tribe who transgressed was simply put to death or expelled.

What about ‘freedom of the press’? Is this not just another new system (technology) that old habits find impossible to accept? And what about Democracy – yet another new system that Africa is trying to accept but cannot change the old habits?

Food for thought!

It’s Catch 22

It is becoming increasingly evident with each passing day that Mugabe and ZANU PF have some very clear objectives to achieve out of the GNU process. First they must retain all power and none of it be handed over to the MDC political machine. What semblance of power is to be ‘handed over’ is not to be handed over but is to be delegated and retrieved when the act of delegating has been fulfilled. The kind of power to be delegated is only that which will help the government ‘remove illegal sanctions’ and pump new money into the economy. The need for new money is because there is currently little or nothing left to loot, so the new money will be received in order for further systematic looting by individuals in the ZANU PF hierarchy. How else does one explain the continued protection of Gideon Gono as the RBZ Governor, the ‘retrieval’ of the Information and Telecommunications ministry from the MDC back into the ZANU PF stable?

Media freedom is to be curtailed at all costs. Justice, Law and Order, will only be allowed to continue ZANU PF style – that is – impunity for the ZANU PF hierarchy, imprisonment and all that goes with it – beatings, torture, solitary confinement, zero access by ‘criminals’ to lawyers for everyone else. In this regard, it is essential to retain the grip on the relevant ministries. It also explains why ZANU PF appointed the new Attorney General ahead of the formation of the GNU.

The plan also includes the subornation of the MDC legislators and eventually the disbandment of the MDC as a political opposition. How else does one explain the attempts at providing largesse in the form of motor vehicles through Gideon Gono?

One hopes that the two MDC factions and their leaders are aware of this – they probably are. But will that enable them to withstand the pressures? Is there any value in the MDC trying to continue with this charade? Would it be better to walk away now? If they did, who would be the next MDC leader to find himself either at the end of a fatal road accident or detained in the notorious Goromonzi police station cells? Thus the pressure to remain within the GNU is not just from the benefits of ZANU PF style largesse, but also the threat of ZANU PF style ‘persuasion’ if they don’t.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Progress or No Progress?

It is very difficult to judge the progress being made by the GNU. On the one hand we have a spluttering promise of a re-start to the economy. Well, not the economy really, but at least the banking system and to some extent mining and the production of beer. Steps are being taken to enable the banks to move money between them and their customers. But banking customers are, in general, still afraid of leaving a single USD in the bank for fear that they will not be able to retrieve it tomorrow. So individuals hang on to their cash and exchange cash for goods and services. Corporates are only just beginning to find a way to safeguard their money and exchange it. Armed robberies in Harare – and probably elsewhere in the country – are fast turning into ‘big business’ as thieves find US dollars stashed everywhere – in motor cars, in homes, under mattresses, in wallets and hand-bags and anywhere else that may be temporarily convenient. Some mines have made promises of returning to production and the breweries share price has doubled in the last week.

But not much else has changed. Mugabe, Tsvangirayi and Mutambara are at loggerheads over the stripping of power from the MDC Minister of Information, the continued farm invasions and the continued detention of MDC activists on spurious charges of ‘terrorism’. Mugabe will not swear in Roy Bennet as Deputy Minister of Agriculture apparently because his charges of ‘possession of arms of war’ must be cleared before such appointment. So to ensure that this is held back as long as possible, Bennet has now been remanded to the 1st of July. It’s a pity that the Zimbabwean public cannot bring charges of kidnapping and murder against the recent ZANU PF perpetrators of these acts which must include several senior civil servants and ZANU PF members of parliament. Even Mugabe is at risk to be prosecuted for ‘crimes against humanity’ so why Bennet should not be sworn in as Deputy Minister because of ‘pending charges that need to be cleared’ is yet another convenient smokescreen, so typical of the ZANU PF methodology of the recent past.

In the meantime two activists released on bail and currently in-patients in the Avenues Clinic where they are being treated for injuries sustained from torture have been re-arrested in the middle of the night by named police officers, while a further eight MDC activists kidnapped by the ZANU PF machine as far back as October last year are still missing. Clearly the chances are they are no longer alive and they are missing only because they cannot be produced before the courts, let alone the public.

Another stumbling block to the future is the award of cars to legislators by Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono from RBZ ‘quasi-fiscal’ activities. Most of the legislators from ZANU PF and both factions of the MDC were quick to accept the offer despite a policy decision from the MDC that the vehicles were not to be accepted. Greed is at work yet again. Various excuses are offered by the legislators who took delivery of the vehicles as to why they ‘need them to carry out their duties’ but Tendai Biti, the Minister of Finance has recently declared that the RBZ will not under any circumstances continue with their destabilising quasi-fiscal activities. Instead, says Biti, the vehicles must be handed over to the Parliamentary Pool where they can be sold to legislators who can be loaned the money to purchase them, as was the original policy of the now long distant past. In this way the economy is safeguarded from ‘RBZ abuse’. Now it is being suggested that other hand-outs of largesse to ‘new farmers’ which include tractors and other agricultural equipment, will also have to be returned to the RBZ and re-distributed in terms of sound economic policies. The ‘new farmers’ in the guise of ‘war veterans’ are up in arms about having to return their free handouts – probably because they have already sold them to someone else for fat wads of US dollars.

I wonder where this is all going to end. Will greed and corruption succeed or will Biti succeed? Place your bets here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Drug Addict

Zimbabwe limps along as if drug addicted. Addicted to an avarice perhaps unsurpassed in human history. Farms continue to be looted – not for anything other than the current crop on the land, the implements, the door frames and the window frames of the homestead. Earlier this week I spoke to a former farmer from Centenary. Yes, she had been back to the farm. All that she could identify was a hole in the ground that had once been the swimming pool. There wasn’t anything else to be seen but a track and seemingly virgin bush.

If the looters actually wanted to replace the farmer and farm, it would be greed alone. But they do not want to farm. They just want to loot and leave, move on to the next farm. Every farmer that is moved off the land is another nail in the Zimbabwean agricultural coffin and the return to production and the generation of wealth. So the greed must be combined with some other motive or, if not, then it is as irrational and mindless as it is greed and avarice.

You can be sure that the mindless morons who are chasing away the farmers are not the minds behind the campaign. So something else is at work here. The minds behind the campaign have to be the ZANU PF hierarchy of thieves and they are after something else. They are afraid – afraid of losing their privileged status, afraid of losing their power.

So we are drugged by greed, fear and the need for power. Add ‘stupidity’. And the GNU seems powerless to stop it. South Africans beware - it seems you are following close behind.

On another front yesterday we were told that ZIMRA (The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) was setting up toll roads with effect from the 20th April – just 7 days away and published their intent in the Government Gazette dated the 9th of April. They went as far as distributing a schedule of roads to be subject to the toll and the prices per mode of vehicle. All major roads were listed, all points of entry. A haulage vehicle travelling from Beit Bridge to Harare would have to pay a $20 toll at the point of entry and then negotiate four ‘toll points’ between Beit Bridge and Harare at $10 a toll. A total of $60 or R600.

Today we are told the whole exercise has been shelved pending the establishment of toll gates and just perhaps the training of the collectors and the provision of the other tools required to do the job.

The regulations say that ‘transit vehicles’ are exempt. I wonder how a collector is going to identify a ‘transit vehicle’, other than perhaps a haulage vehicle with a load manifest?

It is worth noting that the Toll Roads in South Africa are complimented by ‘alternative routes’ of a very high standard. Not so Zimbabwe where, if and when it happens, you can take the Toll Road or the Toll Road. There will be no alternative.

Yet all the years I have been here I have been paying my vehicle road tax and one can sure, so has everyone else. What has the government done with the money? The usual – it has been looted for personal gain while the roads have deteriorated into death traps.

At the end of the day there is perhaps no alternative than to implement the road tolls. The roads won’t be repaired from empty coffers. One can only hope that when it happens the collections are used for the purpose they are intended. In terms of recent Zimbabwean history, that seems unlikely.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Stop the Looting of the Zimbabwe Economy (Please?)

The new Government of National (Dis)Unity has been in South Africa again. This time begging for money. The South African government has been largely responsible for creating the semblance of government that Zimbabweans now have thrust upon them, so clearly they have some responsibility to act. Some other SADC countries can take some apportioned responsibility.

But SADC and the SA government are now joining ZANU PF and to some extent, Tsvangirayi’s MDC, screaming for financial help from the West and the end of Western ‘illegal economic sanctions’. This would seem to be because South Africa and SADC do not have the ability themselves to fund the restart of the Zimbabwe economy and they are looking to the West to do it for them.

It strikes me as unethical. What has happened in Zimbabwe is that ZANU PF leaders and many of their followers have taken it upon themselves to loot the Zimbabwean economy. They have done this systematically and with impunity and all for their own personal wealth. There are many examples of this. The farms are the extreme and obvious examples. A once rich agricultural economic base has been reduced to almost nothing. Another recent example is that of the Vice President, Joyce Mujuru and her reported attempts to sell tonnes of gold into the European market. The Reserve Bank has been selling silver and gold. Who has profited from this one wonders? Not the gold miners who are owed millions of dollars in unpaid bills. The diamond looting in Maranke has now been going on for months if not years. Who is profiting? The Reserve Bank in its most recent Monetary Policy Statement created a policy that allows individuals to export as much as US$ 250,000 in cash, no questions asked. Why was this ridiculously over-generous export allowance created and for whose personal benefit?

While ZANU PF, Zuma in South Africa and SADC are calling for an end to western economic sanctions the looting continues unabated. The remaining farms are once again being occupied by force, the Maranke diamonds are still being looted, the export allowance of US$ 250,00 cash per individual has not been rescinded.

Why should anyone fund ‘economic recovery’ without a commitment to at least stop the looting? I would like to think that the looters should be required to re-start the economy by returning their loot, but although that might be ethically correct, unfortunately in the politics of Africa, it is unlikely to happen.

But stop the looting now! And don’t expect financial help from others until there is a real commitment to future productive growth.