At Independence from British rule in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe inherited some of the most serious socio-economic inequalities in the world in terms of income, assets and access to education, housing and healthcare.
The economy then was biased in favor of the white minority. However, despite some war damage, Zimbabwe’s economy at Independence was well diversified between industry, agriculture and services, with excellent infrastructure and apparently good potential for growth.
Independence brought a crisis of rising expectations requiring the government to immediately address the inherited inequalities. Thus, during the first decade of independence, the government invested heavily into social programs aimed at uplifting the livelihoods of the majority of the people.
But the issue of land ownership was never adequately addressed till early 2000 when government forcibly repossessed land belonging to white farmers. This led to an international outcry and, since year 2000; the country has been in a limbo.
Today, the resolution of the country’s multifaceted crisis could take a number of different turns and pathways. But the pathway the country travels will be largely determined by the outcome of political developments that are at the heart of the current crisis.
A key factor defining and sustaining the crisis has been the partisan approach to issues of national significance, which has forestalled productive political dialogue. This has given rise to a barrage of international sanctions – ostensibly targeted at the country’s leadership – that have worsened the plight of ordinary people.
Zimbabwe can only extricate herself from the current crisis with a political settlement, which brings much needed stability to the country. In the absence of a political settlement, the nation of Zimbabwe will continue down the road of further disintegration and decline.
The decline will adversely affect all sectors of society. There will be an increase in lawlessness, brain drain, corruption, poverty and disease.
There’s need for a process of national healing in which all outstanding national issues will be brought out in the open without fear or favor.
This route cannot all together be avoided if Zimbabwe is to live up to its true potential. Thus, the question is not whether there will be a transition in the country, but when it will happen.
However, that transition will be a brainchild of political change and confidence building measures both locally and internationally.
The transition will likely involve initial moderate reforms to get the economy back on track while the political details are being worked out.
There will be a need to both democratize and modernize Zimbabwe’s institutional framework in a way that make it responsive to the needs of its people. Without such reforms, Zimbabwe cannot be effectively and democratically governed.
To be successful, the process of transition must reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people as well as receive the blessings of the international community.
Zimbabwe must not regard herself as an island in today’s interconnected world. Immediate turnaround should not be expected. There is a danger that such a turnaround can result in superficial changes.
Even when hopeful signs of recovery begin to appear, the economy would still continue to decline over the short term until the reform process kicks in.
The transition process may be further delayed by the rise of populist demagoguery on the part of political actors who have the most to lose from the way the political space is conducted today.
The transition period could last from six months to more than five years. The more protracted the transition period, the greater will be the degree of polarization and generalized social and political conflict.
While the transition period will be mainly aimed toward stabilization, the reform era will involve the move towards a more vibrant democratic society and the opening of the politico-economic system, creating new opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs.
The spirit of entrepreneurship must be deliberately encouraged among the people with emphasis being placed on the provision of quality services or goods that can penetrate the global market.
Entrepreneurial activities must be synonymous with quality, not necessarily of first world standards but, one that is consistent with the Zimbabwean aesthetic sense yet still able to satisfy the global market.
In other words, Zimbabwean products and services must be locally inspired but globally oriented. If business creation can gather momentum, it will mean good news for the economy.
The government, universities, technical colleges, and business groups must encourage entrepreneurs by offering cheap financing, reducing bureaucracy and instilling confidence that Zimbabwean products can break into the world market if well-produced and well-marketed.
There’s still a dream and hope in Zimbabwe but it will only be captured through a change in attitude of its leadership characterized by tolerance of diversity and respect for fairness, freedom and justice.
As it is, the world has not yet seen the true Zimbabwe.