The cost of bad government

The Price we pay for lousy Government

The Zimbabwean by Eddie Cross

January 15, 2017

This past week, the Minister of Local Government, Saviour Kasukuwere, made a statement in which he claimed that maladministration by MDC led Councils had cost 500 lives in the past few months. I found this laughable when compared to what this government has cost us in lives, income and welfare in the past 37 years. Beside that consideration, the reasons for poor service delivery in all local authorities can be blamed on the actions of central government including the Ministry itself.

Let’s go back to 1980 when we got our Independence as a country under a democratically elected government. In 1980 our National population was about 9 million, our GDP was about US$9 billion, incomes per capita at US$1000 – but the local currency was worth about 1 to 2 US dollars. Life expectancy was 60 years and population growth was 3,6 per cent per annum with annual death rates of about 100 000 a year and live births about 400 000.

This meant that our national population should double in 20 years and if annual growth rates had been about 5 per cent, then GDP would double in 12 years. In Botswana average growth rates in GDP over the following 37 years has averaged about 8 per cent and their incomes per capita are now about US$13 000 with life expectancy about 65.

Instead of seeing population growth at this rate, our current population is about 13 million and this means that had our population growth rates been maintained at pre Independence levels of 3,6 per cent – our population should be 32 million. This means we are “missing” 19 million people. We know that our Diaspora has about 5 million Zimbabweans living in it – with their children you can perhaps double that number but it still means we are “missing” 9 million people.

Death rates have tripled under Zanu PF leadership – from 100 000 people a year to 300 000. This might explain 7 million and this means that on average 550 people have died every day that Zanu PF have held power for 37 years from conditions which did not exist prior to 1980. These elements are hunger, malnutrition, poor medical services and public health activities. Life expectancy has fallen to 35 years on average. Mortality rates for women in childbirth are at genocidal levels as are death rates for children under 5 years of age.

Diseases we thought had been beaten in 1980 are back and kill nearly 100 000 adults a year in Zimbabwe. Public health systems have virtually collapsed, government managed hospitals and clinics are just glorified mortuaries – they have no medicines, no cleaning materials, no fuel for boilers. They have difficulty in providing clean linen and staff motivation is very poor. Treatment of patients is routinely poor and unsatisfying.

From a basic human welfare perspective, the past 37 years for all Zimbabweans have been a total disaster with death rates that rival States at war. In Yemen the total deaths since the war began do not yet run to 10 000, even death rates in Syria and Iraq do not compare. The only difference between the deaths from maladministration and corruption in Zimbabwe and current war zones; is that here people are killed by neglect and they die out of view of television cameras and the social media. But they still die and many years before they should die from old age.

Then there is the cost of this regime in economic terms. Here the numbers are equally shocking. In 2017, 37 years after Independence in 1980, our income per capita will be the same as it was in 1980 – about US$1000. Our GDP will not be more than about US$14 billion this year – probably closer to US$12 billion. In 1980 we had an income per capita three times that of neighboring Botswana – today their average incomes are over US$13 000. If we had seen a government like that which emerged from the Mau era in China and adopted their policies, our GDP per capita today would be US$28 000 – just half of the average income in the USA.

These are staggering numbers and in a recent study, economists here estimated the cost of corrupt practices since 1980 at US$80 billion – more than two billion dollars a year. I estimated that had that money been kept in legitimate hands and invested as a surplus in productive enterprise with a multiplier of 4, the impact on our GDP would have been similar to the Chinese model. Except that China has had to borrow US$250 trillion from global markets to fund its runaway growth. The astonishing aspect of the Zimbabwe model is that we need not borrow one dime to achieve similar growth, just stop the theft of resources by a corrupt elite.

Instead, Zimbabweans today are among the poorest people on earth, half our people need food aid, three quarters earn less than $2 a day – the benchmark for absolute poverty. In fact we resemble in economic terms similar economic features to North Korea, Somalia and Eritrea. The tragedy of this situation is that it suits those in power to have these conditions. A Minister of Government once famously stated that he did not care about the rising death rates, “Zimbabwe would be better off with 6 million people who followed Zanu PF”. This represented half the population of the country in that year.

Likewise, poor people are totally vulnerable to pressure, threats and patronage. As one old man in a village in Matabeleland North said to a friend of mine – “we are not free to vote the way we want, if we do they beat us, deny us food and farm inputs and chase our children from school”. That is why the main threat to Zanu PF hegemony comes from the urban areas where incomes are higher and it is more difficult to control the basic elements of life.

And then here are the straight forward abuses of human rights and the rule of law. In the four years from 1983 to 1987, the State launched a campaign to destroy political opposition in the south west of the country. The campaign was called “Gukurahundi” or a “storm that washes clean”. The armed forces were used to crush the structures of Zapu in the region and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country for safety and security in South Africa and Botswana. It did not stop there, tens of thousands were tortured – families were burnt alive in their homes, whole districts were denied food and tens of thousands died, their bodies buried in mass graves or thrown down mine shafts.

Then in May 2005 they launched another campaign directed against the informal sector in urban areas – 1,2 million people were displaced and trans located by force into the rural areas and told not to return to town. In the middle of winter, small children and adults died like flies, in one study half the adult men died in two years, unable to face the fact that they could not protect their families. No estimates of deaths exists but they run to thousands, the Zanu PF name for this ruthless operation was “Murambatsvina” which simply means “clean out the rubbish”.

In 2000, the regime discovered that the workers on the commercial farms held the balance of power between the Tribal Districts and the Urban areas. The reaction was immediate – like Stalin in the 30’s, who when faced with resistance by independent farmers, simply eliminated them, Zanu PF unleashed their hordes on the farmers and their staff – two million people were displaced and 8 million hectares of land was simply taken by force, without compensation – now estimated at US$8,5 billion.

Hundreds died, productive farms were looted and destroyed. 32 000 tractors were stolen along with millions of cattle, sheep and pigs. 280 000 hectares of irrigation were rendered unproductive and production of agricultural products declined by over 70 per cent. It did not stop there, since 2000 we in the MDC have carefully recorded 5 800 abductions by State Agents, 25 000 cases of torture and hundreds of deaths at the hands of State Agencies. At one stage in 2008, every private hospital in the country was packed with MDC activists with every imaginable injury. We never have less than two or three hundred activists in prison on trumped up charges and for violations of unjust legislation.

Am I exaggerating the cost to us of 37 years under Zanu PF rule, not at all. These are well documented facts and may in fact be an underestimation. That is why they fear elections and reform. They have a great deal to answer for and one day the people will demand an accounting. But the greatest tragedy is all these lost years, for millions, simply to serve the narrow selfish interests of a tiny minority who think they have a right to this because they were involved in the struggle to throw off the mantle of settler control. Their failure as a Government is failure which taints the whole of Africa and we deserve better.

Eddie Cross is a Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South, a renowned Zimbabwean economist and founder member of the mainstream Movement for Democratic Change party led by Morgan Tsvangirai. He is currently the Policy Coordinator General and Secretary for Local Government.

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