via A lot of hot air – The Zimbabwean 3.9.2015
The revitalisation of agriculture was top of the list in President Robert Mugabe’s State of The Nation Address last week.
The logical enquiry is why is agriculture in a shambles?
Mugabe traded in capable, committed, experienced farmers who had financial resources for part-time agriculturalists who live in towns and occasionally bring their friends to fields left fallow for years, pompously pointing to the horizon – ‘look, it’s all mine!’
In time, the new farmers could learn. But farming is a business and all businesses require capital. Banks cannot lend to the agricultural sector in the absence of title deeds. Unless there is a money tree somewhere, it is hard to see how we will get past the funding dilemma.
Mugabe said, ‘In line with our food and nutrition policy thrust, government, working closely with the private sector development partners has adopted a grain importation programme.’ What a fancy way of saying ‘without the foreign NGOs you would all starve!’
A day after his address – surprise, surprise – the World Food Programme announced plans to distribute food aid, beginning September. So much for his ‘food and nutrition thrust.’
The B word
Lately Mugabe has grown fond of the B word – ‘beneficiation.’ In order for government’s much vaunted ‘policy thrust on beneficiation and value addition’ to become real, the extractive sector has to be run efficiently and with accountability. Take the example of an egg producer. To add value to the product, eggs may be hatched into chicks, which are sold at a higher price.
If the egg handlers are stealing eggs or the business lacks a hatching machine, any talk of value addition, quite frankly, stinks. Like a rotten egg. Corruption runs deep in the mining sector where the small businesses use old-fashioned extraction methods. Small-scale gold miners only have picks and shovels. Very few of them have their own mills. Because they outsource milling services, pilferage of refined gold is inevitable.
We cannot speak of making bed sheets from cotton when there aren’t enough farmers growing the cotton. We need to get our basics correct before we can even dream of value addition.
Point three was ‘focusing on infrastructural development, particularly in the key energy, water, transport and ICT subsectors.’ This is another phrase that will get you several phone numbers if said out loud at a cocktail party. But really, what does it mean? To begin with, is this not what any government ought to do anyway? This is like a parent saying ‘my strategy is to feed, clothe and educate my child.’
In all this hot air, Mugabe is not saying how this will be achieved. Eight or nine years ago, they were trying very hard to get pure diesel from a rock. Now we should believe they can develop infrastructure?
Encouraging private sector investment was also on the list. Mugabe has leaned heavily on China, since 2000. The Look East policy has not been a success. The West is not keen on dealing with Mugabe. Even he knows that. During Mujuru’s vice presidency all business delegates from abroad made a beeline for her office. And now they all follow the well-worn footpath to the VP office occupied by Mnangagwa. Foreign direct investment will not come until Mugabe is out of the picture.
Mugabe proposes a revision of the Banking Act in order to boost confidence. This is much like treating athlete’s foot by polishing your shoes. New banking laws will not suddenly cause local bank vaults to fill up with money. The desperate RBZ looted FCAs in order to fund Mugabe’s wild schemes during the hyperinflationary era. The public has not forgotten.
He also intends to revive dead parastatals, through joint ventures – a dream from which he can be awoken, with a cold bucket of water and one question – who wants to partner with us? The modernisation of labour laws is too little too late – 20,000 jobs have been lost in just one month.
Deservedly, Mugabe was jeered when he said, ‘to pursue an anti-corruption thrust.’ We have heard this song before. What we hoped for was humility and truth – ‘fellow citizens, the state of the nation is that it is in tatters and it is my fault.’ Instead we heard empty rhetoric and lies – ‘overall economic performance to date, indicates modest growth’ (cue the hecklers). – My pen is capped. Jerà