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  • A more confident Zanu PF is still struggling to reinvent itself
    Dianna Games, Business Day
    October 21, 2013

    View this article on the Business Day website

    Driving down Borrowdale Road in Harare’s more up market suburbs, it is hard to miss the long row of posters sporting a photo of a young Robert Mugabe. The picture on the poster, erected before this year’s poll but already proclaiming Mugabe president, has been dug out of the archives, showing a man about 20 years younger in a ham-handed attempt to convince voters he is not too old for the job.

    But it has not been so easy to erase the past when it comes to Zimbabwe’s economy. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries said this month the manufacturing sector remains in crisis, with average capacity utilisation plummeting to 39% in 2013, from 44.2% in 2012 and 57% in 2011.

    While Zanu-PF blames the country’s economic ills on western sanctions, now that the political opposition is no longer a convenient scapegoat, the factors causing this are much closer to home. They include cheap imports, reduced demand for local goods, limited capital to replace dilapidated equipment, erratic power supply and lukewarm investor interest.

    The government faces funding problems of its own, with a shrinking tax base and rising recurrent spending. Mugabe’s election promise to cancel municipal debts has put severe strain on municipalities.

    As the ageing Mugabe faces what may be his last term in office, he wants to restore his legacy, battered by years of abuses. This seems to have given him an incentive to get the economy back on track. The party already appears to be climbing down on its radical indigenisation policy, with a more sober minister now in the portfolio, and priority sectors have been identified to drive growth.

    Performance targets are being set and there is selected targeting of key officials for corruption. For example, the former head of the state-owned minerals body is being investigated after Mugabe fingered him for receiving a $6m bribe from a Ghanaian investor. But many senior politicians who have been rumoured to have their fingers in the mining pie remain untouched - for now.

    With the threat of political takeover removed, the party seems more secure. There seems to be a more sober attitude to economic revival than the country has seen from this party for a long time. The government last week launched a new economic blueprint, which targets the doubling of economic growth to more than 6% by next year. Skeptics dismiss this as old wine in new bottles, a favoured Zanu-PF tactic. The party has launched about a dozen economic turnaround programmes since 2000 and all have failed on the political expedience and self-interest of those appointed to implement them.

    The Zimbabwe dollar survived as long as it did because politicians had access to preferential exchange rates to the dollar and arbitration made them extremely rich, not because it was good for the economy.

    Although the party faithful deny the reintroduction of the currency is on the cards, it is hard to know how else the state can pay for its costly election promises, such as improved public-service salaries.

    After 33 years in power, questions have been raised on what Zanu-PF will do to raise its citizens out of poverty that it has not done before. It has already started picking the brains of business for new ideas. While that is a positive step, this is a party that has long been anti business and mistrustful of the private sector, seeing companies as "agents of the West", who are against transformation.

    Foreign investors are not rushing forward with their money. Mugabe continues to lash out at many countries, particularly traditional investors in developed markets, and there is little trust there. But there are no short cuts to economic transformation. It will take a lot more than empowerment rhetoric and airbrushed posters to convince anyone that this party has reinvented itself.

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