The Fallacy of Political Pluralism in Zimbabwe

Published on 25th March 2008

Makoni, Mugabe & Tsavangirai
An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by American policy analyst Marian Tupy and Zimbabwean lawyer legislator David Coltart leaves no doubt in one's mind that the 'façade of democracy' manifesting itself in so-called 'political pluralism' in Zimbabwe is indeed an illusion. Opposition candidate Gabriel Chaibva, who also doubles as spokesperson of Professor Arthur Mutambara' s political group lays a wreath of spite on those who count the seventeen  'political parties' as a semblance of political competition. He argues: "In a free political market, competition is neither legislated for nor regimented. There is no law that prevents any individual from registering to contest in elections in Zimbabwe, but that does not mean Mugabe wants to compete since he routinely stifles all the other avenues of free expression."  

Economist Enoch Moyo, also head of the liberal Friedrich Naumann Foundation pours more scorn on the inverse relationship between political pluralism and free market excellence. "Rhodesia was quarantined from regional and global markets from 1965 to 1980, therefore, despite an apparent presence of many political parties now, Zimbabwe business was nurtured in a strong monopolistic background that tends to want to 'shoot down' competition." He makes another controversial observation: "There is no incumbent government in Africa that provides fair play for political competitors, even in Botswana." Therefore if one refers to the Hayekian principle that it is only in a free market that effective participatory democracy can flourish, the trillion-dollar question for Zimbabwe is what comes first - a political transformation or intoxicating advocacy for free markets by business associations like the Employers Confederation, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries? 

Kenya’s pre-Mwai Kibaki political economy exhibited a combination of authoritarian dictatorship and free market competition. At face value, this shreds Friedrich Hayek's viewpoint of a direct relationship between the free market and effective democracy. For decades, probably up until the 27 December 2007 Mwai Kibaki debacle, Kenya was a model of business excellence, boasting one of the best tourism destinations in Africa and a vibrant manufacturing industry. Property markets were bullish while countries in regional economic blocs habitually accused Kenyan businesspersons of greed and in-your-face aggression. In other words, it is possible for Zimbabwean civil society to - especially if Robert Mugabe is voted back on 29 March - continue crying foul! while the man transforms himself into a globally recognised business-friendly libertarian for the sole purpose of finding favour with Bretton Woods institutions and local blue chip corporates. Of course the assumption is that he would have to rescind all the 'dirty pieces of legislation' that have so far raised a hue and cry from business democrats the world over. Such transformations, though rare in Africa, have occurred in Libya.  

That ushers in the perspective of Jeffery Takawira, CEO of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce: "There are double standards in the business sector - with some secretly supporting the government's commandist policies because they benefit from primary level price controls. This is selfish, self-centred and suicidal because once a government starts controlling things, they would not know where and when to stop."   Takawira has a point. Initially, Zimbabwe's National Incomes Price Commission NIPC was meant to 'monitor' price mechanisms and 'control' Giffen Goods, but between the time it was conceived - June 2007 - and now, its mid-wife and curator, disgraced lawyer Goodwills Masimirembwa has transformed the NIPC into Mugabe's dreaded sjambok [animal hide whip] of companies that are seen to support what he conveniently terms 'regime change agenda'. It is now commonplace that all critical goods have disappeared from official shop shelves and re-appeared on the black market at one thousand-times the original price. Adam Smith's prophecy has thus been fulfilled - those who tamper with the market pay the full price in scarcity. 

This is where Mugabenomics baffles many. The man needs to win elections by proving that he is the best in satisfying the needs of citizens. Laputa Hwamiridza, president of Mashonaland Chamber of Commerce adds: "No government wants to get into an election with empty shelves and disgruntled business, because elections are financed through the national fiscus from income, corporate and sales taxes." Hwamiridza is a businessman and Mugabe is a politician. Their objectives - business profitability and political survival respectively - are diametrically opposed. Enoch Moyo makes another critical observation that defines the fundamental difference between two nationalist revolutionaries - Jomo Kenyatta and Robert Mugabe: "Zimbabweans, for a long time, were fed on Marxist-Leninist rhetoric that profit is 'evil', so some businesspersons and policy makers still have this indelible mentality that other pricing policies are part of obscene profiteering." On the other hand, Kenyans believed in the virtues of capitalism and Kenyatta where, despite his autocracy, the man was not ashamed of the 'm'words - make money. 

The sad irony is that while Robert Mugabe's public posturing seems to carry pro-poor, anti-capitalist rhetoric, apart from a few habitual socialists like Dr Nathan Shamuyarira and Didymus Mutasa in his power circles, most cabinet ministers and close confidantes like Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, property tycoon Phillip Chiyangwa, army commander Constantine Chiwenga, exciting politician Ray Kaukonde and perennial praise-singer youthful Saviours Kasukuwere are all US dollar millionaires.   Therefore for the time being, there is consensus that the proliferation of political parties will have no bearing towards a transformation to free market excellence, at least until Robert Mugabe undergoes a transfiguration of Biblical proportions.

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