The year just ended will go down as one of the worst in this country’s history. Nothing moved. The economy, agriculture and politics were all stagnant, if not declining. The only things that went up were on the negative side. These included prices, inflation and the number of people infected with Aids.
At the beginning of the year everyone was optimistic that the economy would pick up due to the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme which officials said was going to work although there would be some initial hardships.
The first jolt was the shortage of maize. The country was caught with its pants down. All efforts were diverted to procuring food and for some months, the question of survival dominated the country’s politics. Food queues which at times threatened to break into violence became a common feature for the first time.
Scapegoats had to be found. Blame was shifted to some politicians whose mistakes had been done years ago and could therefore have been rectified in the intervening period. Calls for the reduction of the cabinet and the size of the bureaucracy were overshadowed by calls for immediate food deliveries.
The redistribution of the land was also sidelined as the quest to ensure that agriculture was brought back to the forefront took the lead. Three producer prices were announced within a space of three to four months. And in the end, disaster was avoided but at a cost. Prices became the determinant factor with most people now failing to afford things that were now available in abundance.
While farmers have assured the nation that they will produce enough for the nation, it is too early to tell if they will succeed. It is only perhaps after early next year that the people will know the true situation since most of the farming is rainfed.
While some farmers have already planted the early crop the rains have so far been patchy. Everyone, though, is aware that should the nation have another poor agricultural season, it could be catastrophic. Most of the rural and urban poor can no longer afford to buy the basic foodstuffs available on the shelves. They will, therefore, have to supplement with what they themselves can produce if they are to survive.
Coupled with the drought, which most people had believed would not be as severe as it turned out to be, was the drop in business confidence. The economy was battered left, right and centre. The stock exchange that had risen up to over 2 700 points started plummeted to below 1 000.
Although the World Bank insists the country is still on the right path in terms of the ESAP it is sponsoring, the gross domestic product has declined by 11 percent. This, of course, is largely attributed to drought but some analysts believe even if there had been a normal season things would not have been any better except for the food import bill. Agricultural production overally declined by 40 percent.
According to the authoritative First Merchant Bank, the tightness in the money market reflects the fact, not that there is too little money in the system, but that too great a proportion of it is going to the wrong place. It says the cost of the borrowing by government is $12,9 billion or about $35 million a day. About 85 percent of this figure, more than $900 million a month, is raised through taxes. The rest has to be borrowed.
Manufacturing was badly hit by power shortages, also the worst in the country’s history. Worse still most of the manufactured products like furniture, clothing, and footwear are now too expensive even for the high income group. Mining too has been declining.
On the political front, there was almost a deadlock with even new parties that were supposed to take off failing to. The long-awaited cabinet reshuffle came a little too late and despite promises of reducing the size of the cabinet, all those who had been axed ended up being given other posts. In effect, the only posts that seem to have been completely abolished where those of some deputy ministers.
Opposition parties fizzled out and despite announcements of the formation of the so-called United Front, nothing has materialised. The same seems to be the case with the young parties like the Zimbabwe Unity Movement and the Democratic Party. Apart from being allowed to waffle once in a while they did not have any significant impact.
The creation of another daily newspaper, which was meant to improve competition came and now seems to be hardly noticed. While the arrival of the new paper seems to have improved the quality of reporting by the already existing papers, the new paper seems to have failed to put its feet down tittering between the western tabloids and the more serious ones.
The media, however, seems to have taken one bolder step. This was largely on the reporting of corruption by the most senior government officials. The tendency had all along been to deal with the small fry.