In killing enterprise, Robert Mugabe is not alone in Africa
In Zimbabwe, there is a minister for Empowerment. His name is Saviour Kasukuwere—a man often described as a rising star in President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party by western media.
So misleading is the name of this ministry that one might think that Kasukuwere’s docket is to economically empower rural women, youth and physically impaired persons by initiating programs and promoting policies for social inclusion and equity in the use of public resources.
But in Zimbabwe, ‘empowerment’ appears to have a completely different meaning and as such, Kasukuwere’s job has nothing to do with enabling poor national to improve their lives. Instead, Zimbabwe’s ‘rising star’ is his party’s grabbing arm.
Last week, he stunned the world (including members of his own party) when he announced a deadline for foreign-owned banks and privately-owned schools to handover majority ownership to black Zimbabweans.
Kasukuwere, is said to have already forced mining companies like Rio Tinto and Impala Platinum , the world’s second-largest platinum miner, to turn over majority stakes in their local units to black Zimbabweans who are by-and-large the already wealthy embers of the ruling party.
But the idea of asking Standard Chartered Bank Plc, Barclays Bank Plc and South Africa’s Standard Bank and Nebank to cede 59% of their local business to ZANU-PF stalwarts has shocked even some of Mugabe’s strongest allies such as the central bank governor, Gideon Gono.
The worry with what is happening in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is not just about a rogue regime that is pursuing an agenda “devoid of detail and rationality,” as Gono described the move on banks, but likelihood that the vice could spread to many more African countries ruled by men nursing life-presidency ambitions. And they are many.
Once African rulers realize that they have lost legitimacy and no longer have anything positive to do for their countries, they resort to the old colonial tactic of divide-and-rule. And once they run out of that option to, the last resort to start pursuing a populist agenda that often seeks to blame outsiders ( and in Africa’s case colonialists) for all the social and economic problems in the country.
So they start telling uneducated youth in villages and slums that they are poor because foreigners own all the mines, commercial banks, schools, hospitals and good residential houses.
Yet the dictator will not tell their often gullible audience where the billions of dollars these foreign-owned companies pay in taxes end up. But very often, this money that should be used to improve the living conditions of the poor by investing in more social infrastructure is spent by ‘first ladies’ in expensive shopping sprees and educating their children in the very western countries they vilify at home!
I would understand when a government, like that of Mugabe, seeks to redistribute land by asking those who own big chunks (often acquired illegally) to give up some and hand it to landless blacks.
However, it is incomprehensible that in this era when every country is trying very hard to make the local regulatory environment conducive to private business so as to attract more investors, another man is confiscating private schools, hospitals, banks and shops.
I do not know how handing over a majority stake in the local business of British-owned Barclays Bank Plc to black people is going to help a rural peasant in Zimbabwe to have access to clean water, enough food or put medicines to rural hospitals. But I know that such moves will certainly weaken the financial sector and hurt the struggling economy further. This will result into further loss of jobs as the economy takes a nosedive.
On the other hand, you risk losing out completely in the competition for the dwindling foreign direct investments—the single sure creator of jobs and tax revenue.
Rather than sticking with politicians with no more ideas to take the continent to the next level of development, African people need to wake up and hold such bulls by their horns together with their cheer leaders.
It is now clear to me that free enterprise and life-presidency do not mix. And as ordinary people, we it is within our powers to choose between the two—that is the path to death (life-presidency) and the road to prosperity (free enterprise).