Saturday, July 27, 2013

Zimbabwe Election Campaign 2013: My Observations

Three days to go to Zimbabwe's elections and never a dull moment to the election campaign. I thought I'd share with readers a few snippets of some of the goings-on in this crucial election campaign.

ZimboNames: Foreign readers trying to follow the action will quickly be perplexed by some of the English-sounding first names they encounter. You see, in Zimbabwe, names like Reason, Jealous, Hatred, Lovemore and Witness are actually common first names. So in our political circles we have Reason Wafawarova (a political analyst), Psychology Maziwisa (a publicity guru for the ruling party ZPF), Stylish Magida (an opposition politician), Lovemore Madhuku (who runs a leading NGO), Jealousy Mawarire (a polittical operative) and Kisnote Mukwazhi (a Presidential aspirant). 

Party Colours: All the political parties have their own colours to identify themselves, but the party-colour that has really piqued my attention is the bright-red worn by the main opposition MDC-T. In the picture below is the MDC-T's youthful organising secretary, Nelson Chamisa (dressed up as an Oakland pimp, in matching red shoes, suit and tie), dancing with the party faithful.

The British: Yes indeed, the British bogeyman has to make an appearance in these elections. Speeches made at campaign rallies of the ruling-party ZPF always site the Brits as the cause of most of the country's woes. It's the British this, and the British that. A Martian listening in on the radio would presume that these were the British elections! 

The First Ladies: Not only are the Presidential candidates duking it out on the campaign-trail, but their spouses are engaged in a bitter campaign of their own. After all, it's their husbands' jobs that are on the line. The incumbent, Amai Grace Mugabe, has gone for the jugular and I'm scoring it (boxing-style) 7-5 in her favour against her rival Elizabeth Macheka.  Below is a pic of the incumbent busting a move at a rally.

Below is a pic of the well-coiffed and manicured contender, Lizzy Macheka, on the campaign trail.

The SADC Observers: Many observing teams are being sent to observe these elections, with the A.U being the most prominent. SADC will also be sending its own observing-team, and no doubt, they will be observing the action...from the safety of Harare's local bars. You can always count on the SADC observers to catch up on a little gossip with their revolutionary comrades in Harare and to partake in a little (second) wife-chasing. After the elections are over, of-course, the SADC observers will deem the elections to have been "free-and-fair"...and all this "observation" will have come about without ever having left the comfy safety of Harare's watering holes.

The Numbers (just don't add up): A statistician would lose his mind trying to reconcile the figures being put forward by our electoral committee (Z.E.C). With an electorate of 6.4 million, why is there any need to print 8 million ballot papers? In some constituencies the number of registered voters are higher than registered residents. And when the votes are tallied, I'm sure some winning candidates will have received more votes than there are registered voters (in their constituency)! Tallying up the numbers in any African election is always fraught with difficulties, and let's only hope that a fair modicum of vote-counting is achieved in these crucial elections. Having said that: may the best man win! 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Zimbabwe Elections: Should Be About Dynamism and Generational Change

On my first trip home to Zimbabwe from College in N.America (early 90s) I made my way to see my grand-mother in Gweru. On seeing me she asked whether I still rode my bicycle as I did before, since she had been told that North American Winters were quite cold. I told her that, yes, I still rode but now most of my riding was indoors, in a gym, and on a stationary-bike. This I did to keep trim. We then went on a back-and-forth in our (Shona) language as I tried to explain to her exactly what a stationary-bike was and how it helped me stay fit. Now, my grand-mother knew what a bicycle was and she knew what exercise was, but she couldn't compute why someone would ride a bike and go nowhere! "Where will you be going on this bike of yours", she kept on pressing which I answered, "nowhere!'

I recalled this conversation with my late grand-mother this morning, when I was scanning the news updates on the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. The Amadala (old geriatrics in their late 60s, 70s and 80s) who run the ruling party ZANU-PF, are clueless as to why elections are held in the first place. They know what elections are and they duly aim to win (by any means possible), but the concept behind elections, of democratic dynamism, is beyond these old geriatric folks.

Like my late grand-mother asking me "where I was going" on a stationary-bike, these old folks probably ask out aloud, "but who will replace us if we lose?". They cannot compute that losing, change, dynamism, and an infusion of fresh-blood are implicitly written into any democratic system. In fact this dynamism is really what democracy is all about: a chance to give newer faces (and a fresh, younger generation) a democratic-mandate to tackle the nation's problems. Not only that, but democracy implicitly allows the older ruling elites to depart from the stage gracefully. This quandary, of Africa's geriatric ruling elites not understanding why elections are held in the first place, is what's holding modern Africa back.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Dictatorial Route To Egyptian Democracy

The antidote to snake-bite is antevenom made from snake-poison. Similarly, to cure the need for authoritarianism and "strong-man" rule in Egypt, the Egyptian state must first have to be subjected to a harsh dose of iron-fisted rule by a strong leader -- and this heavy-handed rule must be buttressed by full-blown capitalism. Egypt neither has the resources (like Saudi Arabia) to re-distribute to a pliant populace nor can it afford Liberal Democracy on the empty bellies of its 85 million people, half of whom are illiterate and live on $2/day. After all, "you can't eat democracy", goes the old saying.

Here's my crude blue-print for what Egypt has to do to get itself out of its malaise. Firstly, a strong leader should be at the helm; someone who can rule with an iron-fist and who eschews all the niceties and trappings of democracy. Secondly, the strong-leader must appoint a small team of leading economists and technocrats to implement a top-down, root-and-branch overhaul of the Egyptian economy. Egypt has no choice but to go with the full-blown form of Capitalism. Demographic pressures on the ground and a woeful lack of resources means that it must literally go for broke with full-blown Capitalism. There literally is no other way!

The team of economists and technocrats must immediately implement the following economic measures: (a) all capital-controls to be lifted (b) all tariffs on capital-equipment to be removed (c) the Egyptian Pound to be made free-floating (d) all loss-making state-enterprises to be sold (e) all restrictions on the-ease-of-doing-business removed. In this business-friendly environment it should take no less than a week to start a business, and all the paper-work should be available online. (f) the removal of all food and fuel subsidies. I know this will be extremely painful, but these are the subsidies that are bankrupting the state, and the Egyptian state can ill-afford such extravagance. And finally (g) a flat tax of 15% to encourage Egypt's wealthy class to pay their fair share of taxes. Compliance with such a low flat-tax will increase (and not decrease) revenues in a developing economy like Egypt's.

After enacting the above measures the Egyptian economy will start to grow again, albeit from a low base. Egypt should be shooting for growth rates of between 7-10% per year (economic growth of 10% per year will double the economy every seven years). Egypt's poor masses cannot eat the empty rhetoric of democracy, but what they can eat is the sustained prosperity of a growing economy. Once the economy ticks, THEN incremental political and social reforms can be implemented. This is an important point: get the economics right first, and then tackle all other needed reforms. I repeat: this is a crucial point. Often nations like Egypt (stuck in a rut) try to "democratise" their way out of their problems first, before tackling economic problems, with the result being more misery and even anarchy.

A growing economy will feed on itself and a more prosperous citizenry will then demand a greater say in the running of their own affairs. Once the hypothetical "strong-man" hears these words from the streets, he will then know that it's time to allow for a more democratic political-dispensation. And that, my friends, is how Egypt can steer itself to a more prosperous and viable democracy, via the steely hand of a dictatorial-regime and prudent economic policies. If it sounds contradictory, it actually isn't. That's how South Korea and Chile steered themselves from misery to prosperity, and then gradually to viable democracy.