The Forthcoming 2018 Elections in Zimbabwe: A Gaze from the Economic Lens

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This blog post attempts to proffer insights on the possible influence of prevailing economic circumstances and how they may play out in political dynamics in the run-up to the 2018 elections. Zimbabwean politics has been intensely competitive since the formation of the MDC in 1999, giving the ruling ZANU PF the most effective challenge since independence. Nowhere, however, did the opposition come any closer to clinching electoral victory than in 2008 where they were eventually talked into sharing power after a violent build up to the run-off elections. The two parties will face each other again in 2018 and the question that remains is whether the efforts at ‘grand coalition’ building will address the deficiencies of the opposition. However, as 2018 draws near, it is becoming crystal clear that the structural constraints facing the economy is already setting the battlelines for political parties. Therefore, debates on ‘grand coalition’ building in one way or another will have to address the question of the economy in a manner that will resonate with the ordinary men. The political parties that will see beyond electoral fraud and malpractices in their strategies will most likely have more traction with voters.Read More »

Lessons from Kaundanomics

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A story is told that a few years after independence in 1964, Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, visited one of the mines in the mineral rich Copperbelt Province and was immediately struck by the complete absence of Zambians in senior management positions. He proceeded to ask the mine owners as to when they reasonably thought Zambians would be ready to occupy positions of influence within the country’s mining sector. With straight faces, the mine owners responded “not before 2003, Mr. President.”Read More »

An Economic Strategy for The Gambia?

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I was privileged recently to spend a little time in The Gambia, whose people recently overthrew a megalomaniacal, authoritarian and in many respects vicious President, Yahyeh Jammeh, in an extraordinary democratic moment, due to their courage and the timely supportive action of other countries in West Africa (and very little if at all due to support from major powers, apart from their role in placing some effective limits on prior abuses and eventually supporting a Security Council resolution that helped to legitimize the ECOWAS action).

I was able to observe a moving event in which members of the country’s diaspora, from Alaska to Taiwan and from Cape Verde to Sweden, most of whom were active in opposition (and quite a number of whom were highly educated professionals successful in the countries to which they have departed) assembled to meet the new President and to express their pleasure at the New Gambia as well as their sincere hopes for the future. Conversations with ordinary Gambians reveal general relief and enormous optimism. Arguably, the current juncture provides the first opportunity since the country’s independence in 1965 for a broad ranging public conversation on the ends and means of development.Read More »

The Financialization of Africa’s Development

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Financial development has gained prominence in Africa. Only with slight reservation around the regulatory environment, most country and regional studies of financial development paint a strikingly positive picture of its impact on growth, poverty and inequality. [i] This optimism with finance in Africa is corroborated with increase in financial flows, expansion of commercial bank branches, growth of regional banks, rise in microcredit institutions and success of mobile payment systems. [ii] However, poverty and inequality remain persistently high. There are more poor people in Africa today than in 1990, and 7 of the 10 most unequal countries in the world are in Africa. [iii] Hardly has any progress been made in addressing a most obstinate infrastructure gap unsettling the continent. In addition, Africa’s most recent average growth of 1.5 per cent is at its lowest in two decades. As such, the underscored belief in financial development as a driver of progress is exaggerated, since it seems to disregard the immediate needs of the people on the continent.

For these reasons, a growing body of literature now demonstrates wariness with the financial development narrative. An aspect of this literature reveals that the success story of microfinance in Africa is not quite what the proponents claim it to be. There is evidence of how the poor were plunged into a crisis of over-indebtedness in South Africa, through microfinance lending. By 2012, the country’s debt amounted to a staggering 75 per cent of disposable income. [iv] This experience contradicts the proposed poverty alleviating effects of microfinance. Like other forms of finance, its dominant motivation has been found to be profit seeking rather than poverty alleviation. Similar caution has been expressed about the celebrated rise of electronic payment systems,[v] prominent in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Yet, more than just caution is needed to ensure that the proliferation of finance does not continue to wield detrimental effects on economic development in African countries.Read More »