African Think Tanks stretch out their hands to the people of Zimbabwe

Nine African think tanks, concerned about conditions in Zimbabwe are co-sponsors of the Zimbabwe Papers: A Positive Agenda for Zimbabwean Renewal – Coalition for Market & Liberal Solutions; Zimbabwe; IMANI: The Centre for Policy and Education, Ghana; Initiative for Public Policy Analysis, Nigeria; Institute for African Economics, Guinea; Law Review Project, South Africa; Le Centre des Affaires Humaines, Burkino Faso; Free Market Foundation, South Africa and Centre for Ethics and Technological Development, Nigeria.

The Zimbabwe Papers contain proposals for reform that, if implemented, would not only rapidly improve conditions for the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe but also make them once again a thriving and productive nation. The country that was once described as the ‘bread-basket of Africa’, can regain its former title if it applies sensible policies such as those outlined and explained in the carefully prepared proposals.

Excerpts from the papers describe the reasons for their preparation:

‘Zimbabwean citizens have had a hard time over the last decade. Life expectancy has declined, the majority of the people are unemployed, nearly half the people do not have enough food to eat, and the children have suffered terribly from malnourishment and illness.’

‘The suffering of the Zimbabwean people is not the consequence of historical or external factors. It is entirely due to policies adopted, decisions made, and actions taken by the government of Zimbabwe. Many people have been the victims of violence perpetrated by the government, the institution that was supposed to protect them and provide them with an institutional environment in which they could lead happy and productive lives.’

‘African friends of Zimbabwe, who have observed the suffering of its people with helpless concern for many years, wish to assist in the best way they can. Schooled in political economy, they have prepared documents that offer proposals for policy changes that can be used to bring about reforms to transform Zimbabwe: reforms that can restore it to its rightful place as one of Africa’s most thriving, peaceful and prosperous countries.’

‘When the opportunity for change arises, the people of Zimbabwe will need to act quickly to put policies in place that will change their lives for the better, and dramatically improve the prospects of future generations. High economic growth is a matter of choice, not destiny. It depends on the nature of the policies, laws, and institutions that are put in place by the people of a country to ensure that they have good governance and economic and social conditions that lead to peace, economic opportunity and prosperity.’

Some of the ideas for reform put forward in the Papers deal with:

Currency stabilisation
Economies are destabilised by currency inflation and crippled by hyperinflation. The death of the Zimbabwe dollar and the formal adoption of a choice-in-currency policy, with the SA rand, US dollar and Botswana pula in most general use, is a positive step towards currency stabilisation and the revival of the economy. Ensuring that there is not a recurrence of currency instability must remain a permanent feature of future economic policy.

Tax reform
Private capital investment, not aid, is the most essential financial requirement for the revival of the Zimbabwe economy. A competitive tax environment will be necessary to attract capital investment and provide citizens with incentives to rebuild the economy. Low taxes and simplified tax laws will encourage foreign investment and the entrepreneurial activity that is needed to rapidly lift the country out of poverty.

Lowering trade barriers, improving infrastructure and streamlining customs have the potential to bring about enormous improvements in the people’s general welfare. An increased flow of products and people across the country’s borders will attract ideas, entrepreneurial talent and technology. More active trade will improve relations with neighbouring countries and bring about greater political stability.

Property rights
Restoring the inviolability of private property rights is a crucial requirement for the future economic progress of Zimbabwe. A strong constitutional and statutory framework for the protection of property rights against arbitrary seizure is vitally necessary to gain and retain the confidence of potential investors.

Mineral rights
Abundant natural resources do not automatically translate into prosperity for the people. The allocation and subsequent protection of mineral rights have to be carried out within a transparent framework that is free of arbitrary government decision-making, respected by the country’s people, and trusted by investors. Efficient extraction will follow, jobs will be created, and citizens will gain the greatest benefit from the country’s natural resources.

That water is a necessity of life does not mean that the government should provide it. Clearly defined, enforceable and transferable water rights that allow people to buy the water they need, provides the people, including the poor, with greater access to the water than is provided by government monopolisation of water rights.

Health care
Good health is essential for human flourishing and government’s role is to create the circumstances in which people can live healthy and productive lives. This does not mean that government should provide health care, any more than it should provide food, clothing or shelter. Rather, it means that government should create conditions within which the maintenance of good health is possible.

Zimbabwe’s general economic problems are not the only reason for its high unemployment rate. The situation is exacerbated by regulations intended to ‘protect’ employees. If it is difficult to fire employees, firms are less likely to hire people. Employment contracts governed by Zimbabwe’s common law will provide employees with protection without creating barriers to employment: reform measures should therefore restore to employees and employers their contractual rights.

Freeing enterprise
Business regulations in Zimbabwe are confusing, arbitrary and costly; they inhibit business start-ups, repel foreign investment, reduce productivity and depress wages. Regulations that unnecessarily inhibit economic activity should be swept away in order to allow entrepreneurs and businesses to kick start the process of economic growth.

Controlling violence
Few people would choose to live in a society rampant with violence. Preventing violence should therefore be the highest priority of any government. Zimbabwe reform must reduce violence, crime and arbitrary violation of people’s rights.

Free speech and the media
Few rights are more fundamental and more crucial to our well-being than the right to free speech and free expression. Freedom of speech and expression, including freedom of the press and other media, freedom to receive or impart information or ideas, and academic freedom, must be guaranteed in the new Zimbabwe constitution.

The ideas for reform contained in the Zimbabwe Papers are not comprehensive. They are those that from all accounts appear to be most essential and urgent. A copy of the full report is available at

Author: Temba A Nolutshungu is a director of the Free Market Foundation and a Zimbabwe Papers commissioner. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.

FMF Feature Article / 19 May 2009
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