The nexus between individual prosperity and (and a liberal) political environment

Rejoice Ngwenya is the founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO) in Zimbabwe, and a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation. COMALISO works for a Zimbabwe that respects the free market, property rights and constitutionalism. 

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This article was first published by the Bbrief o
8 February 2023 
(see hard copy at the end)

The nexus between individual prosperity and (and a liberal) political environment

Assuming I come across as an ardent ‘convert’ of libertarian Miltonian philosophy, it is not by accident and I take it as a compliment. If the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner commented authoritatively on the ‘relation between economic and political freedom’ I dare say in pursuing economic prosperity for African countries, it is high time our leaders realise and accept that there is no substitute for political stability. Several African countries – Zimbabwe included – have regime leaders specialising in diplomatic bravado – portraying their countries as havens of stability and frontiers of peace at international conventions. This is a futile exercise because the economic growth trajectories of those countries betray their self-righteous delusion. Whenever political instability is prevalent, no amount of state-inspired propaganda will push the country up the index of prosperity.
At the outset, it is important to understand what a ‘good’ political environment entails before one examines its impact on the prosperity of citizens. Some scholars say, “Political environment is the state, government and its institutions and legislations and the public and private stakeholders who operate and interact with or influence the system.” Indian digital entrepreneur Hitesh Bhasin is generous enough to consider all macro environmental elements, which is sensible because national prosperity is a direct product of multiple factors. Politics is “the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power”. If one narrows such ‘activities’ to the individual, one ends up in the realm of freedom, in which case Friedman is correct to associate ‘good’ politics with individual freedom and individual prosperity.
This is where tyranny of African dictatorship remains entrenched in denial. Dictators tend to associate ‘political stability’ with longevity of (their) stay in office or hold on political power. In other words, the longer they remain in power the more ‘acceptable’ they think they are. Both Zimbabwe National African Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU.PF) and African National Congress (ANC) have ‘imposed’ their nationalist governance in Zimbabwe and South Africa respectively since the dawn of self-governance. We are often reminded ad nauseum by State propaganda that there is no civil war in Zimbabwe and that citizens are or ought to be ‘happy’ with electoral outcomes. Moreover, our governments are ‘committed to fighting corruption’ and have ‘excellent relationship with other countries’. However, these are political illusions meant to hoodwink gullible rural voters and also fodder for international media consumption.
My problem with this ‘global spectrum’ of so-called ‘political stability’ is that it totally ignores the material aspects and needs of individuals. For instance, if South Africa is considered as one of the most unequal societies in the world; while Zimbabweans are considered to be some of the most food insecure people in the world – how then can both countries’ political environments be rated as ‘good’? ZANU.PF apologists opine that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has initiated scores of ‘mega deals’, not to mention road infrastructure and social expenditure in ‘command agricultural support’. Yet according to the latest World Bank report, Zimbabweans are burdened with one of the highest inflation rates in the world (with no genuine own currency). Millions of its citizens are in economic exile in South Africa, England, USA and Australia as billions in US dollars are squandered in State-inspired corrupt deals. This is a recipe for medium to long term individual and national poverty.
The point really is that Zimbabwe’s political environment is foul, the very reason its manifestations are individual and national poverty. Elections every five years where there is deprivation of political freedom are a farce. Deprivation, in whatever form, is anathema to individual, economic, social and political freedom. It poisons the environment and drives the indices of individual wealth into the combustible red zone. If you note the number of political assassinations in South Africa- particularly KwaZulu-Natal during elections, let alone hundreds of violent service delivery protests, it leaves you with no doubt in your mind that the country suffers a certain degree of political deprivation. There is definitely something skewed about ANC governance that is upsetting that country’s political balance.
Zimbabwe is currently facing a second crucial election after the 2017 military coup that deposed dictator Robert Mugabe. Elections are an ominously bad omen for Zimbabweans, a tragedy waiting to unfold. Mnangagwa’s government is essentially a de facto military junta intent on strengthening his stranglehold on power. His regime has embarked on a conceited and relentless effort to completely eliminate democratic space, in the process silencing dissenting voices, this with a repertoire of restrictive legislative instruments. Even the national electoral management body – Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) - has virtually been strangled.

Zimbabweans are a traumatised, vilified, and globally sanctioned lot. Thousands of medical personnel are leaving the country in search of greener pastures as the military junta and its cronies plunder more national resources. State institutions are captured for high level corruptive self-enrichment. Even former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo observed that tolerance of Zimbabwe’s current political order will push other African countries into legitimising coup detat. Someone ought to pushback this lunatic trajectory by reminding Zimbabweans of liberal tenets of democracy. Any such advocacy must target Heads and PR directors of CSOs, Media Houses, Community groups, State Constitutional Rights institutions, Judiciary institutions, Police and Military institutions, Church Organisations and Traditional Leaders, private media owners and retired judges.

The aim is to encourage them to mainstream – as Hitesh Bhasin would observe - matters of rule of law, constitutionalism and respect for electoral rights in all their public engagements i.e., equalise the country’s political environment for the sake of individual and national prosperity. Mnangagwa’s toxic electoral, digital surveillance, civil society, ‘patriotism’ laws are an example of bad politics designed by a leader who wants not only to strengthen his political power but also eliminate democratic space. That in my view is the death of free market economics. As Friedman would say, even if Zimbabwe is a capitalist state, that is not enough to yield individual and national prosperity.
If therefore you thought that the vast reserves of gold, platinum, lithium, the country’s massive tobacco exports, and highly educated human capital must indeed drive my fellow countrymen and I into a state of ‘ridiculously obscene individual wealth’, reverse your analysis because my country’s political environment is vile.

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