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Zimbabwe Under Siege 4/13

The establishment of a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in September 1999, found instant support from Western leaders. Significant funding from Western sources enabled the party to rapidly grow to the point where it won 57 out of 120 seats in the June 24-25 2000 parliamentary election, less than one year after its creation. Ostensibly based in the labor movement, the program of MDC reads like a call for a return to ESAP. A policy paper issued by the party spelled out its plans for privatization. Upon taking power, the party plans to appoint a "fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies." The boards of all public enterprises would be "reconstituted," and the new boards would be "required to privatize their enterprises within specified timetables...with an overall target of privatizing all designated parastatals [public companies] within two years." The interests of Western capital would not be ignored. "In areas where a high level of technical skill is required, foreign strategic investors will be encouraged to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatized." A primary principle of the program would be that "all sales of major state assets will be conducted through open, international [that is, Western], competitive bidding." In order to counter opposition from workers made redundant, the National Privatization and Procurement Agency would be instructed to "carry out public awareness campaigns regarding the privatization program in order to generate public awareness and support for the exercise." Implementation of its program, the MDC feels, will mean "that foreign direct investment will take place on a substantial scale." (10) As a further incentive for Western investors, the MDC plans to review income and corporate tax levels "for regional competitiveness." (11)

The MDC appointed an official of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Eddie Cross, as its Secretary of Economic Affairs. In a speech delivered shortly after his appointment, Cross articulated the MDC economic plan. "First of all, we believe in the free market. We do not support price control. We do not support government interfering in the way people manage their lives. We are in favor of reduced levels of taxation. We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years." (12)

A press release issued by ZANU-PF presents a contrasting vision for Zimbabwe. "For ZANU-PF, the central question was and still is who benefits from the management of the economy? The answer is simple; it must be the broad masses of our people. That is where we differ with the MDC and with other parties. They want to benefit the employers and the capitalists. We say no, no, no." (13)

Western Response

As Zimbabwe moved away from the neoliberal path dictated by Western financial institutions, Western hostility grew. On September 24, 2001, the IMF "declared Zimbabwe ineligible to use the general resources of the IMF, and removed Zimbabwe from the list of countries eligible to borrow resources under the Poverty and Growth Facility." The stated motivation for the cutoff was that Zimbabwe had fallen $53 million in arrears on payments. Rather than work with Zimbabwe, as the IMF had elsewhere in similar circumstances, the IMF "urged the Zimbabwean authorities to adopt the economic and financial policies needed to enable Zimbabwe to achieve economic recovery as soon as possible." In other words, the IMF felt nervous at indications that ZANU-PF was abandoning ESAP, and was demanding a return to the neoliberal agenda. The IMF added that it "stood ready to cooperate with the authorities in support of efforts to adopt and implement a comprehensive economic recovery program." (14)

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