Diary

Change Comes to Zimbabwe (Hopefully) - New PM Morgan Tsvangirai's Inaugural Address Today

Yesterday, your humble correspondent noted that there was finally a chance for real change in Zimbabwe – as long-suffering opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was finally going to be sworn in as Prime Minister. My optimism wasn’t based on news reports, but rather on hearing from friends and colleagues down there that this might indeed finally be the breakthrough that would turn Zimbabwe around.

More below the fold.

Earlier today, Mr. Tsvangirai was indeed sworn in as Prime Minister, completing a power-sharing agreement in which Robert Mugabe will still remain as President; the old-line ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) will be splitting the cabinet portfolios, and the MDC also now has the upper-hand (finally) in Parliament (an election result that couldn’t be swept under the rug).

The cabinet ministers were also seated today, and Arthur Mutambara was sworn in as Mr. Tsvangirai’s deputy Prime Minister. As I noted yesterday, Mr. Mutambara and your humble correspondent share a common friend/colleague; because of this, your humble correspondent has already been invited to pay a visit to Zimbabwe once things settle down there.

Of more immediate interest, after his swearing-in, Mr. Tsvangirai gave a remarkable inaugural address; you can find it here, and it’s recommended for a complete reading for its combination of realism and determination.

When I was reading through the text earlier today, two things jumped out immediately at me.

First,

A culture of entitlement and impunity has brought our nation to the brink of a dark abyss.

This must end today.

Wow. It’s nice to hear a straight story like that rather than a lot of airy rhetoric.

And save that quote for future use; I hope to hear it from the new President in his/her 20 January 2013 inaugural address.

On a more practical level, this is quite interesting:

As Prime Minister I make this commitment that, as from the end of this month, our professionals in the civil service, every health worker, teacher, soldier and policeman will receive their pay in foreign currency until we are able to stabilize the economy.

These hard currency salaries will enable people to go to work, to feed their families and to survive until such time that we can begin to sustain ourselves as a country.

I hope he can make this stick, because it means he’s done his homework; when a smaller country’s currency becomes so debauched that it is beyond redemption, it is best to just abandon it and use a stronger, more stable currency – or any suitable combination of multiple currencies.

I saw this happen first-hand in Ecuador back in 1999, when they finally gave up on the crumbling sucre and officially dollarized. (Other places, such as Peru, didn’t make this official policy, but “on the street” the US dollar became an unofficial-official currency; prices were posted in both soles and dollars, and cash payments were made in any suitable combination of them.)

There are a couple of reasons (perhaps preemptively-known by Mr. Tsvangirai) why this actually has a pretty fair chance of working.

First, so many Zimbabweans have fled the country in recent years that there is (and will continue to be) a large flow of remittances back to relatives still in-country; simply allowing these remittance payments to remain in the currency of the country of their origin will generate an instant alternative-currency economy.

Second – and along a similar line – as is the case in most collapsed states, an underground economy developed in Zimbabwe for even the most basic necessities. Naturally, that economy ran itself on non-local currencies; so, once again, if this economy can simply be brought to the surface, it will induce a de facto alternative currency economy.

If tax collection can then begin in those currencies, this can indeed work.

Who knows what mix-and-match may result from this – possibly including Dollars, Euros, Pounds, and Rand. Even if the main alternative which rises is the Rand (the South African currency), that’s a big step in the right direction. (For example, the Namibian Dollar is pegged 1:1 to the Rand, and South African Rand notes are legal tender in Namibia; this has been a major contributor to stability in Namibia.)

(An additional report can be found here.)

So, we’ll see. There’s been optimism before that’s fizzled out. That may happen this time; but as I noted at the top, my main reason for thinking that perhaps it’s different this time is because that’s what I’m hearing directly from down in that part of the world.

Let us hope (and pray) so.

Maybe Zimbabwe is finally getting the divine intervention that it needs.