Friday, August 26, 2005

Death (of a nation) by constitution

The draft version of a bill purporting to amend Zimbabwe's constitution was introduced in parliament this week largely unnoticed in MSM the world over. Sadly for those of us for whom the Zimbabwean crisis is an inescapable reality, the proposed 17th amendment is going to effectively eradicate property rights,cinch off the last outlets our beleagured populace had left to mitigate the harsh circumstances at home and expose the national fiscus to further ZANU-PF looting by reintroducing senate.

The most talked about piece of the amendment--the reintroduction of the senate--has far less ominous consequences for much of the country than the other two changes the ammendment proposes. Off course the reintroduction of the senate, abolished in 1989 by the same people, is just a means to ameliorate the suffering of ZANU-PF bigwigs left exposed to the harsh realities of life outsed of parliament and government (like the ordinary people). Despite a bloated cabinet, special commissions, parliamentary appointments etc., Mugabe was still unable to guarantee the opulent lifestyles that had become mundane to his cronies in his party. Senate will allow them a sanctuary to escape the toughness of life in Zimbabwe complete with all the tax funded perks, power and publicity.

While there will be elections, there are guarantees that the plebiscite will only be academic. The 65 member senate will feature five elected representatives from each of Zimbabwe's ten political provinces. Mugabe will handpick the remaining 15 members from among the chiefs and "special interest groups."

"After internal party primary elections to select suitable candidates, a total of 50 senators are to be elected, leaving the remaining 15 nonpolitical members to be appointed by the state president from special interest groups, such as members of the council of chiefs, women and representatives from the agricultural and business sectors. Candidates younger than 40 years of age will not be eligible for senate positions."
See this.

There are longstanding rumors that the traditional chiefs electoral college has 10 guaranteed seats. Traditional chiefs are not elected and are firmly pro ZANU-PF. This means ZANU-PF will go on the senate campaign trail with a quarter of the seats in pocket. Add to that intimidation and numerous allegations of rigging from over the years, then you'll see what I meant when I said the elections will be academic at best.

While the senate (re)invoking piece of the amendment is targeted to empower an elite minority, revoking property rights and enabling goverment to restrict the movement of it's citizens strips the majority of two of the most fundamental powers in any functional society.

Rescinding private property rights kills the economy. Let me explain why recantation of private land holdings is a death warrant for capitalist (or any for that matter) economic development in Zimbabwe. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you're well aware of my deep reverence for Hernando De Soto a Peruvian giant in the world of development economics. De Soto says, "Capital is not the accumilated stock of assets, but the potential it holds to deploy new is the great wheel of circulation but is not capital because value cannot consist in those metal [and paper] pieces" (The mystery of capital) The very underpinnings of the capitalist system reside not in money or the property, but in the ability of those things to generate productivity. De Soto adds, "Capital is born by representing in writing--in a title, a security, a contract, and in other such records." He calls this the "fungibility of assets. " Without this ability to spawn off more production (fungibility) property is dead and so too is the economy.

When there is no private ownwership of property (as the government is proposing to do), land holders have--at best-- constrained incentive to be creative and unleash the productive potential of the land they hold. The disincentive: that the lend will revert back to the state when the lease expires. Likewise, lenders are less willing to fund development because the land has little to no value as it cannot be sold off. Even if lenders are compelled by some statutory involvement by government (which I suspect will happen,) the value of the funds they are willing to shore up is grossly reduced and undermined by the fact that property isn't fungible. That is the fundamental reason why rescinding property rights is a mistake. Just in case you're reading this and have a huge cavity between your eyes, this clearly has nothing to do with selling out or handing the land back to the colonialists.

Jonathan Moyo, former information minister turned independent parliamentarian captures this argument in his own garrulous way,
"The constitutional Bill provides for selective nationalization of the best and most of the agricultural land. This means that Zimbabwe will henceforth have three competing land tenure systems: (a) statehold, (b) freehold and (c) leasehold. Whereas land leased under a freehold system has a market or economic value; land leased under statehold has no market or economic value and thus cannot be used for trading purposes as an economic asset. Having economically valueless land all over the place will not bring any finality to land reform.

Statehold does not empower the people but empowers only a clique, the ruling clique that is, which calls itself “the State”. This is a serious problem especially in times such as the present moment when the nation is divided and polarized and where the levels of public mistrust of the government are very high to a point where the State is synonymous with a tiny group of individuals driven by all manner of political, social and economic prejudices.

The presumption that land leased under statehold can empower anyone leasing it is a legal and economic fallacy. In fact, there can be no empowerment without ownership. The people who had their land stolen during colonialism want their land back; they want to own and they are entitled to its ownership and they must therefore be given title deeds without being forced to lease their land from a small and corruption prone clique that defines itself as “the State”. Because the State is always a contested terrain, empowering the State is not the same as empowering the people.

Thus, the Constitutional Bill’s proposed statehold will render land valueless and this will undermine economic confidence and economic production and mess up property rights and asset development in an economy where the majority was long dispossessed of its assets.
The amendment also seeks to empower government to curb free movement of Zibmabweans. While they long siezed this right within the country, we have continued to enjoy the ability to travel abroad at will. Now that too is threatened. The official reason given is to stop the movements of Zimbweans whose activities might pose a threat to national interest. What national interest? Understaffed schools and hospitals because proffesionals have fled the country for employers that can actually afford to pay them? Or is it the national interest of keeping a story of one of world's worst tragedies from being retold on the global front?

What this ammendment means is that as the economy continues to fail citizens will be entrapped within the oppressive walls of a collapsing tyranny. In essence, millions of ordinary Zimbos have to endure the brunt of burden brought upon them by an elitist leadership that is in constant flight from that very same reality.

But there's hope. That hope comes from within the people themselves.

How much more can they take from us. How much longer will the charade hold together? It's falling part and this is just how desperate they are to hold things together.

Nature allows for only two reactions to threats on the wellbeing of all of its constituents humans included; fight or flight. Zimbabwean people are no exception to this rule. They've boxed us in eliminating flight, the only option we have is to fight off the adversity creeping up on us from every direction.

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