Blame it on the Cremora

6 07 2016

Cremora, that coffee creamer stuff, can no longer be imported into Zimbabwe. Actually, there’s quite a long list of goods that are now prohibited including dairy products, steel, bottled water and more. This first came into effect (yes, it’s been rescinded and reinstated at least once) some 10 days ago and immediately sparked riots at the southern border post of Beitbridge on the South African frontier. Customs officials were confiscating goods that cross-border traders in this country depended on to make a living. Normally placid Zimbabweans were incensed and rioted. The revenue authority backed down. Then the ruling was reinstated and the riots started again. A warehouse was burnt which apparently contained new bonded vehicles.

On Monday, perhaps inspired by these events, minibus drivers clashed with police in the southern suburban areas and in Ruwa, a small town to the east of Harare. Word was they were fed up with the bullying attitude of the police at roadblocks. Even the government owned Herald newspaper weighed in on this topic a couple of weeks back, criticizing the police. A disturbing photo of a policeman wielding an AK47 with one booted foot on the head of a protester did the rounds. I was sent a particularly brutal video clip of police beating protesters. Yesterday civil servants were due to go on strike over delayed wages and the first reports of WhatsApp started to filter in. Evan Mawarire of #ThisFlag fame sent out an impassioned and widely circulated video calling for a national shutdown today. He emphasized for it to be peaceful and non-political, calling for the government to act against rampant corruption that had been detailed in the Auditor General’s report submitted to parliament last week. She estimated that around US$1bn had been misappropriated by government officials in 2015 alone (this is about 8% of the GDP). The ZTV news report started the day with a story about grain millers (it’s a government channel) and nothing was said about any disturbances.

This morning, while at work (we were closed for business but seedlings don’t stop growing in protest), I received 2 calls from friends in Germany obviously concerned about developments. One was on WhatsApp the other on Skype. They could hear me but I couldn’t hear them. When I got home for lunch there were widespread reports on Facebook about the apparent blocking of social media by the government. There were also more than a few suggestions about how to circumvent the blocks with VPNs (virtual private networks).  Photos abounded of empty streets and shopping centres. Hackers have taken down government websites in punishment for blocking WhatsApp. Facebook is currently unavailable on my desktop computer which has no VPN. My phone has one and I can read FB.

The Zimbabwe Government is broke and cannot pay its employees, including the military. Hence the restrictions on imports which are depleting the national coffers due to our appalling balance of trade deficit. Zimbabwe produces little of anything these days due to government actively scaring away investors by insisting that companies investing have a 51% locals shareholding. The once productive agricultural sector is moribund; most commercial farmers were evicted in a disastrous land reform exercise in the early 2000s.

The Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, and his entourage are in London begging for money. Their meetings with interested parties were poorly attended and they had to be escorted by the police as he exited Chatham House and was confronted by The Vigil – Zimbabwean protestors living in the UK.

Quite who dreamed up the list of imports to be restricted to save us money is not clear. Yes, we can do without bottled water and imported vegetables but Cremora? Really, how much is that going to save us? Of course the MDC opposition was quick to take advantage and claim that various ruling party members were favoring their local business. A bit too quick as it turns out. A MDC politician making just this claim on South African TV could not show that this was indeed the case. Twit.

And no, I don’t even use Cremora.





The law and the numbers

3 03 2014

“Chinamasa’s Job on the Line” blared the title page of the Financial Gazette, the weekly financial newspaper, on sale yesterday. Now the newspaper billboards in this country are as about as misleading as anywhere but the FinGaz or Pink Paper (the cover is printed on pink newsprint) is a little less sensationalistic than the rest of the competition and it does like to take itself a bit more seriously. So I bought a copy at the traffic lights (I made sure other vehicles could get past) and well, I needed some paper to start the braai (barbeque).

Patrick Chinamasa is the current Minister of Finance who has the unenviable job of finding enough money to keep the government running when it is obviously broke. Apparently President Mugabe had told him if he wasn’t up to the job he’d find someone else to do it.

Chinamasa’s background is not in finance. I’m not sure what history is but he certainly had an easier run in his former portfolio as the Justice Minister. Mind you, it’s easy to run a ministry like that when you control the police so you effectively ARE the law. Paradoxically the previous finance Minister was Tendai Biti who actually is a lawyer and did a good job with extremely limited resources.

The FinGaz also notes that Chinamasa came back empty-handed from a recent world tour to source finance for the beleaguered government. No real surprise this as apparently potential investors are concerned about the 51% law which requires all Zimbabwe companies to have a majority indigenous shareholder. Despite being born here I am not indigenous – all locally born blacks are considered indigenous as is anyone born after independence in 1980. Well, Comrade Chinamasa likely has an insurmountable problem ahead of him. The laws of economics (which is just a branch of mathematics) are inviolate unlike his previous ministry where the law was wide open to manipulation and interpretation. And even our good friends the Chinese don’t want to help out.