Volume 1 of Walter Montagu Kerr’s record of his journeys in our part of Africa at the advent of colonialism starts with a tribute to the Earl of Dunraven. The account is titled “The Far Interior: A narrative of travel and adventure from the Cape of Good Hope across the Zambesi to the lake regions of Central Africa”, and it was published in 1886.
Kerr dedicates the volume to “the Earl of Dunraven, whose inspiring counsel and kind encouragement strengthened the desire for those travels, of which the following pages are a record”, adding that the book is authored by the lord’s “kinsman and friend”. The lord in question was Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the fourth Earl of Dunraven. Wyndham-Quin, a Conservative politician, was to serve as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies twice under Lord Salisbury (remember him?) from 1885 to 1887, and was to sail to South Africa to voluntarily participate in the 1899-1902 Boer War (remember what that was about?).
There is a whole interesting story to be told about these relationships and the agendas of the personages, but it is not the story for today. Let us get back to Kerr and his account of his travels from South Africa’s southern-most point to Central Africa. Kerr arrives at a time the colonial propaganda machine is telling Britons to swiftly pack their bags for the Eden and adventure presented by Southern Africa. But Kerr is not impressed by what he sees when he enters Botswana, then known as Bechuanaland.
He states: “What a strangely worthless land is this! Everyone who passes through the place must think so. There seemed to be few inducements to the investing of capital in any part of Bechuanaland through which I passed.
“This opinion encourages me to remark freely that some of the later travellers in these parts have been too cruel in picturing to intending colonists that health, wealth, happiness, liberty, equality, fraternity, peace, retrenchment, reform, and all the other visionary blessings which the modern social state hankers after, await them in this Edenless paradise.
“Why should the truth be hid under the tinseled veil of eloquence?”
Kerr was rather brutal, but then again one has to consider that he was a European stepping into a desert-scape after having read glowing accounts meant to encourage his countrymen to move to this part of the world and establish settler colonialism on behalf of the Crown. What is of more interest here, however, is that last line, that question: “Why should the truth be hid under the tinseled veil of eloquence?”
We carry in The Sunday Mail today a story on the establishment of a special Cabinet Committee to look at the economic hydra known as three-tier pricing. Just about every Zimbabwean will be aware that most businesses now offer different prices depending on if one is paying using bond notes, US dollars or electronic/mobile money. Greenbacks are preferred by providers of goods and services as they are considered “real” cash, never mind that they remain a fiat currency backed by nothing physical.
This means if you do not have US dollars in Zimbabwe, you are going to pay more for goods and services. It is this problem that the Cabinet Committee will, among other things, look seek to address. The Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda, says: “The committee is looking into the whole regime of pricing. They are looking at areas where we can contribute along the value chain; to see whether we need to import some of the things we are importing. They are looking at where we can create our own value chain of local production without compromising quality.
“The broader interventions will also see a revisit to the question: To what extent can we rely on imports? This involves looking at ways in which we can quicken the process of import substitution without compromising quality.”
This is most welcome. As we have stated before, Zimbabwe’s over-reliance on imports remains our greatest undoing. Politicians, economists and analysts can throw around whatever number and nature of eloquent theories and conspiracy theories they desire, but the bottom line is that we are pumping out money while getting very little back in. And a lot of the things we are importing are nothing more than glorified trinkets meant to massage fragile egos while stunting the growth of our nation. Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 did well to try and stem the torrent of unnecessary imports, but more needs to be done.
The tinseled veil of eloquence cannot hide the fact that the obscenely expensive luxury cars or fifth-hand Japanese cast-offs that we bring in every year are bleeding us of hundreds of millions of unrecoverable dollars every year. Zimbabwe cannot keep on borrowing from Afrieximbank to sustain an economy in which businesses that are earning foreign currency are driving a three-tier pricing system that benefits only the already rich and the well-connected.
We have to start earning foreign currency and reduce borrowing, and this can only be done by enforcing discipline that stops the haemorrhaging so that our money goes into building local capacity.
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