Is Nelson Chamisa an Incompetent, Drooling and Cluess Minister?

Nelson Chamisa (minister of information & comunication technology, above) and the MDC are taking policy cues from Chairman Mugabe's Little Red Book

What on earth has possessed Nelson Chamisa, the MDC minister in charge of ICT, which includes internet and mobile phone companies?

Zimbabwe's internet was switched off again on Saturday night. It had been restored on Friday afternoon after a week of complete shutdown. The restoration was through the limited-access South Africa links. It is still off and you should not expect the problem to be truly solved before the end of this year, if at all. As for first-world standards, you should forget about that for as long as MDC-PF are in power.

As I have been saying since the year 2001, at least, the MDC has no policy platform whatsoever and this was amply demonstrated by the blundering Minister of ICT in Zimbabwe, MDC's Spokesman, Nelson Chamisa.

Now in government and "in charge of policy formulation and implementation" (as the Prime Minister reminds us at every opportunity), the MDC are simply adopting failed, discredited and stupid ZANU PF policies. Take the issue of prices charged by the mobile phone companies now, for instance. This is something that falls into the MDC camp, with Chamisa in charge, the same minister who is presiding over this disgracing of Zimbabwe through a complete internet shutdown for the entire nation. I got mail on Friday from people all over the world who said essentially the same thing: "Come on, we are in the 21st Century. Internet switched off? That is inconceivable, just can't be true."

But true it is.

We know that ZANU PF totally messed up all sorts of things, including this, the internet issue. But MDC are in charge now of policy formulation and implementation. So we expected at the very least an abandonment of the policies that have brought us to the Gates of Hades at which we now stand. That would signal true change and a chance to give economic common sense and tried, tested policies to turn things around.

But no.

Last week, Comrade Minister Chamisa announced that mobile phone charges were too high in Zimbabwe (which they are) and he was going to send a directive to mobile phone companies to reduce their charges drastically. So, we are back to price controls, which everyone, including the resident madman at the corner of First St and Jason Moyo as well as street kids, knows does not work. ZANU PF tried it and service suffered as a result. Infrastructure collapsed. Because profit margins are a function of the market, and not a result of a minister's say-so. It is an elementary concept, really, and I wonder how the MDC fail to grasp it.

What on earth has possessed Chamisa? I ask again.

What will happen is the mobile phone companies will reduce their charges, yes, but then they will also stop investing in infrastructure expansion, congestion will increase and the system will collapse yet again as it has under ZANU PF.

The solution to unreasonable price increases is simply to increase competition, a simple, proven concept that the MDC fails to grasp. Open up the market. If CellC of South Africa or MTN or Vodacom or a local entrepreneur wants to set up a new mobile phone company, let them. The only condition for granting that licence should be that the new company demonstrate how it would do things differently to increase competition. Once there is competition, no one company will have a hold on the consumer, free to abuse him/her with wanton price increases and dismal service. And as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, the new-comer will also have charges that are lower than those prevailing now.

The locals will have to drop their prices as well. If they want money to expand their infrastructure, then they will have to bring in business partners to take a stake in their companies, paying for them in US dollars. Overcharging consumers to raise that money will simply not be good business then. The money invested by their new equity holders is then used to expand the locals' infrastructure. If they are too greedy to reduce their shareholding in their own companies, then they will go under and no one should mourn them.

The same principle applies even to basic foods. We now have local millers of mealie meal and flour the staple foods of most of Africa, crying that imports are hurting them. Really? Are these not the same people who, when they were protected by Mugabe's communist government, simply charged three times what people in other countries pay for their mealie-meal?

Now they want government to ban imports of food or to impose punitive tariffs on them? To what end? So that they can increase prices again and use the super profits to buy cars and feather the nests of executives without investing in machinery and modernisation of their factories? No sirs and madams, if you can't withstand competition, then you must go under. Go broke. That will teach you.

But Nelson Chamisa's "directive" to mobile phone companies to reduce their charges shows us that the MDC will most likely also bend on this one. It is now official, the MDC also believes in the same failed policies of ZANU PF. They will most likely cave in and impose tariffs on foodstuff imported by individuals into Zimbabwe. This will be done in order "to protect local industry and save jobs." This is a common blackmail tactic of inefficient industry. If you do not protect us, x-number of families will be at risk because we will have to lay off people blah blah blah.

Let them go under if they must. The result of protectionist policies is inefficiency, overpriced and low-quality products and services. That is all there is to it. This is not something Zimbabwe can afford in a globalised economy, where our products, if they are to have an use to the nation, must compete on the international stage on the basis of quality and price differentiation.

Because of the MDC aping of ZANU PF way of doing things, we can expect that this government will make our lives worse, because there will be no change at all. The only things that have changed are the faces at some of the ministries. Even after being given carte blanche to formulate and implement policy, the MDC are showing that the best they can do is ape the failed policies of ZAU PF. It is quite frankly disgusting and bodes ill for the future of this battered nation.

So, yes, Nelson Chamisa is an incompetent minister. Not only because he has failed to solve the Zimbabwe internet problem for the more than one month that he has been in charge of this ministry, but most importantly because he has already started adopted ZANU PF policies in his ministry, going against all economic sense.

As he fights to be in charge of mobile phone companies and everything else, we now know that he just wants "powers" that he will do nothing with. He will simply dust off the mouldy policy files of the failed ZANU PF and seek to implement. It justifies what I have always said about the MDC being bereft of policies.


This aping of ZANU PF is going beyond policies, flashy cars etc. Take the simple matter of transparency, letting the voting citizens know what on earth is going on. How easy it would be to tell the internet public the truth! Instead, in the true tradition of ZANU PF, the consumer, the voter, is the last consideration for this bunch of new jokers. We have not been told how much is owed Intelsat. We have not been told how much has been paid. We were first told two weeks ago that TelOne has paid. Then when the South African links packed up and we were completely cut off, the Internet Service Providers Association was then told by TelOne that, no we actually only paid part of the debt and will not be reconnected until we pay it all off.

Now they are being told that by Monday 16 March 2009, the debt will be completely paid off. This is clearly a lie and you should not expect to be reconnected to your internet for weeks and weeks to come. Between the incompetent Minister, the incompetent TelOne and South Africa's equally incompetent Hellkom, this state of affairs is now going to become a way of life for Zimbabweans.

So, when I call this new creature MDC-PF, I am not just saying so. Some of us read that RESTART, the MDC "policy" document upon which they have been campaigning since 2002 and saw that it was not at all a "policy document." It has no ideas that are different from ZANU PF's failed ideas. There is no plan, as I have said before beyond presenting new faces to donors, cap in hand.

The biggest and loudest promise that the MDC has sold the undereducated (but schooled) Zimbabweans, is that they will succeed simply because they are not ZANU PF. That worked only when the MDC was the only viable opposition. Which is why the MDC has always been very afraid of another opposition party. Any opposition party that comes up, even if it is started by Jesus Christ Himself, will always be labelled by the MDC-PF as a ZANU PF plant. Instead of examining their own policy failures, they would rather scare voters by finding Secret Police skeletons in the cupboards of anyone who challenges them.

No more, we should say. I am heartily sick of this. The MDC has proved, in the short period that it has been in government, that it will simply follow ZANU PF ways of doing things, from a bloated cabinet to stupid policies like price controls.

More alarmingly, it is also now clear that the MDC does not believe in transparency and honesty in government, just like ZANU PF. They would rather keep people in the dark in order to lie more effectively. That is what ZANU PF does. They do not communicate to the public what problems there are or what challenges are impacting on service delivery.

The lack of money is an issue that can only go so far. Even if the aid does come in, with policies such as the MDC is now "formulating and implementing" as per their mandate in this government, we will still not see any improvement. Money is not a substitute for sound policy platforms. Surely Chamisa and Biti and Tsvangirai know this? Or do they?

Right now, people here in Zimbabwe are already saying things are getting worse than before the MDC joined government. High density areas are still without water from their taps. Some Southern Suburbs have been without electricity for weeks on end. Those that do have it, get such a weak supply that it will not lift their stoves in order to cook, so you will find Highfields, Glen Norah, Budiriro, Glen View and other areas enveloped in the smoke that comes from cooking fires. Outdoors. In the rain that has been pounding us now for over a week.

The city councils that the MDC have been in charge of for more than about a year now still do not collect rubbish. Mounds of rotting filth stench-up the neighbourhoods. People are simply tipping their rubbish in open spaces at the edges of their suburbs. Again, how easy it would be to open up refuse collection to bids from private contractors. Give them performance benchmarks. And then let them loose. Problem would be solves inside a week. The councils are already charging a line item on all bills and that item reads: "Refuse Collection."

Talk about extortion. Demanding money for a non-existent service!

What this means is that no one out there has any confidence in this new regime. And that has nothing to do with politics. One negotiator from a neighbouring country told a former Regional Diplomat from Zimbabwe that he was shocked when he sat down to negotiate with his Zimbabwean counterpart, a new minister in the Inclusive Government.

"He sounded more ZANU PF than ZANU PF itself," said the negotiator. "I think Zimbabweans do not understand economics at all, no matter what party they are from."

We have the people who can turn this thing around and the policies to do so are as clear as day. They just need the political will to be implemented. Right now, neither the MDC nor ZANU PF have that political will. And we will also need to have ruling parties that value competence above loyalty, meaning minister's will be given jobs because they have at least a clue as to what they are supposed to be doing. Then the Man in Charge must make sure they are not too busy polishing their new Mercedes Benzes and enjoying their new-found comfort and luxury to give a thought to the downtrodden who put them there.

The only thing that has changed so far in Zimbabwe is that food is now readily available in the shops, but even this is not going to last because the MDC and its new ZANU PF best friend will cave in to protectionist petitioning from local industry and try to freeze out imports. The local manufacturers will simply revert back to type. Price controls will be imposed on them because they still have the "super-profits" mentality from the hyperinflation days. They will then hold the nation to ransom by stopping production and asking for subsidies in foreign currency from government.

The MDC will give them the subsidies. And we will be back to square one.

Donors will keep their hands in their pockets because they cannot fund such myopic destructive policies.

At that time, the ZANUfication of the MDC will be complete and you will hear them shouting at the Western nations for refusing to help them.

With the policies of the MDC already exemplified by the policy pronouncements from Chamisa on price controls, the future of Zimbabwe is still bleak.

To answer the question: yes Nelson Chamisa is an incompetent, drooling minister and we can expect no change from him and his MDC fellow travellers in the comfortably inclusive MDC-PF government.

As for the internet, do not hold your breath, we are in for the long haul, because Chamisa has no clue, policywise. All this because the MDC have now "discovered a side of President Mugabe that we never knew," as Biti put it. So now Mugabe is the Messiah? One whose policies are sacrosanct and will be adopted by the new faces in government without questioning, let alone reasoning?

What an utterly disgusting, tattered and humiliated Zimbabwe we will have when this lot is done with us, only God can say.

It's enough to make you wish you had voted for Simba Makoni, I tell you!

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  1. My advice to Chamisa about the Internet is this:
    Potraze should license VSAT internet services at reasonable rates comparable to what Mozambique, Zambia, RSA are charging. There are currently quote a number of "illegal" VSAT connections throughout the country that provide a viable alternative to ludicrous charges by ECOWEB for ther so-called broadband offering. This way, the providers will face competition that will force their charges down. Additional, VSAT connections do not rely on Telone for Internet browsing, thus ZIm can never be blacked out no matter how much Telone stuffs up matters. Telone should be privatised, period.

  2. Denford, I do not think it’s about the individuals per ser but more about the systems in place. Otherwise we will be caught in a cycle of replacing people and getting no results. The type of governance Zimbabweans were angling for requires significant activism from the population in order for it to work. It assumes that everyone, the population and government are aware of the policies that need to be implemented. In other words that we already have benchmarks in place and all that’s required is for someone to go and implement those policies according to the preset benchmarks. It also assumes the population has the mechanism to measure performance of the government against the benchmarks and then hold those people accountable. In short that is the social contract required in that type of democracy.

    Zimbabweans wanted personnel changes without setting any benchmarks, and without putting in place any mechanisms for the population to monitor, communicate and or rectify anything during the course of governance period. When you send Chamisa in there, what had he said that expected you to think he would do a good job? Still what is it that you require and ask of Chamisa?

    The simple way of fixing this is to change the constitution to allow for ministers to be chosen on merit not by popular vote. That would allow for ministers to be accountable for their effectiveness as opposed to their political popularity. We were spoilt in 1980 when a lot of Zimbabweans based in the Diaspora came back to work for the government. Unfortunately the talent in the country right now is just not good enough and to expect it to do miracles is perhaps just a wish. What track record does Chamisa have outside of politics? Where did he work before joining MDC? How much and what is the level of assistance is he getting from the MDC on policy making?

  3. I think those Zanu Pf partners in gvt are now feeling the heat from the kitchen, than waiting to served at the dining table, with no knowledge how the food preparation was. It is one thing to shout from the terraces, than to be right in the pitch in the thick of things.
    Given the kind of opposition politics that MDC displayed, I still think Zimbabwe is not yet mature for multy-party politics. I have high regard to Dr Simbabw Makoni.

  4. Guys, this is wonderful stuff, at last some real debate on the policies and the nature of the parties that are governing us.

    @Petros, you make very good and very sound suggestions. The problem is that it appears the MDC never had its own policies on anything at all. So you now get them adopting ZANU PF policies (i.e. price controls). Although what you are saying makes sense, the MDC thought that being a good government meant supplying "food, jobs and housing" as they kept telling us in the campaign.

    Problem is, they did not know or realise what it takes to give people those things. Businessmen, foreign investors, will not come in here when they know that being in Zimbabwe means being cut off from their companies, with no communication at all, either through the internet or the crumbling Mobile phone infrastructure.

    @Nyatsimba Mutota: I missed your insightful comments, Sir, where have you been?!!! You have very valid and true points regarding the incompetence of Nelson Chamisa.

    You have valid arguments, also,when you ask what job he has ever done, what assistance he gets for policy formulation from the MDC etc.

    BUT, BUT, BUT....the MDC were at the forefront of telling us that they had different policies and strategies to tackle our problems.We were told of a miraculous turnaround within 100 days of them taking office.

    They claimed to have policies. Now they are ordering price controls? Price controls?!!! Like, what rock have you been living under for the last 10 years, Minister Chamisa? Are these not the same policies that destroyed Zimbabwe's mobile phone companies?

    What next? Should we expect to see the MDC invading farms violently? Siphoning off donor money to Swiss bank accounts?

    Did you know that the declared monthly salary bill for this government is US$50 million. MONTHLY, yes. With travel and other expenses claimed by civil servants, ministers etc, the annual bill tops US$1 billion!!!!

    Good God, I say!, and Tsvangirai tells us that Harare Hospital needs only US$1.5million to be put back into prime condition?

    Priorities? Is this a people's government or a Chefs' government?

    @Thoko, yes the MDC are now in the kitchen itself and instead of cooking up a different gourmet meal, they are preparing the same stody fare that ZANU PF gave us, inducing stomachaches and the runs!

    But, meantime, while they prepare this disgusting food for the rest of us to eat, lobster and caviar have been ordered for the kitchen staff!!!

    It is enough to make one puke.

  5. Denford, it sounds like you've got politics American Style. how sad I am for you and zimbabwe.

    maybe we can help you by sending in dick chaney to ramp up haliburton; and kbr. they seem to force businesses to start up wherever they set up shop. as you know they are the global masters at corruption so you can be assured of the very best graft system possible; with multiple levels of pay-offs for all ministers. even better than the old mugabe system - of just paying off the Zanu-pf.

    we're sure you've seen their most recent successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. they set up an industry to support a 5 day war, which has been going on for about 7 years now, with losses into the trillions.

    That's american innovation for ya, freedumb.

    just brilliant, absolutely criminally insanely brilliant, indeed my friend.

  6. @RE Ausetkmt: We would take Dick, but he has this nasty habit of killing off the natives wherever he sets up Haliburton.

    Zimbabweans have shown that they can endure anything except death, so we will have to pass!!!

  7. I think denford just hates the mdc and wants to pretend to know it all. numbers don't necessarily bring competition. we have 3 mobile operators, the same as SA and most other african countries, bots has a very dorminant player in mascom, but they charge reasonably. so its not abt how many they are. pricing in zimbabwe is like the pricing yePamusika, or if u want to sound sophisticates, like the oil industry where numbers dont mean reduced prices. those guys are overcharging, just like everyone else was doing. If spar, and miekles, and innscor are reducing prices, why not the cellphone companies. what extra costs do they incur that south africans dont incur. in any case, they don't have a wage bill, unlike their SA counterparts whose wage bill is a significant component of cost, and significant portion of revenue. why shld they be allowed to pay less in salaries, offer a shoddy service and charge more than pple can afford? they say getting zim from the doldrums will be painful, but who dictates to who? who says the pain shld only be felt by consumers? why not share the pain? why continue to cushion masiiwa's divident and have everyone else suffer. if he's for zim, and has the pple at heart, then he shld be prepared to invest a little more and reduce his luxuries for the country that he loves, and for the pple that helped him launch his multinational company.

  8. @Learnmore,

    South Africa and Botswana do not have a crumbling mobile phone infrastructure, Zimbabwe does.

    It is a simple concept, really: it costs more to correct mistakes than it does not to make them in the first instance. And in Zimbabwe, the cellphone companies are now trying to fix their crumbling infrastructure, crippled by years of price controls from ZANU PF.

    To do this, they can either charge you more, which they are now doing - or they can invite new shareholders to inject money into their companies, which money they will use to rehabilitate their base stations etc etc.

    But no new shareholders will come in now because they see that the MDC is just like ZANU PF. They have no confidence in this government at all.

    So Masiyiwa ( a staunch supporter of Morgan Tsvangirai, by the way), has to charge you more in order to bring you better service.

    The MDC thinks it can force him to charge sub-economic fees, which do not cover salaries, let alone investment in the company.

    That is what ZANU PF thought, until the whole thing crumbled around them. It will do the same for the MDC, because, despite what they have been telling you, the market forces react to bad policies in the same way, whether they come from ZANU PF or MDC.

    Your comparison with South Africa and Botswana is misdirected, because these countries are not dealing with broken down infrastructure. They have shiny, super-efficient infrastructure, which costs next to nothing to maintain because they do not have people like we have in Zimbabwe, destitute and desperate enough to vandalise equipment to steal copper wire.

    The solution the MDC is proposing, which is to force companies to charge low fees, will not solve this problem.

    BESIDES, you ignore a very important issue I raise: simple communication with the public. Why did your party not see it fit to inform the public of what the problem was, how big it was, what is needed to solve it and what they are doing to achieve this?

    This costs nothing. The government can put a public notice in the papers, on TV etc and calm the citizens.

    Your excuse for this holding of voters in contempt? I'd love to hear your justification on this?

    While you are at it, pause a minute and remember that you, an MDC supporter, are now defending the very same policies that you condemned when ZANU PF implemented them.

    Remember that. And that is all you will need to realise just how much you and ZANU PF have now become one.

  9. You make interesting observation, but you can't be always right. economics does not dictate that you need to charge more than double the price to build a solid infrastructure. I'm in an african country with the highest economic growth rate in africa and the highest cost of living too, and i accept that, cos i understand what their economic infrastructure is like. it makes sense to charge what they charge. But not for zim. Anyway, will respond properly when i get time. i'm not supporting price controls, i'm against it, but i support price monitoring, it's done all over the world, and i supported it when ZPF was going it alone. You seem to have ignored the fact that i pointed out that this is gonna be painful but why only on the masses, why not on both ends. lets share the pain with the business. every other sector has agreed to share the pain. and abt salaries, we all know that salary bills in zim are next to nothing. i recently left zim so i know.

  10. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  11. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  12. Interesting analysis Denford, but that's the problem, you sound too academic about it. I actually enjoy reading your analyses and I have respect for you on the political front, yet not on the economic front. You see, you don't want me to compare zim to SA cos we have different infrastructure, yet you yourself are making that same comparison. Zim is a special case, we should agree, it needs special measures. Keynesian measures do not necessarily apply here.
    I'm not supporting price controls, i'm supporting price monitoring, which happens all over the world. Actually, the West controls the prices of our resources through their commodities market, but that's a discussion for another day.
    Altho i agree Chamisa does not have experience and the MDC seems not to have a plan, i beg to differ that the pain of reconstruction should only be shouldered by the ordinary person when the business people are living large. There is nothing in the conventional economics books that suggests that we need to overcharge to build an infrastructure. That infrastructure was built, in the first place, from revenues coming from reasonable charges. That's why we have different forms of financing, borrowing being one of them, divident reinvestment is the other and rights issue is also a useful one. The celphone companies (Econet and Telecel) can go that route. They are charging in foreign currency these guys, and they are still making a profit after their price adjustments. Rather than holidaying on that profit and buying expensive cars, and overpaying executives, they should reinvest it and overtime, the infrastructure will catch up with the rest of the world. I bet you this won't take more than 3yrs if these guys are serious. Come on Denford, these people are selling a sim pack for $30. Where in the world do you buy a sim pack? They are the only operators that recover the cost of setting up an account the day they do it. That's obscene, they don't deserve anyone's sympathy. Everyone's suffering, and all Chamisa is asking if for them to be human and share the pain with everyone. he didn't control anyone's prices, he's just monitoring them and asking them to accept a reasonable profit. Who said we want an efficient network today, we're willing to get there gradually, we understand it's gonna take time.
    I agree with you, this government should just be as accountable as any othe ordinary 'people friendly' gvt in the world and we should indeed hold them accountable. But let's have constructive critism and not try and pull them down. The PM has a forum on his website, he's also got a page on facebook, you can present your suggestions thru that. With your status in society, i think he will read your post first before every other. But if you're antagonistic, he'll just ignore you and continue doing things the ZPF way.

  13. Learnmore, I am not sure if you read the article through. You say, "there is nothing in conventional economics that says we need to overcharge in order to build infrastructure".

    That is exactly what I am saying in the article. The suggestion to go the rights issue or finding an outside investor whose money can be used to rebuild the networks is exactly what I am saying the article.

    Like in any modern society, say Britain, where compnaies you give a licence has conditions, a govermnent can asks potential new licencees to submit business plans that show HOW they they will do things differently, including what their charges would be.

    Then a regulatory authority, like the ones they have in First World countries, can also then put in performance benchmarks, which, if they are not met, the companies pay a fine.

    As for Morgan's website, I am surprised that you actually think he reads it!! He does got even get to see anything you put on his website.

    And besides, when did the MDC start listening to people? Were you, his supporters, not against him joining the GNU? Did he listen?

    There are many many other examples that show that the MDC does not listen to people at all.

    Finally, not to put too fine a point to it, I do not need to tell the PM what I think through his forum, whose posts are read and deleted by his secretary.

  14. VaMagora mati tingaindepi zvedu. Zve politics tinowanzosiira imi – what else is there to add after you have been through it? Where we can add, we will do so.

    Ndaikumbiravo for us to have more discussions on the merits of economic policies that our country is likely to adopt going forward. Our country’s future rests upon sound policies, but there seems to be no debates around the subject. My fear is on two fronts:

    (i) We take the subject matter for granted. Although most people will automatically acknowledge their inferiority in areas such as medicine (though we can read online about symptoms), computers, I still have to meet any Zimbabwean who is not an economic expert. My doctor friends, lawyers and even IT guys seem to know more than I do after watching an occasional market overview report on TV. Now I even have problems trying to explain to my friends based in the UK and SA what the hell is going on with the US economy and these guys are all in finance (accountants mostly).

    (ii) Our government never had a real finance/economics expert as its minister of Finance and or Trade. From Chidzero, Makoni, and now Biti, we have had to borrow/convert technocrats to fill the posts. The magnitude of our problems require above-average skills and 2 constitutional lawyers should not be our go to guys. And yet here we are listening to the Bretton Woods institutions who have never had any success story assisting 3rd World countries. What are we thinking?

    Its not only our economy which has been isolated, but our skills as well. If our economy was normal, yes but then we are also faced with a global recession and a fundamental shift in economic views taking place. As I pointed out, my friends based in SA are not even sure of whats transpiring yet – there is a 6-9 month time lag between the US and UK economies and a 15-24 month with strong emerging markets.


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