The silly season is upon Zimbabwe! How did I know? I have not written about Zimbabwe in a while. That’s because I have been working on more exciting projects that demand a huge amount of my time. Daily, I get tons of emails from Zimbabweans and other interested parties across the world asking for my views on a lot of issues happening in the troubled Southern African country.

To be clear, it is very troubled. I didn’t plan to write this post, until I got at least twenty emails in quick succession (not the kind of succession Zimbabweans are grappling with these days) related to a new university that was announced. In his email, Dumisani says, Ken, do you think Zimbabwe should spend one billion dollars building a new university?

The Yamamoto Law of Bounded Outcomes

In light of all circumstances surrounding Zimbabwe, the answer to the question is so obvious that mentioning it here is an insult to everyone’s intelligence. So, the question that follows is: are the proponents of this university stupid or what?

For those not in the know, Zimbabwe’s minister of higher education announced that Mugabe’s cabinet had approved the construction of a private university named after him. That should not matter, except that the funding for the university will be provided, according to the minister, by the government to the tune of one billion dollars. To be clear, these are not Zimbabwe dollars, but United States dollars.

I posed the question above: are the proponents of this university stupid, or what? Before we deal with this question, let me introduce you my friends to what I call the Yamamoto Law. Whether you believe in God, Buddha, Allah or whatever, the best thing nature gave mankind was the ability to CHOOSE. So, no one can ever argue that they had no choice. This is the first part of the law.

The second part of the law is that once you make your choice, you can’t CHOOSE the consequences or outcomes. The outcomes are bound by the choice you make. Once you make the choice, you have to live with the consequences.

For example, if we posited that Zimbabweans CHOSE Mugabe to lead them in 2013 (I am mindful that this is a controversial proposition), they can’t CHOOSE the consequences of that choice post-2013 – including the spending of one billion of taxpayer dollars to build a Mugabe family university. Put simply in the context of Dumisani’s question about spending a billion dollars on building a university, its proponents have every right to choose to be STUPID, but they will not be able to CHOOSE the outcomes, which are a function of their choice to fritter away a billion dollars on a vanity project.

Context is everything

I started off by saying the silly season is upon Zimbabwe. What do I mean by that? Normally, wild card projects like the proposed Robert Mugabe University don’t come into the fray if everything is under control. This wild card announcement is a huge indicator that political cards are disarray.

A close up of a person wearing glasses Description generated with very high confidenceZimbabwe has been pre-occupied, for the last several years, with a question that should not exist. Such a question would not be a question at all. In Japan for example, our whole nation would never be gripped with perennial fever over who will succeed who because it is not a problem at all.

The reason it is a problem in Zimbabwe is that Mugabe, just like many autocrats in Africa before him, failed to build institutions and focused on his outsized image and a propensity for power. On a power frolic of his own over the last three decades, Mugabe forgot that one day, the country will have to continue without him, and someone better will have to take over. He forgot that every national leader is a temporary occupant of the seat of power. As true as the earth orbits the sun making the sun seemingly rise from here in the east and set in the west, it’s a LAW of nature that once you ascend, you must descend. This billion-dollar university wild card project needs to be understood in this context.

One Billion Dollars?

The proponent of this university says that the institution will be owned by a trust. This means it’s a private university. He further says, through a press statement, that the university will be founded through a billion dollars’ worth of “grants” from taxpayers. What does this mean?

There is a great deal of theft of public resources in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s watch – including the stolen diamonds. However, the university “grants” would be the most brazen and audacious heist and transfer of public wealth into private hands.

It is so brazen and unprecedented in a republican government – the sort of heist that would happen under a monarchy like Swaziland. As such, calling it a GRANT is a misnomer – its mere downright theft. A grant is willingly provided by the owners of the funds. It’s not plausible that Zimbabwean taxpayers willingly want to give Mugabe and his family a billion dollars to build a private university.

What is a billion dollars? According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, in a whole year, millions of Zimbabweans scattered in many places across the world after running away from Mugabe’s inept government remit just under one billion dollars every year to their families in Zimbabwe. If the ‘grant’ to Mugabe were to happen, theoretically, every dollar and twenty-five cents that a Zimbabwean remits home would be transferred to Mugabe and his family. That’s a staggering number!

Let’s flip this over and view it differently from different vantage points. You don’t have to look far to see the stupidity of this proposition. Zimbabwe’s 2017 budget projects total expenditure of $4.1 billion. The same budget projects revenue collection of $3,7 billion creating a budget deficit of $400 million. Simply put, Mugabe’s government is underfunded and choking in debt.

So why would someone want to ‘grant’ 27% of total projected national revenues to private hands via a greenfield university? The same budget projected that only $520 million will be used for national capital expenditure projects because of the $3.7 billion revenue, the government wages and expenditure consume $3 billion. So why would anyone want to ‘grant’ one billion dollars to a private project while spending half that on national priority investments?

Let’s flip this some more! In its 2017 budget, Zimbabwe allocated the following amounts to its different ministries and critical sectors: health ($59,1 million) social services ($28,8 million) education ($43,3 million), agriculture ($320,8 million), housing ($39,4 million); energy ($5 million); water and sanitation ($42,2 million); transport ($37,3 million) and information technology ($12,8 million). Looking at these numbers, why would someone want to “grant” $1 billion dollars to a private university? Is that someone normal?

Let’s flip it some more. Zimbabwe now produces under 900 megawatts in electricity output. The huge balance of its needs is imported from South Africa and Mozambique. Weeks ago, the South African power utility threatened to cut off Zimbabwe, leaving country’s power utility scrambling to pay up mounting debts. Guess how much was owed? $43million. Zimbabwe has had a power deficit for decades. It has borrowed various amounts to repair its ageing power plants over the years.

In fact, sections of its biggest thermal power plant don’t work because of lack of funds. During Zimbabwe’s coalition government, it borrowed $320 million from China to fund the Kariba South power plant. If $300 million can be used to build one power plant generating 300 megawatts, four power plants generating close to 1000 megawatts can be built using a billion dollars. This is what someone with any sense would do if they wanted to invest in building capacity for industrialisation. So, do proponents of this private university “grant” have their brains in the right place?

Let me flip it one more time. John Mangudya (he is still a fencepost tortoise – see my post here ) has run out of options after printing $200 million bogus notes. He has now promised to print some more – $300million worth. He claims that he will acquire $300 million more debt to fund the printing. Not that his claim is true, but theoretically, he is borrowing just under a third of what his government is willing to “grant” a private wild card vanity university project in private hands?

The subterfuge employed by the proponents of this university is that it will support industrialisation. I don’t know whether to laugh at this or be sad! Zimbabwe’s industrial hub, now a pale shadow of its glory years, used to be in Bulawayo. Years ago, during Zimbabwe’s coalition government, a fund called Distressed and Marginalised Areas Fund was set up to provide funding to dying companies.

The fund was supposed to have a measly $40 million, A person wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera Description generated with very high confidencebut raised only about half that amount mainly from Old Mutual, a private company. The government failed to fund the other half.

How then will a wild card university vanity project support industrialisation if the government can’t even provide its $20 million share towards a $40million industrialisation fund? Zimbabwe’s government-owned railway company, which is as a good as dead and choking in debt, is out in the market trying to raise $400 million. Its sole shareholder has failed to fund it over the decades. The importance of rail to industrialisation does not need my attention in this article. Are the proponents of this university sane?

A nation choking in debt

Imagine I lent Komatsu San a million yen twenty years ago. Every year since then he tells me that he is under distress and can’t pay up. Then I hear that Komatsu San has placed an order to buy himself a $20 million yacht, and that he will pay for it himself, but it will be registered in the name of his ten-year old son. Ouch! This is the position that the World Bank (owed US$1,2 billion), Africa Development Bank (owed US$600 million), Afreximbank, Paris Club (including the government of Japan – owed US$2,7 billion) among other lenders owed money by the government of Zimbabwe find themselves in.

Zimbabwe owes nations and financial institutions in excess of eleven billion dollars it has failed to pay back in decades. These lenders must be kicking themselves upon hearing of this “grant” by the government of Zimbabwe towards the construction of a wild card university in private hands! With friends like these, who needs economic enemies?

Will it happen? It’s a sinister game

In light of the above, we can clearly see that the idea is hare-brained and stupid, can’t we? However, it’s not stupid in an innocent way. It is stupid in a very sinister way. Mugabe is now very old, and certainly not in full control of political currents. But he still has a bearing on how the power pendulum will swing. With two major factions vying for control of his party, one of the factions has calculated that the only way it can win the game is by firmly placing itself in his corner, branding itself as more loyal than the other. How then do you prove that you are more loyal?

You go to your boss and pitch the unexpected. You tell him that you will build the most expensive university in the country which he can own, with state funds almost 30% of the national budget. If the boss is a narcissist, which Mugabe is, he will fall for the bait. Then you take it to cabinet for approval, and the other faction is so stunned, that they know arguing against such a ‘grant’ is suicidal. And your stupid idea wins! Its game theory here, folks!

It’s a grandiose idea, but who will fund the project? One way to look at it is that it’s a way by one faction to siphon money out of the government. The fact that the proposed university is owned by Mugabe’s family means that money will leak from the project like a sieve. No one will be accountable for anything. What is likely to happen is some government officials will, for a time, channel money out through this project, but after a while, it will be a white elephant when there is change in government which is inevitable – but at that point the looters will have looted and the horse will have bolted.

The other way to look at it is to dig deeper into the nature of the proponents of the proposed project. They are sinister schemers. They pitched an idea so enticing to the geriatric President, leveraging on his desire for a legacy – an idea so grandiose that even he won’t question their loyalty to him. In short, by agreeing to this stupidity, he sold his soul to the proponents, and they now have him on the leash like a dog.

Let’s look at the salesman for this project. He is the man that sold it through Mugabe’s cabinet. His name is Jonathan Moyo. As a general rule, don’t trust anyone who wants to call himself/herself professor this or that or doctor this or that. Such people push title first to gain some credibility – but they have serious competence shortcomings. The moment you hear the professor or doctor prefix, it’s a ploy for you to give them a 20% head-start before they take the exam. To put this into context, we don’t even know Albert Einstein as professor Albert Einstein, but his ideas changed the world and will continue to.

Mr. Jonathan Moyo has no record of achieving anything in government – or successfully executing anything significant. I would be happy to get feedback on his achievements. When he was in government at the turn of the century, he fragmented the state television and radio companies into all sorts ineffective units with zero critical mass. It was a failed exercise. But he pitched this idea in terms so grandiose that had it been achievable, that company would have been the NHK of Africa.

When he came back into Mugabe’s government the second time in 2013, Moyo made more grandiose promises. For example, in January 2015, Moyo promised to deliver digital broadcasting in line with the June 17 International Telecommunications Union deadline of the same year. He never delivered on that. If anything, Zimbabwe is still on analogue broadcasting in 2017.

Wherever he goes, Mr. Moyo has this big idea so grandiose that he oversells it and delivers so little on it. You don’t have to go far to see his style. Various sources credit him with having worked on his party’s manifesto for the 2013 elections. His grandiose ideas shine so patently through it. Two million jobs to be created in five years for example!

The facts on the ground are that jobs have been lost. Various sources also credit him for helping craft Mugabe government’s economic programme, known as ZIMASSET – another grandiose programme. Its only when the number-crunchers started looking through it that they found out it requires over $20 billion dollars to implement. You don’t have to go far to see that Mr. Moyo’s ideas are all hat and no cowboy; all froth and no beer; all sizzle and no steak!

Big idea, but won’t materialize

The one-billion-dollars-“grant”-government-funded-privately-owned-university is a political wild card, and in my view, will not deliver a billion dollar university. Instead, it will give political leverage to a struggling faction, and give an opportunity for the few with access to steal from the Zimbabwean taxpayer. Eventually, it will be like any other grandiose project championed by Mr. Jonathan Moyo which will go nowhere. Lastly, Zimbabweans may need not give this proposed university any legs by talking about it, because it hasn’t got any to stand on. News Zimbabwe

Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an institute in Tokyo. He is a passionate researcher on African matters and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. You can contact and share your views with Ken on [email protected]