ZW VIEW | Dear Governor John, all we ask for is a boring Reserve Bank

We need a new John (Pic: Cynthia R Matonhodze/Bloomberg)

The scepticism was heavy in the room as Zimbabwe’s biggest business groups met last Thursday to discuss the new policy twist – a new currency, the ZiG.

The man they were waiting for, the new central bank governor John Mushayavanhu, was over three hours late, held up in a meeting. Mike Kamungeremu, president of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, took to the podium. Many in the audience were jaded – not just because of waiting, but because they were all here to discuss something they’ve seen before.

Kamungeremu began: “Hands up those who want to give the governor a chance (with ZiG).” Who thinks ZiG will work? Only a few hands went up. Some murmuring rippled round the room.

He asked another one. “OK, hands up, those who will benefit if ZiG fails.” Some laughs all around, and many more hands went up. Kamungeremu ended with yet another question: “Hands up those who will succeed if ZiG succeeds.” More hands.

It was like back in school, but the lesson was clear; John Mushayavanhu’s biggest hurdle isn’t in winning the debates on fancy economic stuff. It is not in proving that there is enough gold in the basement of Dura Building, the RBZ HQ. His biggest battle is restoring confidence, eroded for decades by the government’s own failures. What Mushayavanhu needs more than reserves of gold or cash, is a reserve of confidence. He is starting with a few tonnes of gold in reserve, but he has zero in terms of confidence reserves.

Do people expect the ZiG to fail? Many do. Why not? They have been let down repeatedly. Are there people who are praying for ZiG to fail? Of course. There’s a lot of satisfaction in watching your political enemies fail. But, for the rest of us, all we want is a currency we can believe in. As the CEO of Dairibord Mercy Ndoro said recently, we don’t care what name the currency is given – we just want stability.

We want a currency we can save. One we can buy fuel with. That is all. We want to be normal.

Now, this confidence cannot be built using the messaging tone that Mushayavanhu has picked. A firm tone is one thing. But a tone that comes across as haughty and puffed-up is another. Not when communicating with victims of two decades of financial trauma.

On the cover of Mushayavanhu’s maiden monetary policy was the theme: “Back to basics”.

This is where he needs to start. Gideon Gono brought razzmatazz to the job. His culture has stayed so long, we now think it’s normal. It’s not. Gono’s statements were a spectacle, hyped up like it was the WWE Royal Rumble. John Mangudya came. He was less noisy, but still made himself the main actor, speaking as if from an evangelical pulpit, lashing out at detractors – some of them imaginary.

Days into Mushayavanhu’s term, he seems to be already playing that same old groove. He has time to play a different tune. At that meeting with business, he showed the same disturbing trait that has blighted government communications; the urge to “hit back” at online talking-heads who, as one must expect, have milked his measures for content. This only gets you off-message, if you have one. He has also appeared at more events than have been necessary.

He needs a tip from Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, who once said: “Our ambition at the Bank of England is to be boring.”

The RBZ has not gone “back to basics” for 20 years. Mushayavanhu has an opportunity to take it back there. It starts with using a calmer, more conciliatory tone. He has pledged to talk less going forward. That’s a start.

Bore us, please, Governor Mushayavanhu. We don’t want the WWE. We want a bank that we barely notice. Only then will you know that your measures are working.

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