Tendai Biti addresses parliament in Harare. Picture: SUPPLIED
Tendai Biti addresses parliament in Harare. Picture: SUPPLIED

Zimbabwe’s opposition could expand the size of the economy more than fivefold to $100bn within eight years if it wins the 2018 elections, a former finance minister said.

The first elected government since Robert Mugabe stepped down in late 2017 under pressure from the military will inherit an economy shattered by almost two decades of upheaval including a failed land reform programme, hyper-inflation, western sanctions and mass emigration.

Zimbabwe owes at least $11bn to lenders such as the African Development Bank. The World Bank estimates current GDP at about $16bn.

"Part of our agenda is to rebuild the economy," Tendai Biti, a member of the country’s main opposition alliance who served as finance minister from 2009 to 2013 in a coalition government, said in an interview on Wednesday at Bloomberg’s office in Johannesburg. "We want to build a $100bn economy within the next eight years — and it’s possible."

Mugabe’s 37-year rule was brought to an end by the military and his own Zanu-PF party in November, with former intelligence chief Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn in as interim president until elections that must be held by August 22. Since taking over, Mnangagwa has embarked on a global campaign to attract back business and investment. Biti says he has not achieved much.

Unity government

Biti was a minister in a unity government in which Zanu-PF shared power with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), from which he later split after the MDC was defeated in disputed elections in 2013. Annual economic growth averaged 10.5% between 2009 and 2012, according to the IMF, after Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency and reforms in the mining and services industries bore some fruit. Growth slowed in 2013.

"Since Emmerson took over, the economy has actually turned down, the statistics don’t lie," Biti said. "You can’t get a single dollar out of a bank, there’s a big increase in queues, there’s an increase in inflation. Chickens have come home to roost, in a big way."

Annual inflation in the country with the world’s biggest platinum reserves after SA accelerated to 3.5% in December and January, from 3% in November. It slowed to 3% in February and 2.7% in March.

Biti, whose People’s Democratic Party is in talks to rejoin the MDC, said Zimbabwe’s economy had the potential to expand as much as 8% a year.

Nelson Chamisa, a lawyer, will run as the coalition candidate.

In its 2018 fiscal plan, the national treasury forecasts growth of 4.5% growth, up from an estimated 3.7% in 2017. It expects the economy to expand by 5.6% in 2019and 6% in 2020.

"Whatever government that takes over in 2018 is going to have a lot on its shoulders," Biti said. "It’s a failed state."