As a person living with a disability, Masimba shares how the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programmes affected his life chances growing up, and how today it’s more of the same policy prescriptions, despite their attempts at a PR rebranding exercise.

By: Fight Inequality

Masimba is giving testimony on Wednesday 11 October, 09:30-15:30 Casablanca Time at the Peoples’ Alternative Global Tribunal on the IMF and World Bank in Marrakech, Morocco. Watch live via Facebook.

My name is Masimba Kuchera from Zimbabwe, born totally blind. I was born a year after Zimbabwe’s independence when the country’s leadership was socialist. During this time education was accessible to most and the state tried to make sure that young children went to school. 

Before enrolling at my government school I was assessed by a doctor to find out what help I needed. As a young boy what I didn’t realise then is that we were now at the tail-end of socialism and neoliberalism was creeping in. 

A combination of bad governance, corruption, the emergence of a lootocracy and mounting debts drove the country into the ground. Enter the IMF and World Bank with their solution called the Economic Structural Adjustment Program [ESAP]. ESAP was a neo-liberal market-driven policy measure  adopted as an answer to the economic crises of the 1980s. Introduced in Zimbabwe in October 1990 it started in earnest the following year  after a meeting with aid agencies and the World Bank in Paris.

One of the conditionalities of the program was that the state was supposed to drastically reduce funding to social services and education and  allow market forces to dictate the economic trajectory of the country. With this a lot of free services or heavily subsidised services were privatised. 

By implementing ESAP, the government adopted the so-called Washington Consensus (WC) principles, which in effect reversed the otherwise steady economic growth of Zimbabwe. The principles included:
Cost recovery for social services
Minimal role for the state
Financial liberalisation
Competitive exchange rates
Trade liberalisation
Openness to foreign direct investments

Although the era of [ESAP] is over, Zimbabwe remains heavily indebted  -  very little resources are going to social services. 
Schools and hospitals started increasing their fees leading to many negative consequences.  People with disabilities like me were seriously affected because specialised services were either cut or withdrawn totally. I remember that at my primary school we lost many  teachers who sought greener pastures elsewhere. The Perkins Braille machines we used frequently broke down and it became more and more difficult to have them repaired on time.  Sadly, a number of school mates had to drop out of school, especially girls, as a private education  was beyond the reach of many. Some with complicated conditions died prematurely due to lack of specialised health services. 

Secondary and tertiary education were no different for me - the use of antiquated equipment and the slow uptake of new technologies was the order of the day. 

At the mission school I went to, only senior students in form 3 and 4 were allowed to use Perkins Braille machines because there were so few.  Students used slates and styluses which meant that it took longer for them to write. 

I believe that due to inadequate assistive devices and technologies the quality of education I received was heavily compromised and my choice of career paths was limited too. 

According to a debt bulletin released by the treasury, Zimbabwe’s total public and publicly guaranteed debt was $18-billion in December 2022, made up of $12.8-billion in foreign debt and $5.2-billion in domestic debt.

Of the external debt, $5.89-billion is bilateral debt – owed to other countries – whereas $2.7-billion is multilateral debt – borrowed from lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB). Most of what Zimbabwe owes these lenders, $2.47-billion, is arrears and penalties for not paying. The minister of finance is on record pledging to clear the debt by 2025 meaning very minimal investment in social services. 

At no point in the last 5 years has Zimbabwe managed to allocate 15% of its national budget to health as recommended by the Abuja declaration. The Abuja Declaration calls on all signatory countries to prioritise investment in public health. The agreement was the result of the growing realisation that the continent’s human, political and economic development is dependent on the health of its people.

Some people with disabilities require constant care and attention and this isn’t possible due to financial constraints. 

Finally, research by the World Bank in 2018  titled The price of exclusion: Disability and education in Africa, notes that individuals with disabilities have, on average, poorer health, lower levels of employment and earnings, and higher poverty rates. Children with disabilities are especially at a disadvantage when it comes to enrolling and completing school but also how much they learn  in school and this is especially acute in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Only pro-poor policies and a change in the governance system can restore the dignity of many people with disabilities and the society at large.