The devil looks after his own. Or so it would seem in the case of Robert Mugabe, the de facto dictator of Zimbabwe.
Under Zimbabwe’s unity government established last year, President Mugabe, who took Africa’s garden and trashed it, has retained enough power to reverse the optimistic direction the country is taking. He and his ZANU-PF party still control the discredited central bank; the military; the police; the Central Intelligence Organization, which is Zimbabwe’s version of the KGB; and the Ministry of Information.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who, until the formation of the unity government was Mugabe’s great enemy and rival, has control of the Ministry of Finance. His ally, Finance Minister Tendai Biki, has done the impossible: He has brought the worst inflation the world has ever known to a halt.
The remedy was simple, though extreme. Biki substituted the U.S. dollar for the worthless Zimbabwe dollar. How worthless was it? Would you believe a currency that once had rough parity with the U.S. dollar was trading–if you could find a buyer–for 1 billion (sic) Zimbabwe dollars to 1 U.S. dollar? Incredibly, the Mugabe faction of the government and ZANU-PF party members want to bring back the Zim dollar, as it was known.
Under the new setup, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange has reopened and is prospering. And again, shops have goods on the shelves for those who can afford them. While U.S. dollars have circulated illegally in Zimbabwe for some time, it is unclear where they are now coming from, and what is the plight of those who have no access to them and no employment, which is most of the population.
In fact, many Zimbabweans live in a barter economy without cash. Rural people lead a desperate subsistence life, relying on perhaps a few chickens, sometimes a goat or, if relatively well off, some cattle. Most depend on growing enough corn to feed their families and on the generosity of relief agencies, although these are often the targets of Mugabe’s thugs. Food is power and Mugabe has used his troops, police and secret operatives to control food, starving the opposition and feeding only his political loyalists.
In the face of Zimbabwe’s tenuous recovery, there are many questions about Mugabe and his acolytes, and about Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change.Will Mugabe use his control of the military and the courts to destroy Tsvangirai’s reforms?
Mugabe likes to be the top man, even the reviled top man. His unhinging can be traced back to Nelson Mandela’s release from long imprisonment in South Africa and the deserved global acclaim he was welcomed with. Until then, Mugabe had been the golden African leader. Also he and Mandela were courting Graca, the widow of former Mozambiquan leader Samora Machel. Mugabe lost out and Mandela married her.
Too much praise for the reformers in Zimbabwe might set Mugabe off on another spree of destruction. His favorite charge–if he bothers with charges as opposed to random beatings—is treason, which is a hanging offense in Zimbabwe.
There are also question about Tsvangirai: Some of his early supporters are very critical of his conduct as prime minister. One critic, who does not want to be identified but who played a big role in establishing the unity government, told me: “He has become Mugabe’s bagman. That’s about it.”
This was a reference to Tsvangirai’s recent world fund-raising trip. He did secure minor commitments from doubting donor nations, but most want to see what happens. The money that was raised will go to humanitarian efforts, not the Zimbabwe government.
The success or failure of financial reforms may rest on the diamond fields of eastern Zimbabwe. These were only discovered in 2006 and should have been a valuable source of hard currency for Zimbabwe. But Mugabe had another idea: He allowed the military to massacre itinerant miners (in one case, 80) and seize the mines for their own profit. This has solved a pay problem among soldiers and kept the military faithful to Mugabe. Another gift from the devil for his protégé, Robert Mugabe.