ZIMBABWE, July 4 — During the past 27 years of Zanu PF government in Zimbabwe under Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the state has slipped from being a reasonably stable, open democracy with a good civil service and real potential for growth and development, to an autocratic, corrupt predatory regime that pays scant regard to the law or the interests of its people. The numbers are astounding. GDP has fallen by over half, exports by two-thirds, food production by 80 percent, industrial output by 50 percent. In the social sphere, life expectancy has declined to the lowest in the world, falling by a year for every year Mugabe has been in power; all social indicators are negative and the real incomes of formal sector workers has declined by 90 percent.
In the sphere of macroeconomic management, by no means rocket science today, the regime has run a budget deficit of over 60 percent of GDP, raised taxes equal to another 50 percent of GDP, stolen at least a third of real economic output with most of the resulting wealth being spread amongst an elite of perhaps 2,000 individuals and the security establishment.
As a result, in the midst of a steep decline in economic activity, a massive expansion in absolute poverty and the collapse of all state-managed services, we have the specter of a small political and military elite who drive expensive cars, go on shopping trips to Dubai, and are building mansions that would grace the cities of the richest countries in the world.
It is obscene. While this is going on, we have seen our democracy subverted and our human rights taken from us in a similar fashion to the nightmare regimes of the Soviet Union or Germany circa 1930–45. It is no exaggeration to say we have seen thousands of political killings(gukurahundi), hundreds of thousands tortured, beaten and raped and millions displaced, both internally and externally.
We know we are not alone in this sort of situation–there are several such regimes in Africa and even a few elsewhere. The scary thing is that the Zanu regime would be getting away with all of this if it were not for a small, brave and dedicated cadre of activists who have worked tirelessly to record what is going on, publicize the outcome and fight for matters to be corrected.
It was this group who wrote the report “Breaking the Silence” that first revealed the horrors of gukurahundi. It was the UN that disclosed the extent and seriousness of the Murambatsvina exercise, it was a lone cameraman working for the state-controlled media who photographed the rioting and subsequent beatings of MDC leaders in March this year and was beaten to death for his courage.
Even the much maligned IMF has played a small role by continuing to prepare and put out on its Web site, detailed technical reports that have spelt out the truth about the economy in the face of state propaganda. The great failure has been in Africa itself. There is no point in Britain or the United States coming out with a harsh critique of Mugabe and his regime, this is simply brushed aside by Mugabe and his cronies as another example of “neo-colonialism”. Other African leaders, and the regime here, deliberately misinterpret even the targeted sanctions aimed at the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity as economic sanctions directed at the people of Zimbabwe rather than the actual targets themselves.
Gradually, the crimes of Mugabe and his entourage has dawned on African leaders. When they attend events such as the World Economic Forum in Cape Town recently they are confronted by the need to resemble some sort of a profitable and secure place for investment flows from the rest of the world. It is very difficult to do so while you have errant and truant regimes like that which exists in Zimbabwe still being treated as a “respected” member of the African Club of Nations.
Just take the current madness. Mugabe announces that the runaway inflation in Zimbabwe is part of an international “regime change” agenda. He declares that Britain and the United States are behind the inflation. Do not laugh, in many quarters he is taken seriously when he makes such ridiculous claims. He then sends out his armed thugs in small groups to force industrialists and retailers to roll back their prices. No rational basis–just reduce your prices by “X” or we will do “Y”. So for the past four days, we have seen hundreds of businesses raided, managers and owners beaten in some cases, nearly 200 taken into police custody and billions of dollars written off stocks of products already paid for.
I am struggling right now to work out what we have lost in our small business. Customers fighting to get into the supermarket have smashed the glass front of the store and we have long queues: people anxious to buy what is available at the low prices and before stocks run out. I have frozen all buying and by the end of today, we will start to close down–42 staff out of work. Many others are doing the same thing. Wholesalers have marked down their stocks and are now billing suppliers for rebates.
I am contemplating what to do at our level, but cannot see anyone being willing or able to give me a check for many hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for the measures forced on us. When finally the whole futile exercise collapses in a heap and we go back to normal trading, we will not have the cash to pay for new stocks. Of course there may not be any manufacturers still operating at that point.
Just to give one example of nutty economics, Mugabe style. An empty bag for 10 kilograms of cornmeal costs Z$79,000, the corn at subsidized prices from the GMB costs Z$26,000 and the new controlled price is Z$85,000, about half of total costs before any profit accrues to the miller. Fuel is the same: the landed cost is about US85 cents per liter and this is equal to Z$170,000. The controlled price is Z$60,000. By the end of today, the only place you will be able to buy fuel will be behind closed doors in some back alley after dark, at Z$250,000 a liter or more.
On Saturday, the two teams from the MDC and Zanu PF resume talks in Pretoria. They are discussing the conditions for the March 2008 elections. I do not think we will get there. Perhaps that is the real game being played behind the scenes by the predatory, kleptocratic regime that some call our government.
The writer is a businessman who lives in Zimbabwe.