16 March 2007

Zimbabwe: Mugabe a Stumbling Block to Recovery


IF President Robert Mugabe stands and wins next year's election, prospects of an economic recovery will be bleak.

Mugabe last week announced his intention to stay in power at the same time that the Central Statistical Office was releasing new figures which showed a major surge in inflation to 1 729%, up from 1 593%, proving that Zimbabweans have more horrors in store.

It is generally agreed by observers that the first major step towards economic revival is Mugabe's exit followed by a comprehensive package of reforms supported by the international community.

If Mugabe hangs on to power there is no realistic possibility of an economic recovery programme which will have a buy-in from stakeholders or international goodwill.

Each day Mugabe spends in power makes the situation worse. He is seen as by far the biggest obstacle to inter-party dialogue urgently needed to resolve the current political deadlock and diplomatic engagement with the international community necessary for economic revival.

Although the problem is not Mugabe per se, the problem is that he has now come to personify Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis. It is therefore reasonable to say his continued stay in power makes it extremely difficult to address the prevailing problems.

Many a stakeholder in the economy including Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono, would by now have realised that no matter how well-intentioned and hardworking they could be, under Mugabe, their efforts are simply doomed to fail. The extent to which Mugabe has become part of the economic problems makes it impossible for him to be part of the solution.

His rule has spawned one of the biggest economic calamities in post-colonial Africa which is made dramatic by the fact that Zimbabwe in 1980 was the most industrialised country in sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa. A glance at all economic indicators bears testimony to this assessment.

The country had a wide range of manufacturing industries, a sophisticated agricultural system, thriving service sector, an abundance of natural resources, a fairly educated population, good infrastructure and a functioning financial services sector. This made the economy the second largest in the region.

But all this has changed.

We now have a de-industrialising economy characterised by inflation close to 2 000%. The standard of living has gone down to the levels of 1953, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Interest rates, currently the highest in the world, are bleeding businesses while eight in every 10 economically active people are unemployed. Companies are shutting down at alarming rates while those still surviving are operating far below capacity with very slim possibilities of them avoiding collapse.

Basic services, education, health, water, housing and the road infrastructure have collapsed. Even though Mugabe claims that the land redistribution exercise was one of his major success stories, by all accounts the programme has been a huge failure. It has only succeeded in ruining agriculture and thus spawning food shortages.

At its conference in Esigodini two years ago, Zanu PF admitted that the new farmers were failing to produce. Six land audits initiated by Mugabe himself have all proven the land reform was chaotic, marred by corruption, capacity under-utilisation and misuse of farms.

The Zimbabwe dollar has of late been tumbling relentlessly on the parallel market, now trading at $15 000 to the US dollar due to lack of exports and balance of payments support.

It has become evident that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not bail out Zimbabwe as long as Mugabe remains in power. Mugabe has persistently ignored IMF's recommendations for "fundamental structural reforms", including public enterprise and civil service reforms, stronger property rights and improvements in governance.

Last month the IMF indicated it was not convinced that Zimbabwe had taken any steps to resuscitate its ailing economy by refusing to lift sanctions on Harare, further isolating the country from the international community. The IMF recently said while Zimbabwe's debts continued to mount, authorities have continued to be indifferent to the economic situation.

The IMF expressed "deep concern over the deteriorating economic and social conditions", saying it was dismayed the authorities were not taking the situation seriously.

Angered by this, Mugabe re-launched his old attack, saying he did not need IMF help even though the situation on the ground clearly indicates the country does.

Mugabe's announcement that he wants to extend his power would have sent alarm bells ringing in the business sector because they have been banking on his departure for them to start rebuilding their companies, most of which are tottering on the brink of collapse. Contrary to their hopes, Mugabe is now planning to stay put until 2014.

"There are very few companies that can survive for another five years under Mugabe's regime. Almost all of his policies from price controls to exchange rate management are hurting us," said a chief executive of a listed company.

"Each day we have to grapple with his hostile policies that seem to intensify in their meanness and flip-flop nature at every turn," he said.

That Mugabe has nothing new to offer is shown by the fact that his 10 economic turnaround programmes for the past 27 years have failed. These include the Growth with Equity (1981), Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (1991), Poverty Alleviation Action Programme (1994), Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (1996-2000) and the Zimbabwe Millennium Economic Recovery Programme (2001).

Over the past six years Mugabe has tried but failed to turn around the economy with policies that include the Ten Point Plan (2002), the National Economic Revival Programme: Measures to Address the Current Challenges (2003); and Zimbabwe: Towards Sustained Economic Growth -- Macro-Economic Policy Framework for 2005-2006. The National Economic Development Priority Programme, lauded as the solution last year, has collapsed in spectacular style.

"Mugabe's policies are the chief causes of the current mess in the economy," said John Robertson, an economic commentator. "This country will continue to be in crisis as long as Mugabe refuses to let go of power. There is no sign that he will change from his destructive course," Robertson said.

So irrelevant is Mugabe to the needs of the day that he does not even have the spine to name and shame corrupt officials in his party who are involved in mineral smuggling and other dirty deals. All he could say was that he was aware of such characters in the party's leadership.

The worst aspect of the problem is that he knows he has no solutions to offer but is intent upon punishing his critics and clinging to office.

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