24 June 2007

Zimbabwe: 'Mugabe Downfall Within Six Months'

Bulawayo — The outgoing United States ambassador to Zimbabwe has predicted the fall of President Robert Mugabe before the end of the year unless he makes "a dramatic policy shift" that addresses the current unprecedented economic meltdown.

In an interview with The Standard in Bulawayo last week, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, said Mugabe's government, which has been ruling for the past 27 years, would collapse within the next six months.

Dell said Mugabe's government was effecting regime change on itself as eight successive years of economic recession had left four out of every five Zimbabweans out of work and many of them struggling to feed their families.

Workers who still hung onto their jobs were devising ways of surviving such as walking to work because they could not afford transport. They were returning home at weekends.

He said Zimbabweans had lost faith in the currency, which meant they no longer had confidence in the government responsible for issuing the currency. Things, he said, had reached a critical point.

The American diplomat based his prediction of Mugabe's downfall on the collapsing economy, which has seen inflation topping 4 500%, the highest in the world.

Dell, however, said independent inflation figures indicate that the country's inflation rate was at 3 000% in February and 6 000% in March before doubling in April.

In May, inflation rate reached the 20 000% mark, said Dell, quoting independent economic analysts.

"Historically, no government in the world has survived a five or a six-digit inflation. Zimbabwe is already enjoying that figure," Dell said.

By the end of this year, Dell said, inflation would reach 1.5 million percent forcing the 83-year-old ruler to voluntarily throw in the towel or wait to be swept away in a revolt by hungry peasants and under-paid workers.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor Gideon Gono has on several occasions conceded that inflation was the government's enemy number one.

Dell, who leaves for Kabul after three years as US envoy, said he was not sure whether Mugabe would be "pushed out" or "resign" after realising that he cannot cope with the situation.

If Mugabe hoped to survive the current tide, Dell said, he has to make an urgent "policy shift" and invite back the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank so that they can inject money into the ailing economy.

Apart from that, he added, the RBZ should stop printing more money, a move he said was fuelling inflation.

The country has been hit by shortages of water, electricity, fuel, basic food commodities, and foreign currency as well as a skewed exchange rate and government price controls.

Dell's remarks about worsening economic fortunes for Zimbabwe were also reflected in a recent Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) survey, which showed that only 5% of the country's industries were optimistic of an economic recovery.

According to the survey, the manufacturing sector, once hailed as one of the most vibrant and diversified in southern Africa outside South Africa, contributes 15.5% to the country's gross domestic product (GDP), compared with 24% a decade ago.

Dell said the collapse of the economy would work against the ruling Zanu PF party if there were free and fair elections in the country. The American diplomat, who distanced his country from allegations of fomenting regime change in Zimbabwe, was confident that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would win next year's polls if there is a level playing field.

"I believe if (South African President Thabo) Mbeki is serious with free and fair elections the MDC will win, which is why Zanu PF wants to make sure they are not free and fair," Dell said.

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