ZIMBABWE'S debt is estimated to be US$7 billion. This debt will be paid by the ordinary people of Zimbabwe through tax deductions, duty and the like. A 2011 document entitled "Uncovering Zimbabwe's Debt" reveals that according to the World Bank, since 1980 Zimbabwe has been lent US$7,7 billion but repaid US$11,4 billion; despite doing this Zimbabwe still owes in excess of US$7 billion. A total of US$700 million of this debt was inherited from pre-independence times.
Ian Smith managed to get clandestine loans to fund the Rhodesian war at its peak. The country was under sanctions, so these loans were received through the backdoor somehow, but Zimbabwe inherited the high interest loans, agreeing to pay for Smith's expenses and started in the red.
It is not clear exactly how the other money became debt, but some of what is known is that Hwange Power Station, Esap and decisions like getting drought-relief funds in the 80s and 90s in the form of expensive loans formed the bulk of a traceable loan amount totalling about US$2,5 billion. It is not clear exactly why we owe the rest.
This money will be repaid by Zimbabwean citizens one way or another unless it is somehow written off. Basically, we and our children will pay it. If we have to pay back the loan with interest surely we ought to know why we are paying it and we ought to know what the terms of agreement for these loans were. Otherwise we could be paying ad infinitum and still be told we have not finished paying.
It is disturbing to see people in public office becoming extremely wealthy without explanation after they take office. Could they be using their offices to take loans and then divert the money to personal use?
The vast wealth that we see them flaunting could well be part of the loan money that we are all paying for. A debt audit is needed quickly so that we can get to the bottom of this. Zimbabweans ought to know who took the debts and why. We then need to know how the money was used.
Finally, we need to know the terms under which these loans were taken. If the money was not used for the purposes it was taken or if it was privatised, it must be recovered and used to pay back the debt. Only money that was genuinely taken and used for the designated purposes should be repaid by the people of Zimbabwe. It is criminal to divert such huge sums of money for whatever reason, and those seen to be doing this should be made accountable.
We need to be clear about questions like what happens if and when a new government takes over. Do they inherit and repay the loan? Those who enter public office must be audited before, during and after they leave office. Their personal finances and the means through which they obtain them must be known. Total financial transparency of all in public office is absolutely necessary. Those in public office and those seeking it must know that their private life will be examined.
Zimbabwean citizens must rise up and refuse to pay back the loans until a full accounting of what we are paying for and how much interest is accruing on those loans is given. These loans may be a great cause of our suffering, and we might be paying billions of dollars to a bottomless pit. Debt needs to be managed and when paying back a debt, it must be clear that the money is making meaningful inroads into clearing the debt. This is done by first not increasing the debt or at least paying back substantially more than is used. Those who consume more than they produce or who take more than they put in will always end up in financial crisis.
Getting out of debt means deliberate measures are taken to put in more than is taken out. So if the debt is genuine, then we need to find ways to ensure that the debt is being paid back and the deficit is being reduced. It is pointless to keep paying a debt while we are borrowing more than we are paying.
Second, the interest levels must be ascertained so that we are in a place where we are reducing the capital and not just the interest; the fact that we have already paid back one and a half times more than we borrowed but still owe a little less than the original borrowed amount indicates that we are only paying back interest and are hardly touching the capital.
The longer we take to pay, the more we shall owe, and the more the impoverishment. It is like a noose around our neck, slowly being tightened, and slowly choking the life out of us. This debt situation will be a burden on society, especially if those who took the debts die without telling us who we owe and what we owe. We will then have no means of recourse or argument, even if the purported loans are a fabrication or they were abused. We will have no option but to repay the loans and even if they were stolen it would be difficult to trace the money.
For example, the Swiss bank is thought to keep money secretly stashed with it and Mobutu's money, which is really the DRC's money in Swiss banks, was never returned nor accounted for; nobody knows what happened to it, but the people of the DRC will repay the loan with interest perhaps over many generations. They might pay back 10 times more than what Mobutu took and all they would have achieved is make Mobutu rich and make themselves 10 times poorer.
If our generation does not get to the bottom of this issue and take charge of the situation we will pass on a very heavy burden to future generations.
Good parents do not leave their children in debt when they die; they instead leave an inheritance and store up something for their children's children.
If we have failed as a generation, then let's at least cushion our children from the long- term effects of our failure, let us at least find out what is going on here and stop the rot before it becomes gangrenous and affects Zimbabwe for the next 100 or more years. We must at least aim to repay our debts before we die or put measures in place to take care of it.
This situation will not go away, it will get worse and worse by the day; we must confront it and fix it if we are to move forward. It is a noose around our neck, a millstone tied to us, a heavy burden on our backs; it will kill us if we do not get rid of it quickly. We need a debt audit and we need it fast.
Dwight Mutonono is the executive director at the Africa Leadership and Management Academy.