Zimbabwe: Mugabe the Weak Link

editorial

FOR the whole month of January, President Robert Mugabe was on his annual holiday - and as usual partly in the Far East - despite that in the six months since his controversial re-election, the economy has been dramatically shrinking and reeling from deep problems, chief among them a liquidity crunch.

No sooner had he returned to work than he was out of the country on Sunday until Tuesday (the weekly cabinet, which had not been meeting during his drawn-out leave as government was on virtual shutdown, had to be postponed to Wednesday) when he returned from an African leaders disability conference in Malawi.

Mugabe prioritises holidays and conferences, not the economy and his people. That he, because of pressing economic issues and a flood of emergency problems at home, should have sent a representative to Malawi seems not to have occurred to him at all.

In fact, he appears oblivious of the economic woes and widespread anguish engulfing the nation. If he is aware, then he is uninterested or does not care. Well, perhaps he is fully aware, but is unable or unwilling to do anything.

Government's new economic blueprint, ZimAsset, which largely remains on paper due to funding and implementation problems although it is meant to put the economy back on a sustainable recovery and growth path, looks dead in the water. Until a rescue package, which authorities hope will soon come from China, is found there would be no movement forward. So in the meantime, suffering will get worse as the leadership continues to act like busybodies, clueless and indifferent.

They are just groping in the dark.

Since the elections which brought Mugabe and Zanu PF back to power, investor and business confidence has plunged, capital flight, the outflow of wealth and assets from the economy, has intensified; companies are shutting down and thousands of workers are being thrown out of work fuelling the already alarming unemployment rate, and the population is further sinking into the doldrums.

The balance-of-payments position has increasingly become negative as the trade deficit worsens. Massive current account deficits persist, while reserves remain very low, at around one week of imports.

Besides this, political uncertainty, low business confidence, liquidity challenges, a ballooning wage bill in the public sector, infrastructure collapse, unreliable utility supplies, dwindling of exports and destabilising effects of the indigenisation process as well as the disorderly unwinding of vulnerabilities in the banking sector hold sway, reflecting the awful state of the economy.

Corruption, as shown by a series of media exposures, is endemic.

What Mugabe should be doing now, instead of gallivanting on holidays and attending conferences at his level and age, is pressing his team to improve the business climate, something necessary to rebuild investor confidence, attract investors and create jobs.

But it would have to be a cold day in hell for Mugabe to be serious about addressing such matters. He is the weak link. And given the circumstances, it is likely to remain so.

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