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What legacy will Bob bequeath?

WHAT legacy will President Mugabe leave this nation when he finally exits in 2008? If we are to go by his announcement from Jakarta last week, Mugabe is on the final leg of his rule. He is on the home stretch and has over the

years been quick to look over his shoulder to remind everyone of his conquests and accomplishments. But when he reaches the finishing line there won’t be many to congratulate him if he leaves the country in the current mess.

Mugabe would have loved to see economic recovery before his departure from office. He would have liked to be feted as the man who not only liberated the country but also extricated it from economic ruin caused by international sanctions. This plan is in danger. Mugabe’s worst nightmare is that he is bequeathing to the nation a dead economy and that is how he will be remembered.

The word “turnaround”, a catch phrase from the pre-election period, has lost its lustre as all around us there is the evidence of decay and poverty which is not likely to go away soon. These phenomena — by-products of government’s failure to come up with forward-looking economic blueprints, or at least implement its own plans — have been with us for the past five years.

The year 2008 when Mugabe has said he wants to leave office is only 30 months away. What can Mugabe deliver in the next two and a half years?

Today the country is faced with a myriad challenges which cannot be wished away and coincide with a trade fair that is supposed to advertise Zimbabwe as an investment destination. There is no petrol. Commuter transport has become every worker’s daily nightmare. There is no water in the capital. Power cuts have played havoc in industry.
 
Basic commodities have begun to disappear from shop shelves. Not many still believe Zimbabwe is the place to go and do business. Exhibitors from major economies have stayed away and the number of participants continues to dwindle.

Government and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono want to peddle the lie that the economy has turned the corner. Judging by the situation on the ground there won’t be any buyers.

With government finally admitting that there is a massive food deficit, the country is now retreating into survival mode. We are waiting for the plan to carry the country through this lean period and at the same time lay the foundation for future growth.

Gono is soon expected to come up with a roadmap to guide the economy in the post-election period. It needs discipline — which has been lacking — from its implementers.

Mugabe’s government has grown a penchant to either drop economic programmes before completion or not to implement them at all.

And money is also required for the plan to work. Firstly, the government has to find US$818 million to import food to feed 4,5 million people. This is no small task considering that the country is expected to generate a measly US$3,1 billion in foreign currency this year. A third of this is now going towards food imports.

Last year Zimbabwe’s foreign currency receipts amounted to US$1,96 billion.

From the remainder of the cake, the country needs US$408 million to import fuel and $204 million for electricity.
 
Foreign debt repayments should amount to US$60 million this year. Already more than half the cake is gone.

The huge invoice for food imports means all major capital projects are now in abeyance. That includes the Matabeleland Zambezi Water project, Tokwe Mukosi Dam, widening of trunk roads, rehabilitation of schools and medical centres and the provision of cheap housing. These projects, it now appears, will not be achieved before 2008.

But this is the period when Mugabe and his government have to display leadership. This means avoiding inviting more problems by forcing through imprudent directives and regulations to industry.
 
Government should learn from the experience of 2002 that it can force manufacturers and retailers to charge certain prices but it cannot force them to continue producing at a loss.

But government appears bent on this route notwithstanding the well-documented experience of 2002 when basic commodities were only available on the informal market at exorbitant costs.

For Mugabe, the next three years could be his most frustrating, especially if the country fails to lift itself out of the current quagmire.

City roads, some of them named after him, are riddled with potholes. Streetlights and traffic lights have broken down. Sewerage systems in Harare and Chitungwiza have collapsed. Agricultural production has plummeted by more than half while manufacturing has plunged by more than 35% in the past two years.

Does Mugabe dream of leaving Zimbabwe without a single functional sector? This is hardly the happy ending he hoped for.