By Wilbert Mukori
EVERYONE knows Zimbabwe is in deep, deep economic trouble. The country has no foreign currency to pay for imports and service its mounting debts.
After years of repeated broken promises to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that the regime will implement agreed economic reforms, the latter has finally lost patience and cut all financial support to Zimbabwe.
Soon the two world bodies may sever all links with the country altogether unless South Africa, or other so-called friendly countries, pay part of Zimbabwe’s foreign debt to the IMF. Talk of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul!
It is bad enough for an individual to do that but it is totally outrageous for a nation! The worst thing about this is that the nation is borrowing to service existing debt or to buy consumables like maize, wheat and fuel. None of the borrowed money will be spent on investment or wealth-generation.
South Africa will be ill-advised to grant Zimbabwe a loan, for the question it faces is: If Zimbabwe cannot repay its present debts, how will increasing the debt help it repay the increased debt?
President Thabo Mbeki must be very naïve to believe President Mugabe will ever honour any promise to implement economic reforms that will get the Zimbabwean economy back on the rails.
The IMF was naïve to do so and they have finally acknowledged that.
My guess is, six to 12 months from now, Zimbabwe will be back begging for more. So what will President Mbeki do: grant Harare another US$1 billion? Ultimately, South Africa, like the IMF, will have to say no, or President Mugabe will drag it to join Zimbabwe in the economic gutter.
By 1995, at the end of the first five-year IMF/WB-sponsored Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, it was clear the Zimbabwe government was paying lip-service to promised economic reforms.
The IMF and the WB should have stopped all financial assistance to Zimbabwe. Instead, the IMF ignored the poor past performance and renewed the financial assistance on condition that the regime promised to implement the same reforms. Again President Mugabe’s government did not keep its promise.
By 2000 the country’s economy was in serious trouble. Whilst President Mugabe publicly blamed the IMF/WB for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse in private, his regime has continued to make empty promises in return for continued financial assistance – assistance that has saved the country from a dramatic economic collapse, but did nothing to save it from a slow and agonising one.
The Zimbabwean economy was like a man suffering a broken toe. The years of misguided, socialist economic policies and mismanagement by Zanu PF were the root cause of the broken toe on an otherwise healthy body.
By 1990, the broken toe was badly infected and required surgery. Instead of going through with the surgery as agreed, the Zanu PF regime gave the patient pain-killers instead.
By 1995 the whole foot (corruption had crept in) was now infected and required amputation. But again, Zanu PF would not bite the bullet and cut off the foot to save the economy.
With each passing year, the gangrene of mismanagement and corruption got worse and crept up the leg and the years of neglect have left the patient weak and some of the vital organs like the liver and kidneys are beginning to fail.
There is a good reason why President Mugabe has stubbornly refused to carry out the necessary reforms to end mismanagement and corruption. To do that, he would have fired the incompetent and corrupt party loyalists he appointed in every sector of the country’s economy and embrace competition and merit.
These changes would surely have spelt the end of Zanu PF’s one-party state and its stranglehold on political power — something President Mugabe could not accept.
The choice before President Mugabe was clear enough: he could save the nation’s economy by firing his party loyalists or keep them and see the economy ruined. We know what he chose to save!
If the IMF/WB had stopped all financial aid to the Zimbabwe government back in the 1990s, the country would have struggled along for a few years only to have the economy grind to a complete halt as shortages of fuel and other essentials took hold.
President Mugabe would have been forced to accept economic and political reforms. The country’s economic infrastructure would have been saved and economic recovery would have been certain and rapid.
The years of half-hearted tinkering have destroyed the country’s economic infrastructure such that economic recovery today will be even more costly and painfully slow.
President Mugabe is determined to stay in power no matter what! Zimbabwe has had the unenviable reputation of having the fastest-shrinking economy in the world for years now.
Unemployment is at 70%, the country’s health and education systems are in a sorry state of neglect. The tragic human suffering the economic collapse has caused is heart-breaking. Still President Mugabe is determined to hang on!
The anti-West rhetoric is meant to distract attention from the country’s economic problems whilst he is portrayed as Africa’s anti-colonialism champion.
This is hardly the time for shadow boxing – not when hundreds of thousands of lives are hanging in the balance and a whole nation’s future is at stake!
A loan from SA will only postpone President Mugabe’s final political demise. Since the people of Zimbabwe have tried and failed to rid themselves of him through the political process, the only option left is economic pressure.
The greatest tragedy of all in Zimbabwe today is that the nation has found itself in this helpless political state – totally at the mercy of a dictator’s whim. We must never ever allow this to happen again!
* Wilbert Mukori is a UK-based Zimbabwean writer.