Pariah status dims revival prospects

Ray Matikinye

EACH time President Robert Mugabe is driven from his rural home in Zvimba into Harare, he is whisked past a billboard advertising services provided by a commercial bank.

The billboard recites Ghanaian legendary leader Kwame

Nkrumah’s famed saying: “We neither look east nor west. We look forward.”

Nkrumah, one of Mugabe’s role models, led his country to independence in 1957.

In that same year when the Christian Democratic Union led by Konrad Adenauer returned to power with an absolute majority for the first time in West Germany’s history, his party’s deputies were worried.

They were delighted that their party had won but worried about the extent of its victory because it would stifle democracy.

In Zimbabwe, the ruling Zanu PF was ecstatic about winning an absolute majority but it could face a dilemma — not fearing to smother democracy, but of how to use its majority to sort out the current economic crisis.

Grim prospects of further economic stagnation and decline hang over Zimbabwe as the spectre of increased international isolation looms in the aftermath of yet another disputed general election.

Mugabe desperately needs international recognition for his victory and an immediate end to isolation to pave way for economic recovery.

Foreign direct investment inflows in Zimbabwe have almost dried up, as has the goodwill from donor countries since the tainted 2000 general election and 2002 presidential poll. This has put immense financial pressures on government.

Economist John Robertson said Zanu PF would not succeed in attracting meaningful investment unless it changes its policies.

“Unless government reinvents its policy structures we will find it difficult to break through,” he said. “The past profile both locally and internationally will militate against recovery efforts.”
 
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Luxon Zembe also painted a gloomy picture of the situation, saying “if government continues with its hostile attitude”, the international community will continue to isolate the country.

“If we continue with the antagonistic policies that have isolated us and created uncertainty as well as low confidence, things will just get worse,” Zembe said.

The European Union has renewed targeted sanctions that were slapped on Zimbabwe’s ruling elite covering 95 government officials.

Yet another ominous development is that the diplomatic standoff between Zimbabwe and the EU and the United States could cost former finance minister Simba Makoni the powerful post of African Development Bank president.

Although Makoni has strong credentials for the post, the EU and the US have been concerned that Sadc has failed to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. US ambassador to South Africa Jendayi Fraiser has publicly complained about Sadc’s weak approach to the crisis compared to the Economic Community of West Africa States (Ecowas)’s robust handling of the recent Togo crisis.

The Sadc nominee for the post faces a stiff challenge from the current ADB vice-president, Bisi Ogunjobi, and other candidates from Ghana, Egypt, Gabon, Rwanda and Cameroon.

Ecowas managed to fend off diplomatic and political gridlock when it refused to recognise the late Togolese president Gnassingbe Eyadema’s son Faure as the new leader. Faure had been imposed as president by the army which was fiercely loyal to his late father.

While Sadc has cheered Zimbabwe on in its conduct of elections and the Zanu PF victory, this has complicated the crisis.

South Africa’s business leaders say they have no plans to leave Zimbabwe despite a severe economic crisis, according to new research findings.

Researchers, Africa Inc, indicate that South African firms are willing to stay put in Zimbabwe hoping the economic crisis will soon be over and resources will be marshalled to rebuild the country.

“We have written off the Zimbabwean investment in our books. It’s not a liability. If things change we have the infrastructure and we will capitalise on it,” said the head of Absa Africa division, Dana Botha,
Botha said while the business side in Zimbabwe had suffered because of the current crisis, it still did not make sense to pull out of the country.

But two years ago, Africa Inc said the chaos in Zimbabwe had cost the southern African region about US$2,5 billion, shaving 1,3% off South Africa’s gross domestic product.

Mbeki’s pet project, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, also stands threatened by Zimbabwe’s problems.

South Africa’s attitude seems to reinforce the view by Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro of the University of Zimbabwe who says countries in the region, particularly South Africa, derive economic benefits from Zimbabwe’s economic woes.

“President Thabo Mbeki would want to see Zimbabwe turn into a vast supermarket for South African products and services,” Mukonoweshuro says.

At least 27 of the 40 major Johannesburg Securities Exchange-listed companies have businesses in Zimbabwe. South African business leaders have in the past four years complained the Zimbabwe crisis was hurting their businesses.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of a severe five-year economic and political crisis. Critics blame the economic malaise on Mugabe’s mismanagement. Inflation, which last year hit 623,8%, is hovering around 123% —still one of the highest in the world.

The tourism sector, which was the third biggest foreign currency earner in 1999, has virtually crumbled as tourists shun the country. Unemployment stands close to 75%, with the majority of Zimbabwe’s labour force on the streets or in the informal sector.

US senator Russell Feingold lamented the crisis in reaction to the recent election outcome.

“We must also take a hard look at the disappointing passivity of leaders in many southern African states who have failed to speak and act in support of basic human rights and the rule of law in their own neighbourhood,” he said.

“These failures threaten the prospects for stability and prosperity throughout the region. South Africa, with its painful history, its tremendous promise, and its special moral authority, might have been a powerful protector of the rights of the people of Zimbabwe.”

Feingold said South Africa’s leadership has chosen to lend support to Mugabe who would rather destroy his own country than accept the rule of law and accept the people’s will to prevail.

“The people of Zimbabwe have suffered through years of economic and political catastrophe,” he said.

“Once Zimbabwe’s corrupt leadership finally releases its grasp on power, the country will require substantial international assistance to turn around its devastating economic decline and to rebuild institutions, such as the once-independent judiciary, so that the rule of law can be effectively restored.”

But in the meantime Mugabe’s government has adopted a “Look East” policy as an alternative to traditional trading partners in the West.

Economists say investors in the East will consult those from the West before opening their wallets. The outcome is likely to be the same.