Running out of scapegoats for failure

UNITED States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell’s razor-sharp observations on the economy at Africa University on Wednesday are irrefutable. He gave the strongest rebuttal to date by a foreign envoy of government&#

8217;s claims that Zimbabwe’s economic decline is a result of drought and sanctions.

President Robert Mugabe has claimed the economy is plagued by unpredictable weather patterns and Western financial and travel sanctions imposed against himself and his officials over misrule.

Apologists of the regime have also been hawking this argument in the state media and on the Internet. While it is true that Zimbabwe’s current problems have been caused by both internal and external factors, it’s clear that drought and sanctions are the least of these.

The root causes of the current crisis are Mugabe’s populist posturing and lawless behaviour by his supporters that scare off investment. This has been exacerbated by skewed global economic trends, especially unfair trade practices and Western agricultural subsidies which undermine third world economies that are largely dependent on agriculture.

There is also the issue of natural resources control and value addition to goods which tend to weaken poor nations’ bargaining power. Developing countries lose a lot by exporting unfinished products. These are issues of substance affecting the Zimbabwean economy, just like other developing economies. But, as Ambassador Dell so cogently pointed out, the peculiarity of Zimbabwe is gross misrule and economic mismanagement verging on sabotage, not the terms of international trade.

To claim that drought and sanctions — imposed in reaction to repression and economic vandalism — are solely responsible for Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is manifestly dishonest.

Dell said these excuses “do not hold up under scrutiny” and backed his argument with empirical evidence.
“On the face of it, it seems possible that drought could account for Zimbabwe’s precipitous fall in output, especially since so much of the economy is based on rain-fed agriculture and the region faces a regular cycle of varying rainfall. This explanation, however, does not hold up under scrutiny,” he said.

Dell quoted the Washington-based Cato Institute’s paper written by economist Craig Richardson on the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy, details of which were published in the Zimbabwe Independent of October 21. Richardson has studied the correlation between rainfall patterns and GDP since 1985 based on data from Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Service.

The research found that the drought of 2000/2001 was less severe than 12 other recent low rainfall periods.

“He found that the historically close correlation of GDP with rainfall cycles no longer holds after 1999. Since 1999, when rainfall has recovered, the Zimbabwean economy nevertheless has continued to decline,” Dell said.

“The Centre for Global Development carries the rainfall analysis one step further. It notes that rainfall patterns are regional, yet Zimbabwe’s decline in maize production over the past five years has been dramatically greater than Zambia’s or Malawi’s. In fact, Zambia’s maize production actually increased after 2002.”

Against this background, Dell said, drought could not adequately account for Zimbabwe’s agricultural ruin.

“I don’t pretend to be an agronomist, but I do know that Zimbabwe has experienced cycles of drought since time immemorial. Its agricultural sector adapted to conditions and built impressive irrigation systems and dense networks of dams,” he said.

The “drought defence” simply didn’t account for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, Dell said.

He said the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, the cornerstone of the US policy toward Zimbabwe, makes democratic reforms the main condition for aid.

Without such reforms, he said, the US, together with the European Union and others, would maintain financial and travel sanctions.

“The argument that these narrowly targeted sanctions have hurt the larger economy could only be true if the whole economy is in the hands of 86 government officials on the sanctions list,” Dell said.

“The answer to this is quite simple, as well as quite shocking: Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe’s economic decline. The Zimbabwe government’s own gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule have brought about the crisis.”

This is something we already know and have said so repeatedly in this paper. But it was refreshing to have the envoy of the world’s largest economy speak out on the dishonesty Zimbabweans are fed every day by their politicians and state media.

Let’s put these excuses of drought and sanctions to rest. Government must not shirk responsibility for the consequences of its policy failures. Mugabe and his cronies -— the real saboteurs of the economy — must fix it or do the honourable thing — admit they have no solutions and quit!

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