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Eric Bloch Column

Government goes ‘DELLirious’


ONCE again, Zimbabwe’s government is going into hysterical frenzy, ranting and raving in a state of near delirium. In so doing, it is abetted by its sycophantic media which has attained a pronouncedly “DELLirio

us” state in its vitriolic mouthings against the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell.

Ever since the former British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Sir Brian Donnelly, finished his tour of duty and departed Zimbabwe, government has been casting far and wide for new targets of its abuse. It has desperately been seeking new persons to blame for all that is ill in Zimbabwe (and that is a very great deal!). Whilst it continues to pour forth its spurious allegations against Tony Blair, Jack Straw, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice for their supposed orchestration of sanctions, it inevitably also continues to ascribe responsibility to its political opponents, to the minute white minority in general, and to former white commercial farmers. But it is aware that its invariably specious contentions against them ceases to have even the remote semblance of credibility unless ongoing aggressive collaboration with people on the ground, representative of the mythical foreign enemies, can be identified as being the tools of those enemies.

Donnelly’s outgoing forthright character had readily cast him as one that government could convincingly blame for much, even if unsubstantiated by anything concrete in fact. Thus, in a perverted sort of way, his departure from the country was an immense loss to government. However, no matter how great its faults, and no matter how often it is incapable, government is particularly adept at making assumptions which it can then use to support “finger-pointing” at alleged enemies. Thus, it has been delighted when recent incidents involving the US ambassador readily convinced the paranoiac government that he was bent upon the destruction of Zimbabwe, with his first and foremost objective being the ousting of the government from office. That there was no foundation to these paranoid conclusions was, and is, irrelevant to government.

The first instance occurred when, on a US public holiday, which occasioned the closure for the day of the US embassy in Harare, the ambassador sought to relax by enjoying a stroll through Harare’s Botanical Gardens.  Then, seeking to find the cafeteria for some light refreshments, he very evidently inadvertently strayed into a “high security” area, being that part of the Botanical Gardens adjoining the presidential residence.  That he had not noticed a warning sign (which was apparently not very prominent) is irrelevant. Clearly, his presence was sinister in the extreme in the eyes of the authorities, and the servile state media certainly made a meal of an insignificant occurrence.

But then the ambassador did the unforgivable. Addressing a gathering at Africa University, near Mutare, he had the astounding temerity to tell the truth or, in fact, several home truths. And nothing hurts as much as does the truth, so government was in a great deal of pain. The ambassador told his audience that: “Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe’s decline. The Zimbabwe government’s own gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule has brought on the crisis.” It is significant to note that he neither denied a negative economic impact of sanctions or of drought, but contended that those were not the root causes of the calamitous state of the economy. On that he was indisputably right. The economy was in a disastrous free-fall long before being afflicted by drought, and such sanctions as exist against Zimbabwe are minimal in effect insofar as the economy is concerned.

The reality is that Zimbabwe enjoyed a very significant economic upturn from 1994 to 1997, once government reluctantly embarked upon economic deregulation, upon creation of an investment-conducive environment, upon rational fiscal policies, upon stimulating tourism, and upon facilitating new enterprise development. The economic future looked positive and bright. However, after only three short years, government brought the economic growth to a halt, and set the economy upon a devastating down hill path towards near total collapse, widespread poverty, and untold misery.

Its first action in that direction was to succumb to the demands and the threats of over 50 000 war veterans (real and pseudo). Of these, 32 000 had entered assembly points at the end of the war for independence, but despite an elapse of 17 years, entailing death of a probable 12 000 or more, leaving only about 20 000 genuinely surviving war veterans, government entertained compensation claims from 52 000. Of those, approximately 3 000 were 19 years old in 1997, so they fought the war when they were two! About 1 000 were 16 years of age, so they fought the war before they were conceived! But they demanded compensation packages, and government yielded to the demands,   fearing the consequences of not doing so. That burdened the fiscus with an unsustainable commitment of many billions of, then valuable dollars, necessitating recourse to massive borrowings, with an inevitable consequence of soaring inflation. And government did so in total disregard for widespread, informed, contrary advice.

That triggered “Black Friday”, in November, 1997, on which day the Zimbabwean dollar depreciated by 75%, as money markets foresaw the consequences of government’s foolhardy action. That currency depreciation was the catalyst for further inflation, resulting only a month later in violent food riots which, amongst other effects, destroyed almost all investor confidence.

The economy was then set for intensifying destruction, but government did naught to halt the collapse. It resorted to “crisis management”, being wholly reactive instead of proactive, and unconstructively so.  Concurrently, it allowed corruption to become more and more pronounced, irrespective of the concomitant economic negatives. By way of example, the Chidyausiku Commission identified numerous instances of corruption and fraud in respect of post-war compensation claims. However, years later, virtually no prosecutions have resulted.

However, the economic “tsunami” was evidently not yet sufficiently great to satisfy masochistic, myopic  politicians, so they dug out (from under the mounds of dust on ministry shelves)  the 1991 enacted Land Acquisition Act.

Ignoring all proposals of collaborative and constructive land reform from the Commercial Farmers’ Union, government proceeded to annex and expropriate thousands of productive farms and, in all too many instances, handed them over according only to nepotistic criteria. Will and ability to farm was generally irrelevant. Sound political connections prevailed. Some new farmers worked assiduously to have productive operations, but many were expecting immediate enrichment without effort.  And many of those who did were hindered by recurrent non-availability of governmentally promised inputs.

At the same time, government turned a blind eye to thousands of unlawful farm expropriations, to murder, assault, vandalisation and theft applied by many self-nominated, “get-rich quick” aspirant new farmers. The results included the near total decimation of Zimbabwe’s well-developed irrigation infrastructures, making it near impossible to counter the effects of drought. Agriculture was the economic foundation, and government shattered that foundation.

Even now, when Vice President Msika and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono call for a halt to farm invasions and farmer harassment, the invasions and harassment continue and the authorities do nothing to halt them.

Insofar as sanctions are concerned, the only substantive sanctions are targeted ones against the political hierarchy, including travel restrictions and barriers to possession of foreign assets. These have no economic consequences. Some cite the US Democracy Act as evidence of sanctions against Zimbabwe for, in terms of that Act, many countries in Africa enjoy favourable trade concessions on exports to the US under the Agoa Convention.

Those concessions are intended to reward adherence to the precepts of democracy, but are not extended to countries such as Zimbabwe which pay lip service to democracy, but do not practise its fundamentals.  So Zimbabwe is not barred from exporting to the US, but does not qualify for the special concessions. That can hardly be construed as sanctions! Admittedly, some US companies misinterpret that Act, to justify self-decisions to minimise interaction with Zimbabwe, but their actions do not constitute internationally imposed sanctions. Some countries no longer provide developmental aid to Zimbabwe, but that is reactive to Zimbabwean abuses of aid on all too many occasions, matched only by abuses of the donors.

Ambassador Dell was stating nothing but fact, but that fact was unpalatable to government, and especially to its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, and so the knives are drawn against the worthy ambassador. This will undoubtedly alienate the international community further, and will further tarnish Zimbabwe’s much-blemished image, resulting in still further economic catastrophe.

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