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How Mugabe can save Zimbabwe from ruin

I HAVE given some thought to President Mugabe’s demand that the opposition repent before dialogue can begin. “Repent from what?” I wondered.

I have absolutely no

effect on the management of Zimbabwe. The only thing I can do that has impact is rattle off letters moaning about how terrible things are.

A lot of people are guilty of this. Almost every letter or article I read whines about how bad things are and has nothing to offer to make it better. That kind of whining is part of the problem, not the solution. So I repent.

Instead, I will make a direct appeal to the only force in the country that has the power to put things right in Zimbabwe. I appeal to Mugabe, not President Mugabe, not Comrade Mugabe, but the Robert Mugabe who lived much of his life for the freedom of his people, who suffered human indignity to stand for his cause.

He is the only one who can turn the country around before it ignites in civil war and suffering so familiar to the worst of African dictatorships. I believe that something in Mugabe’s heart became broken some five years ago that began this headlong charge into self-destruction.

Whether it was fatigue, insidious corruption or the realisation that soon he must die with so much left undone, his heart burst and was overwhelmed by the corrupted powers he held in balance around him.

Robert Mugabe, it is not too late to mend what you have broken. You can do that because all the power revolves around you. When you are gone that centre will burst and chaos will fly in all directions.

Stopping this rush to destruction will not be easy. If you can accomplish the following before you meet our Lord you will have at least set the foundation on which your dreams can be realised.

l Bring the economy into balance. Remove all the artificial controls which have thrown the natural balance of supply and demand off. Allow banks to set interest rates that take account of inflation. Privatise state-run monopolies to allow competition and market forces to determine business operations. This will bring the formal sector in line with the parallel markets and essentially dry them out.

You may fear unstable fluctuations in prices but so much of the economy is already transferred into the parallel market that the equilibrium has already been established.

Print enough money in large denominations to meet the needs of the economy. Start with a $10 000 and $5 000 bill. Surely you must understand that inflation has already devalued the buying power of the $1 000 bill to a point where it will be worth less than half the $500 it replaces by the time it is released.

Matching money supply to inflation adjusted to 1999 levels would be a good start. Curiously, in this economic model printing more money will actually help reduce inflation because it is the scarcity of money itself that is driving inflation.

Break the back of corruption. In a healthy economy corruption and nepotism are useful to individuals because they help establish a loyal power base of favouritism. This weighs on the economy but in a healthy environment and a free market the worst cases lead to inefficient businesses which are out-competed by healthier ones. That is how corruption is kept in check.

It cannot be legislated away, it must wither away through natural forces. This is true both in business and in politics. Left unchecked, corruption first eats away at the profit and then finally consumes the asset itself. That is why it is called a cancer.

Zanu PF has had cancer for 24 years and it has almost consumed its host. This will be the hardest task set before you.

You must cut out the most cancerous parts and set healthy tissue in its place. Unchaining free market forces will clean out the wound but only you can operate to remove the worst parts or they will continue to fester.

Remove from power those who have most damaged the country to line their own pockets. Unfortunately you appointed many of them and they will not go gently. Replace them graciously with members of the MDC or with known reformers. Do this well and you defuse the civil war bomb that ticks between the people and those in power.

Agricultural production – there is a way to accomplish what you idealistically sought in giving the land to the people without starving the country.

Repossess all the land and incorporate the farms under the original boundaries before the land grab. Create corporate entities for all of them permanently owned by the government. Issue shares for each farm only to those that live and work on the land for as long as they work the land.

Allow white farmers to return to run the farms for a transitionary term. Allocate a portion of the shares of the corporation to them – enough to make it profitable for them to return. Allocate the remaining shares to those working on the farm.

In this way everyone is a part owner of a viable commercial farming entity and everyone gets a fair share of the fruits of their labour. This will allow white farmers to bring back their expertise, creditworthiness and management while still giving the people the opportunity to own the land.

These farmers could be brought back for 5, 10 or 15-year contracts with elections among shareholders to vote in a new head of the farm allowing a smooth transition to all- black ownership.

Aids will cause incredible stresses on the government. There is not enough money in any economy to make it right. You must cauterise the wound and stop the spread.

The best way is to change the awareness of the people. Make it a crime equivalent to attempted murder for a known HIV-positive person to have unprotected sex with a non-infected person. Assign Aids orphans to be sponsored by other families. The alternative would be a workforce crippled by 50% losses in productivity and a generation of street gangsters who fend for themselves by preying on others.

Accomplish these five things before you die and your life will not have been in vain. The rest of the problems will evaporate as these changes take hold.

Continue as you are going and all those years of suffering for the ideals and hopes of your people will have been for nothing. The ideals and hopes are still alive – are they still alive in you?

Lori Pelham,

Ex-Zimbabwean in the US.

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