IN what are undoubtedly the most forthright remarks made by a foreign diplomat based in Harare, United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell has said the current
economic crisis has taken Zimbabwe back over 50 years in terms of the average person’s standard of living.
Dell blamed the “gross mismanagement” and “corrupt rule” of President Robert Mugabe’s government for ruining the country’s hitherto vibrant economy.
Citing research by the Centre for Global Development in Washington, Dell said Zimbabwe had drifted backwards 52 years in terms of people’s purchasing power and quality of life.
“It is estimated that Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has set the country back more than half a century. The paper calculated that the purchasing power of the average Zimbabwean in 2005 had fallen back to the same level as in 1953 when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was established,” Dell said in a stinging address on Wednesday at Africa University in Mutare.
“That’s an astonishing reversal of 52 years of progress in only a half dozen years.”
Dell’s comments were his first public remarks about Zimbabwe’s crisis since his arrival in Harare over a year ago.
Dell said Zimbabwe now has the fastest shrinking economy in the world. “I know of no other example in the world of any economy that, in times of peace, has contracted so precipitously in the course of six years,” he said.
Dell said the country’s real gross domestic product had shrunk by 30% in five years, while manufacturing fell by 51%.
“No issue today is more important to the future of Zimbabwe nor has the potential to harm the region than the growing collapse of the Zimbabwean economy,” Dell said.
“Not too long ago, Zimbabwe had a vibrant and diversified economy. It was a land of great hope and optimism in Africa.”
However, Dell said Zimbabwe had gone “half a century backwards”.
“GDP fell by almost 30% between 1997 and 2003, and the trend has continued through 2005. Inflation is at least mid-triple digits and clearly on the rise,” he said.
“If government continues to print money to meet its obligations, it could well drive inflation into quadruple digits by year’s end. Manufacturing has shrunk 51% since 1997 and exports have fallen by half. Almost every major economic indicator has declined significantly. The investment and operating environment is dismal.”
Dell said foreign direct invest-ment had “evaporated from US$444 million in 1998 to US$9 million in 2004”.
“Agricultural production – the mainstay of the economy – has collapsed under violent implementation of a necessary but badly thought through land reform,” he said.
“The human cost of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has been extraordinarily high. At least half the country faces food shortages. The country’s human development indicators, once the envy of sub-Saharan Africa, have sunk to the lowest (levels) in the world,” he said.
“The flood of economic bad news has been continuous. Most recently, the World Economic Forum said Zimbabwe was the least competitive economy out of 117 economies studied.”
Dell said although Mugabe’s government blames drought and targeted Western sanctions for the economic crisis, “this explanation does not hold up well under scrutiny.
“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,” he said. “The Zimbabwe government’s own gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule have brought on the crisis.”