WHEN Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, it was a relatively thriving economy, despite emerging from a devastating liberation war and international isolation.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
After 33 years of self-rule, the country is now at a crossroads again as general elections loom. Given President Robert Mugabe’s disastrous record and his old age, failing health and the way he is out of touch with reality, re-electing him on July 31 amounts to helping him to fulfil his president-for-life dream while condemning the nation to renewed implosion.
Besides his personal and maybe family interest, which includes the ambition to be president for life, the need to secure immunity to avoid being held to account and protection of his wealth, there is no public interest or ideological principle behind Mugabe’s latest re-election bid.
Mugabe’s story after Independence is complex yet simple as it can be digested into a life of power, violence and plunder, dotted with intervening patches of success and vast swathes of failure.
Initially, as prime minister, Mugabe, who had little knowledge about how to run an economy, kept the ship steady. This resulted in the continuation of the command economy policies carried over from the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and the war years.
The commandist policies were designed by reactionaries in Ian Smith’s right-wing government to ensure survival of a siege economy. Taken over by Mugabe’s left-wing regime, the policies maintained an economy under siege — from within.
While Mugabe’s socialist agenda helped expand education, health and other social programmes, the running thread through wealth redistribution in the first decade was that of affirmative action, the forerunner to indigenisation — racketeering by regulation.
Mugabe’s vast social programmes, funded by scarce public resources, were later to wreak havoc with the economy until he was forced to adopt the Washington Consensus prescriptions for crisis-wracked developing countries which entailed macro-economic stabilisation, liberalisation on trade and investment and a market framework. Predictably, this failed due to domestic and exogenous factors.
Meanwhile, Mugabe tried to build a one-party state under an ideological cloak of national unity and anti-imperialism. To consolidate and maintain his authoritarian project, repressive and fascist methods were used. He unleashed terror against his former liberation struggle Zapu comrades, crushed dissenters, stoked the fires of regionalism and ethnicity, committed and tried to cover up massacres in the mid-south-western regions, and allowed corruption to spread — all well before the late 1990s when his radical land reform programme finally collapsed the economy already reeling under the weight of extended periods of mismanagement.
Some were initially fooled by the Mugabe regime’s rhetoric of reconciliation, democracy and socialism, failing to understand its true character and philosophy.
Only after 2000, following land invasions and fierce political repression, did they begin to comprehend, and even then very slowly and perhaps not yet fully, the Mugabe regime’s commitment to hold onto power at all costs.
Prior to that, by 1997, impatience over government’s failure on land reform and failed economic policies, which triggered labour unrest and riots, had led to growing discontent.
The raiding of Treasury and huge outlays to pay war veterans, the Congo war and the currency crash, against a backdrop of underlying structural problems, plunged Zimbabwe into a wave of uncertainty, instability and eventually crisis.
Facing political demise due to his leadership and policy failures after he was forced into abortive constitutional reforms in 1999, Mugabe went into survival mode. There followed land invasions, repression, political violence and killings, blood-soaked elections and disputed outcomes, sanctions and instability — culminating into a political and economic meltdown which left Zimbabwe on the brink.
Despite modest recovery since the coalition government emerged in 2009, Zimbabwe, initially a source of optimism about Africa’s future, is now a basket case of a country. Consequently, re-electing Mugabe on July 31 will simply be a disaster for the country.