Zimbabwe: Broke and broker

The city water taps run dry every day in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.

Electrical power is scarce and there are frequent blackouts; private homes and all businesses need generators. Hospital supplies and doctors are scarce. So are functioning schools, street lights and all of the other daily governance items that governments, even some in Africa, normally supply.

But this is Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has ruled despotically for 34 long years.

Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party won presidential and parliamentary elections last July by cleverly packing voter lists, rejigging constituencies and constituency boundaries, and ensuring that shack-dwellers and villagers knew precisely for whom they should vote, and how often.

Since the ZANU-PF victory, the national economy, having successfully recovered from a previous total collapse (the recovery came during opposition management) has once again melted down.

The Mugabe government has been unable to pay full civil service, police and army wages since the beginning of 2014.

Local experts believe that the government will be providing just a small part of what is owed later this month and will then absolutely run out of cash by August, depriving even soldiers of their normal wages.

Six banks have failed and 11 more are operating precariously. Cash flows are limited, liquidity nonexistent. Businesses are failing daily, with scores of large firms going bust since the beginning of the year. Government revenues are only 30 percent of daily expenditures.

Lack of confidence in the Mugabe government accelerated massive capital flight, which is continuing. (Zimbabwe has used the US dollar as its major currency since printing local dollars led to a 250 million per cent inflation and huge shortages of fuel and consumer goods.) That crisis of confidence continues, so the economy inexorably slides backward.

The slide has not been arrested by a confiscatory attempt to transfer or “indigenize” non-African-owned businesses and to harass successful mining companies and foreign-owned sugar mills. As a result, incoming foreign investment is no more; domestic entrepreneurial activity has halted.

This absence of economic drive has been accentuated by the smuggling of locally mined gold into South Africa and the drying up of the country’s alluvial diamond-harvesting bonanza. The remaining abundant diamond trove is encased in a long ridge of rocky conglomerate that requires the kind of technological expertise unavailable in a weak Zimbabwe.

The $11 billion worth of diamonds that were plundered from 2010 largely was appropriated by Mugabe, his wife, cronies, security forces and a Chinese company. Very little revenue from diamonds ever reached state coffers.

This week, Zimbabwe may well be broke, and growing economically at a low or even a negative level.

One remedy that the ruling party – but no sane economist – is considering is the printing again of local dollars, thus allowing the government to pay soldiers and others. But the result would be inflation, confidence levels would ebb further, and petrol and many consumer goods would vanish.

A prominent banker told me that the government lacked funds with which to print local dollars, and he had seen no preparatory signs. But, by August, when the army and air force become restive, Mugabe might possess no other way to placate the troops.

In most African countries with so much dysfunctionality and widespread theft by cabinet ministers, officials, police, army and almost every person with access to a permit or a franchise, a military coup would be likely. In Zimbabwe’s case, however, junior officer ranks have carefully been weeded and senior officers have for long fed themselves at the trough of corruption. They are so much a part of a venal system of enrichment that little can be expected from such quarters.

Moreover, Mugabe, now 90, has so successfully created a climate of fear – and patronage rewards – that key politicians and “secureocrats” are careful to stay obedient, the better to enrich themselves. And the followers are immensely wealthy, with dollar accounts offshore.

Mugabe is frail, but still strong enough to review troops at parades (his police chief recently collapsed at one) and occasionally to preside over cabinet and central committee meetings.

Almost everyone in Zimbabwe muses concernedly about the leadership succession.

Before its disastrous showing in last year’s elections, experts assumed that the Movement for Democratic Change would play a major role in the country’s future. But now the MDC has fewer than 90 seats in a 210-seat parliament. It has also split into two, with most members staying with former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and a rump group seceding with former finance minister Tendai Biti.

ZANU-PF will determine Zimbabwe’s future both constitutionally and in terms of power. Vice-President Joice Mujuru is in line to preside when Mugabe goes, but only temporarily, until parliament votes. But there are less clear provisions if Mugabe becomes incompetent in office.

In either event, the Mujuru faction within the ruling party may not be able to prevent Emmerson Mnangagwa – now minister of justice, chair of the joint operations command, a leading securocrat and ambitious pretender to the throne – from pushing Ms. Mujuru aside and taking power with military support. Foreign diplomats now view Mr. Mnangagwa as the only politician capable of maintaining stability and returning Zimbabwe to international respectability.

Mnangagwa is very canny, determined, corrupt, and ruthless. At 64, he is also younger than many of his rivals and enemies. Recently, he pushed aside another minister to take control of a large petroleum distribution complex capable of greatly rewarding him and his close associates for years to come.

Unfortunately, other than a soft coup on behalf of Mnangagwa, or South African intervention to persuade Mugabe to relinquish office or to cede day-to-day power to Mnangagwa (or a weaker Mujuru), there are few alternatives.

South Africa could attempt to bully Mugabe to install an interim cabinet of technocrats, as in Greece, but South Africa’s appetite for meddling is reduced by its own economic weaknesses and internal political problems.

What is more certain is that Zimbabwe’s economy will continue to crumble, and that Mugabe will retain enough control to cow Mujuru, Mnangagwa and others. The MDC will weaken still further.

Only when the ZANU-PF holds its national congress in December will Mnangagwa try to move decisively against Mujuru – assuming Mugabe lives that long.

By then, however, there may be little left economically of Zimbabwe. Metaphorically, it will remain for some last politician to turn off the lights.

With six failed banks and runaway corruption, most places in Africa would be looking at a military coup. But the dictator’s grip remains strong and he may simply print more money.



  • comment-avatar

    The end is near , it has been said before on this site that the opposition should make it clear to the world that any loans or financial contracts agreed with the present illegal government will not be honored by a future government.

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    Angela Wigmore 8 years ago

    It makes me so sad. A truthful and well-written article. And in the meantime the liberal/left-wing EU are providing yet MORE money to prop up this disgraceful regime. As an admission of guilt, although he would no doubt have rejected it, Britain should award Ian Smith a posthumous knighthood for being correct but, more importantly, for holding a country together and improving it for ALL its citizens, in spite of fighting an internal AND external war. Not to mention that he played his part in helping Britain overcome Naziism.

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      Petal 8 years ago

      Surely the bufoons are saying to the EU yes we will be doing abc when in actual fact they will be doing zilch – Pulling the wool over their eys. Come on Civil Society, Beatrice Mthetwa , Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers it is time for you to speak on the ordinary peoples behalf and tell the EU exactly how it is.

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    Absolutely right Smith was not a racist he was a realist and people are starting to see this. Rhodesia was not perfect, but it was paradise to what we have now.

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      Ruramai 8 years ago

      Andy, in a forum of this nature there’s need for seriousness and maturity. Smith was an incorrigible racist. It is a pity the country changed hands from a racist to a ruthless and corrupt despot.

      Please don’t tell me that just because blacks may have been materially better off at the time it was therefore ok to be humiliated and dehumanized because of the colour of one’s skin.

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      Saddened 8 years ago

      Sorry Andy he was a racist and I have the scars to show. As someone of mixed race I had little no choice as regards the following, residence, school,career,etc Wasn’t allowed to join the regular army, air force, police etc all on racial grounds. However his Rhodesia was an infinitely better run country than Mugabe’s Zimbabwe which is now tottering on the edge.

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    Petal 8 years ago

    Surely the bufoons are saying to the EU yes we will be doing abc when in actual fact they will be doing zilch – Pulling the wool over their eys. Come on Civil Society, Beatrice Mthetwa , Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers it is time for you to speak on the ordinary peoples behalf and tell the EU exactly how it is.

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    adonis pfacha 8 years ago

    The kingdom is about to explode.There seems there is no solution to the Zimbabwean problem.The worst will happen if Mugabe dies before the ZPF succession issue is solved.Mugabe will die with Zimbabwe. This is unfortunately a hard reality.

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    zanupf fear me 8 years ago

    Brilliant article and perceptive comments by contributors. Are you still dreaming Vince muses we ??

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    Chaka 8 years ago

    Kamuzu Banda of Malawi was in leg-chains at old age when he was being aided to walk, to face charges for crimes commited during his presidency that included mass murders of his opponents. I learnt then that God can keep a criminal alive so the whole world can see him being charged. Very interesting is the world we live in.

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    Ruramai 8 years ago

    Angela Wigmore, it is a pity you believe that just because Mugabe has been a failure then Smith should be celebrated as a hero. Heroes do not plunge their countries into civil wars through policies that marginalise the majority.

    As a high school kid in the 1970s I have paiful memories of what Smith’s regime could do to black children.

    Traveling to Bulawayo in second class by train, I was moved to third class to make way for white kids whose parents had not bothered to make a reservation. At just 13 I was traumatized and not compensated for the downgrade. It took an hour for the people from my school to find me after disembarking because they didn’t know where to look.

    Many black people experienced worse. When you dehumanize people based on skin colour you cannot be said to have worked for the improvement of all.

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      Zanu pf is not the Majority in Zimbabwe,they rule the country because the army belongs to them not to the people,they did not win the elections fairly,they rigged, Mugabe is an illegitimate and dictatorial leader,he knows that the people of Zimbabwe don’t love him ,again it is very painful to be dehumanized by the fellow black man whom u paid an absolute trust to serve u,be careful,zanu is not for the interest of the people of Zimbabwe,its for those who are connected to Mugabe,If u are a true Zimbabwean u must be worried about how Zanu and Mugabe treat his own people,get me correct.dehumanism of any kind is obnoxious and indefensible evil deity whether its done by blacks or whites.Racism/ inequality are the only vocabulary we should have been removed during Smith’s leadership otherwise the rest were fine

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    nyoni 8 years ago

    TODAY ZANU MUST GO. Thats my goal from now. Beware Zanu.

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    How are we to minimize the suffering that will come with ZANU PF’S implosion, if it does implode? Ladies and gentlemen the cushioning starts with you. Each and everyone of us knows a very brainwashed youth, police officer, soldier or beauricrat. Please persuade him or her to see the unsustainable future that is ZANU PF and the futility of supporting the same. I know some of you may say why bother, these are incorrigible ZANU PF puppets, but here is the point, once a ship starts to sink the rats will learn to swim. At least try to persuade those you know to see the light, so that they don’t abuse their fellow suffering citizens for a dead horse.

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    Poor Zimbabwe definitely now heading towards a Military dictatorship under Mangagwa and serious problems ahead for the majority of Zimbabweans.No end in sight ,most African countries just don’t learn and all have similar history.Greed is just to great!

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    TYPICAL AFRICANs!!!!What is it with africans that they cannot get it right 50 odd countries all start off well and then this .zimbabwe better get it,s act together before zuma and the anc do the very same thing to south africa.Once this happens then just a free fo all.

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      Ruramai 8 years ago

      zim reeper, you are right when you say Africans never get it right. You how ever fail to acknowledge that white people did not get it right either. If they had, there would have been no civil war in this country.

      There is enough blame to go round in respect of the mess that Zimbabwe is today. For example, white people were so greedy that they didn’t realise that land, given the history of this country, could never be considered an entirely legal issue but rather a moral issue. Then of course the lunatic called Mugabe decided to use it as a political weapon to stay in power.

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    Tongoona 8 years ago

    The country needs no ZANU PFs if it is to shake of shackles of a dying economy. Get ZANU PF out and Zimbabwe will begin to bud economically.

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    Zimbabwe inflation figure mentioned in above article at 250 million per cent is incorrect – the figure of 250 was correct at about July 2008.
    The true figure at the time of the demise of the Zimbabwe dollar (ZWD)in about November 2008 was – wait for it – 89.7 sextillion per cent – or put another way 89.700 000 000 000 000 000 000 – basically 89.7 with twenty zeroes behind it.
    The Zimbabwe Central Statistical Office (CSO) only calculated up until July 2008 – maybe not wanting for ZW to break another financial record !
    These calculations were done by Professor Steve H Hanke of John Hopkins University where he is Professor of Applied Economics in USA.

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    Spraga 8 years ago

    We wil suffer lets all unite and avoid beeing greedy and do something for our childrens sake