There is a misguided belief that Zimbabwe’s economic morass was due to the country undertaking the so-called Agrarian Revolution which gathered momentum in 2000. This approach is being challenged through an alternative line of thought which traces Zimbabwe’s economic decline to the country’s first decade of majority rule under Zanu PF.
By Masola wa Dabudabu
The decade starting from independence in 1980 to 1990 is a period in which the cockerel party laid the egg for economic decline. In that decade, Zanu PF provided a cosy nest where elements of bad governance were incubated. The cosiness of the unwholesome nest naturally resulted in hatchlings that only spelt more economic disaster for the fledgling nation.
In the 80s, members of the country’s upper echelons spent time designing, testing, nurturing and adopting covert corrupt practices for their own selfishness. When President Robert Mugabe took over he had a great opportunity to either make or mar the country’s future. In those short 10 years, a blueprint rendering Zimbabwe a failed State was sealed. There was no outcry as euphoric citizens who were under the lingering spell of celebrating independence could not be bothered by a slight negative growth.
Although the ordinary people might not have been severely affected by the early signs of economic decline, a slow slide from heroes of the liberation struggle to zeroes of economic decline had begun for Mugabe and other powerful beings in Zanu PF. The economy started limping from a viable one to stagnation due to ruinous political decisions, maladministration and underground corruption.
Just before 1980 the economy was biased towards meeting the needs of the minority whites but it had a solid foundation for expansion for the benefit of all.
1980 saw heroes assuming power. Everyone who had participated in the liberation war was a hero. Mugabe was a hero as much as Edgar Tekere, Joshua Nkomo, Dumiso Dabengwa, Enos Nkala, Maurice Nyagumbo to name just a few were. Mugabe failed to consolidate the economy he inherited. His party began a sustained looting of the coffers for ministerial aggrandisement.
International goodwill provided huge sums of money to help Zimbabwe achieve some of her social obligations as part of reparation and restitution for colonial wrongs.
The external donors were equally matched with internal acceptors ready to misappropriate the donor funds. Then corruption was not widespread but was a preserve of the few who controlled vassals in treasury or had unquestioned authority to requisition funds from treasury.
A compelling case where Treasury was fleeced is the haphazard payment of ex-fighters in assembly points. Treasury just unleashed trunk-loads of cash to paymasters without proper records of who was being paid what. This resulted in cash being siphoned from Treasury on the falsehood that it was used for salaries. Big guns diverted money for personal use with no regard to accountability.
People in the right places saw an opportunity to make easy money and they took advantage of the chance. Developmental projects staffed with more ghost workers than real ones were put together as a front of obtaining money from Treasury. This form of embezzlement saw the State became poorer and could not meet its social obligations whilst on the other hand powerful people became millionaires over night.
The prevalence of appropriately named projects from the early 1980s onwards is an indictment of pervasive defrauding of the Treasury. The State sanctioned projects known as “food for work” with no proper record of who worked, how much food they were given and what exactly they did.
People with influential positions were able to manipulate the system for their own financial benefit. There was no effort to stamp out misappropriation through the formalisation of the employment of those engaged in “food for work” programmes.
Ministers developed huge appetites for free money and Treasury suffered. More doggy projects were brought forth and money was transferred from Treasury to ministers’ accounts via money laundering services.
The extent of greed was made public during the Willowgate car scandal. At the time of the Willowgate scandal (1988-89) ministers and other high-ranking party members had developed insatiable appetites for money. The scandal only saved to highlight Mugabe’s loss of control ofthe economy and its ancillary activities.
Treasury lost a lot of money to individuals and developmental programmes stalled due to loss of cash. Money taken from Treasury by individuals did not attract tax and so Treasury suffered double jeopardy.
The government decided to print more cash as an answer to an unenviable situation where so much needed to be done yet there was no money. Demand for cash for developmental projects ballooned but there were no tangible results to match the costs.
As developmental projects were shelved, the economy either stalled or posted negative growth. The government became poor and the ordinary people became poorer. Mugabe failed to arrest the moribund economy in the period between 1980 and 1990 when the rate of economic decay and inflation were manageable.
The agrarian reforms in the 2000s came at a time when economic decline and inflation had taken a serious battering of exponential proportions. Sanctions by the West had nothing to do with Zimbabwe’s economic decline.