Zimbabwe’s continued descent into hell Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, February 08, 2007
If you've followed what has been going on in Zimbabwae under Robert Mugabe for the last few years you are aware of how that once prosperous African country has managed to become one of the biggest basket cases of a continent of basket cases.
For close to seven years, Zimbabwe’s economy and quality of life have been in slow, uninterrupted decline. They are still declining this year, people there say, with one notable difference: the pace is no longer so slow.
In recent weeks, the national power authority has warned of a collapse of electrical service. A breakdown in water treatment has set off a new outbreak of cholera in the capital, Harare. All public services were cut off in Marondera, a regional capital of 50,000 in eastern Zimbabwe, after the city ran out of money to fix broken equipment. In Chitungwiza, just south of Harare, electricity is supplied only four days a week.
The government awarded all civil servants a 300 percent raise two weeks ago. But the increase is only a fraction of the inflation rate, so the nation’s 110,000 teachers are staging a work slowdown for more money. Measured by the black-market value of Zimbabwe’s ragtag currency, even their new salaries total less than 60 American dollars a month.
Doctors and nurses have been on strike for five weeks, seeking a pay increase of nearly 9,000 percent, and health care is all but nonexistent. Harare’s police chief warned in a recently leaked memo that if rank-and-file officers did not get a substantial raise, they might riot.
So there it is. Ramapant inflation, strikes, building opposition (to include within Mugabe's own party) and a thriving black market. In fact the black market has been so good, in some respects, that it has left agricultural fields empty:
Seeking to revive farm production, for example, the government sells gasoline to farmers at a bargain rate of 330 Zimbabwe dollars per liter — and farmers promptly resell it on the black market for 10 times that, leaving their fields idle.
And the reaction of the cartoon that controls the lives of Zimbawens?
The central bank’s latest response to these problems, announced this week, was to declare inflation illegal. From March 1 to June 30, anyone who raises prices or wages will be arrested and punished. Only a “firm social contract” to end corruption and restructure the economy will bring an end to the crisis, said the reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono.
It would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Declare inflation illegal? Yeah, that'll fix it. And someone needs to tell Mr. Gono that the firm social contract to end corruption and restructure the economy is impossible when bandits disguised as a government are in charge of a country.
Oh, and remember the problem with power that was cited above. Wonderful irony:
The speech by Mr. Gono, a favorite of Mr. Mugabe, was broadcast nationally. In downtown Harare, the last half was blacked out by a power failure.
Zimbabwe is a real case study in criminal oligarchy. And if you really study the country you soon realize that it is Venezuela without the oil revenue.
And people insist on braying on about market failures. Yet another extraordinary failure of government.
Even so, when Mugabe started confiscating farms in the 90s, the writing was on the wall. (Actually, a more alert reader than I would have seen that writing already in the 1980s, when Mugabe exercised his guns in Matabeland.) What we have seen since is just the slow working out of those decisions, and of putting yet another socialist strongman on yet another throne. And as a consequence, Zimbabwe basically seems to be heading towards becoming a chinese colony. How sad, and ironic.
An interesting related question: will South Africa go down the same path? There is a certain whiff about it.