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Ten things that went wrong with Zimbabwe

Posted by on 17 July 2008

Someone recently asked me what the reasons why Zimbabwe is in such a terrible economic situation are. I’m posting here my top ten causes of political failure in the small southern African state. These are not exclusive. I invite anyone reading the list to add their thoughts and express their feelings towards the list or the situation in Zimbabwe.

  1. The government has been militarized
  2. The judiciary has been militarized
  3. The land reform has been made without economic adjustment strategies and without a system of redistribution to the people who rightfully owned the lands. Prior to 2004, coffee and tea plantations were paying taxes adding to almost 25% of the GDP.
  4. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been demonizing Robert Mugabe downplaying any of his past achievements. This severed the Zimbabwe-United Kingdom relations and gave both political actors the opportunity to blame each other for the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe.
  5. The international sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were not carefully planned; some of them affected regular Zimbabweans more than it affected Zanu-PM politicians and members of the government. For the last eight years, China has been the only major source of financing for the Zimbabwean government, imposing harsh economic restrictions, a rather significant interest rate (6.4%) and other economic challenges. Chinese businesses in Zimbabwe are keeping Mugabe in power but are harming the overall economy.
  6. South African President, Thabo Mbeki has been poorly managing the crisis. While committing to principles of democracy and free elections, he has been trying to keep the door open to Mugabe by giving him full liberty of action. This helped Mugabe maintain his status without being fully compromised. The relationship between Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe is one of the causes of political and economic failure in the case of Zimbabwe.
  7. None of the alternative sources of financing in Zimbabwe (China, India or the Arab League) put any pressure on Mugabe’s regime to redress economic problems or assure free and democratic elections. These external forces financed the government (an estimated 20 % of the national GDP of Zimbabwe comes from China, India and the Arab League) but did not ask for any evidence of state accountability in return.
  8. The opposition in Zimbabwe has not proposed a sustainable alternative. The “democratic change” is still to be seen but, until now, Tsvangirai has not convinced too many people that he is so different from Mugabe ideologically or pragmatically. To put it mildly, the opposition’s alternative policies that will help redress the economic problems Zimbabwe is facing is rather light.
  9. Other African leaders have carefully avoided getting involved in the “Zimbabwean affair” despite their demagogical speech that “we all live in a global village and what happens in Africa concerns us all.” They claim Africans should be united against dictators but make no step forward in securing real democratic elections on the continent.
  10. Mugabe is still seen as the great liberator of the 1980s. For that reason, any outside interventions or attacks are dismissed by Africans as being reminiscences of the colonial system. Mugabe will only be removed from power once Africans start judging him for what he really is: a despot in the 21st century.
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4 Comments For This Post

  1. romica says:

    ok!

  2. Mads Buchter says:

    Dear Codrin Arsene

    Reading your analysis of the situation I am stricken by the fact that Mugabe himself is nowhere mentioned as a root cause for the troubles. Some of his actions are, some of his relationships are, but he himself is not. Why is that: Fear of reprisals, lingering respect for the man he may have been once?

    Seen from my perspective, it is especially strange, that Blair’s og Brown’s demonizing of the man should be mentioned as a root cause of the troubles. Why should their verbal attacks on Mugabe be specifically significant, compared to the many other prime ministers who have not made such attacks? If they had not spoken out against Mugabe, would Zimbabwe NOT have been militarized, would he NOT have tried to stay in power, by any means available, would he NOT have gone forward with his insane land reforms?

    As you mention, international sanctions usually hit the population much harder than the leaders of the given country. The leaders are only affected to the extent, that they actually care what happens to their people or are accountable to that people. Mugabe does not and is not as is shown quite clearly by the fact that being voted out of office, doesn’t actually make him leave. Lashing out at him personally is, as far as I can see, the only way to go. Restrict his travelling, go for his bank accounts abroad, blacken his name and you might at some point touch something, that Mugabe DOES care about, and that is Mugabe himself. Blair and Brown are NOT part of the problem. They are blazing the way for a solution.

    Kind regards

    Mads

  3. Codrin Arsene says:

    Hi Mads

    I do not list Mugabe as the root cause for the troubles because I do not think the reality is that simple. I do not have too much respect for the man nor am I afraid of reprisal. But the problem is that only a handful of people in Europe know the whole truth about Robert Mugabe. Because we as Europeans (yes, I’m European as well) tend to replace the 1980s-1990s guilt for the colonial system with rage against all these despots. We are sliding from one extreme to another. In order to get a better picture of Robert Mugabe and his history I suggest one of the best books ever written on the topic: “Mugabe : power, plunder, and the struggle for Zimbabwe / Martin Meredith.” I will make a review of the book in a couple of days and you will then get more clues of what I am talking about.
    Why do I mention Blair as a cause of disaster in Zimbabwe? Because he’s responsible for Mugabe still being there. The hatred between the Britons and Mugabe is emblematic. Every African knew about it. When Blair started criticizing Mugabe, it gave him, Mugabe, the chance of diverting the incompetence of his actions toward Britain. And everyone believed him because they knew what happened in that past (it was under British authority that Mugabe spent 10 years in prison for a 21 month sentence.)

    You ask yourself
    “If they had not spoken out against Mugabe, would Zimbabwe NOT have been militarized, would he NOT have tried to stay in power, by any means available, would he NOT have gone forward with his insane land reforms?”
    There are two points that are to be discussed here: a) Britain and the military power of Zimbabwe and b) the land reform
    For the first point, it was the British legacy that brought Zimbabwe where it is today. The current military forces in Zimbabwe are only slightly different from the ones promoted by Ian Smith until 1980. Moreover, as a sign of friendship, Mugabe kept the same colonial military general. Mugabe took over power in 1980 without knowing too much about administration. He was a teacher, a preacher for democracy. I think he really believed in democracy at that time. He asked for help from Britain and it was the UK that helped reformed the whole state. But a) the military remained the same and b) they kept diverting millions and millions of dollars from the state banks to their pockets just from the beginning. If Zimbabwe had the possibility of getting rid of the past in 1980, maybe things would have been different.
    As far as the land reform is concerned: you say it’s insane. It is not! In 1950s-1960s the British racist administration expropriated one million people from what they called “white areas.” In Rhodesia (the previous name of Zimbabwe) One million people lost their homes. What Mugabe did in 2004 was to give them that land back. Now, as I said above it was foolish to do it without a plan or without redistribution. This way he’s no better than Mugabe.
    I agree with the targeted sanctions you are talking about in the last paragraph. But one thing, Mads: most of the money Mugabe, his associates and the military stole from Zimbabwe are in Europe at this time. If we’re talking about justice, why aren’t we doing anything to freeze that money? That would really be a part of the solution!

  4. Full Picture says:

    For this discussion to be useful I think it helps to separate the period before 1980 from the period after 1980. There were many mistakes made in both eras, but the more pertinent era to the current catastrophe has to be the post-1980 period.

    I’d like to ask the question a little differently from the way you’ve posed it, in order for the answer to apply more broadly, possible to other failed states also.

    Which steps would a great statesman, intent on building a democratic and prosperous nation, have taken after 1980?

    To develop an “economically prosperous and politically vibrant society” would have required these political goals:
    P1. The development of an activist and organized electorate at the “grassroots” level
    P2. The training and selection of competent and ethical political leaders at every level
    P3. Building the political structures and institutions (that fit in Zimbabwe’s unique cultural and historical background, not transplanted western notions) to support and encourage P1 and P2.

    And the Economic goals should have been to develop:
    E1. The broadest possible base of new up-and-coming entrepreneurial skill and talent
    E2. World-class, export-oriented medium-sized and large businesses in key areas that built on Zimbabwe’s existing advantages in agribusiness, food-processing, wildlife tourism, etc.
    E3. The infrastructure and institutions to support E1 and E2, which would have included, of course, a sound currency policy (in order to avoid hyperinflation which is poison to a market economy).

    We can now compare Mugabe to this standard in order to arrive at more informed and objective conclusions.

    Some follow-on questions:
    Did Mugabe understand the importance of these goals?
    If so, did he sincerely want to achieve these goals?
    If so, did he have the problem-solving skills and competence to achieve these goals?

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