Analysis & Opinions - Financial Times

Zimbabwe Needs Help If It Is to Have a Rose Revolution

| June 21, 2006

Only Chinese entrepreneurs and Robert Mugabe, president, are profiting from the complete economic and moral collapse of once proud and prosperous Zimbabwe. The Chinese will be allowed to exploit the country's mineral wealth and build thermal power plants to turn local coal into electric power. The Chinese are also helping the Zimbabwean army rebuild its barracks. Meanwhile, Mr Mugabe is pocketing illicit gains and constructing yet another large mansion. His obsessive tyranny is not yet near an end. The long-suffering people of Zimbabwe lack essential foodstuffs, queue for what little there is in shops or at petrol stations and are attacked when they complain.

Last month, 170 women and children peacefully protested against rising school fees - up 1,000 per cent in a year - and were hustled off to jail. School fees are now about Z$30m (£162) a term while average monthly wages for domestic workers remain Z$3m. Industrial wages (when there are jobs) average about Z$10m a month. So it is hard to see how children, already hungry, can afford to attend school.

About 80 per cent of Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. Bread costs Z$100,900 a loaf, when available. With inflation at more than 1,000 per cent a year (the worst in the world), with Zimbabwe's currency almost worthless and unemployment levels at about 80 per cent, it is no wonder that Zimbabweans flee in their millions to South Africa and Botswana. The country's average gross domestic product has gone backwards by about 40 per cent in six years. The Zimbabwean standard of living in constant dollars has been reduced to 1953 levels. Because of the government's inattention to the scourge of HIV/Aids, Zimbabwe now boasts the lowest life expectancies in the world - 34 for women and 37 for men.

In spite of this chaos, the government has threatened to nationalise the gold, platinum, nickel, zinc and ferrochrome mines on which the country's depleted economy depends (and which the Chinese will now inherit). Unlike Bolivia's social agenda, Mr Mugabe's motive is regime maintenance. Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, says Zimbabwe is one of the 10 most corrupt places on earth. Greed and patronage demand more and more. As the state becomes morally outrageous, society breaks down and the overriding drive becomes personal security and advancement at any cost.

Tyrannies flail about, especially when their economies have hit bottom. Last month, Mr Mugabe's men continued to raze the shanties and stalls of presumed urban opponents, driving thousands back into rural areas. Mr Mugabe also had the audacity to invite the 4,000 white farmers dispossessed from 2000 to 2005 back to Zimbabwe to plead for a chance to farm again. But they would not necessarily be permitted to regain their confiscated farms; leases would be granted by a government desperate to restore an economy that it itself trashed. Distrustful white farmers are staying put in Australia, Mozambique, Zambia and Nigeria.

The nation's economic disarray is matched by its political bankruptcy. European and other observers report that Mr Mugabe and his ruling Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) stole the 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections and rigged the presidential poll in 2002, supposedly won by Mr Mugabe against Morgan Tsvangirai, the candidate of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Last month, Mr Mugabe announced that he would stay on as president to 2010, two years beyond the expiration of his six-year term in 2008. Such flouting of the country's constitution throws sand in the wheels of South African president Thabo Mbeki's engine of "quiet diplomacy". This was intended to persuade Mr Mugabe, 82, to retire gracefully from politics.

Now that Mr Mbeki's misguided entreaties have been rebuffed again, and that China's £700m loan has seemingly rescued Mr Mugabe from imminent economic catastrophe, he and his associates can continue to loot state coffers and abuse their countrymen while the rest of the world hardly notices. Even Africa and the African Union look the other way. Europe and the US have largely subcontracted the Zimbabwe problem to Mr Mbeki.

Mr Mugabe continues to preside by intimidation and terror. Until his security forces align themselves with the opposition, no rose revolution in Zimbabwe is possible without concerted action from Africa and South Africa.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rotberg, Robert I..“Zimbabwe Needs Help If It Is to Have a Rose Revolution.” Financial Times, June 21, 2006.

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