Zimbabwe is now closer to change than at any other time since independence. This could be speeded up by the economic meltdown which is likely to see inflation soar to 1 500 000 percent in real terms by the end of the year if it is not addressed.
This was said in Bulawayo by the outgoing United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell who was echoing sentiments expressed by a group of 34 non-governmental organisations last week. The group said the country would collapse within six months if inflation remained unchecked.
Dell who is being reposted to Afghanistan, said no country in history had ever survived six or seven-figure inflation for long. Zimbabwe’s inflation, which was officially put at 4 530 percent for May, actually stood at about 24 000 percent in real terms, he said. Real inflation stood at about 3 000 percent in February and had been doubling every month since, he added. Officially it was 1 730 percent.
Dell has had several clashes with authorities who have claimed that some of his activities were undiplomatic. They have also claimed that Dell was specifically posted to Zimbabwe to effect a regime change.
Management consultant and former Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Luxon Zembe said Zimbabwe’s free fall was unprecedented and was now unsustainable. The country was likely to plunge into chaos if the present decline went unchecked.
Asked what had kept the country going when its collapse has been predicted for almost a decade now, Dell said Zimbabwe had some of the most resilient people in the world. “Most people in the world would not have survived the economic madness of the past 10 years,” he said.
Zembe said the people were in state of shock and could therefore not take any action. “They are in a state of shock. They are still puzzled about what’s going on and are numb. They are asking themselves, is this really happening? When they come out of that state there were will be disaster and I shudder to think of what could happen.”
Tapera Knox Chitiyo, head of the Africa Programme of the United Kingdom-based Royal United Services Institute, however, argued that the country would never collapse.
“Zimbabwe has been there before,” he said in a paper published by the institute. “The Rhodesian declaration of UDI in the mid-1960s precipitated a protracted insurgency and national crisis which lasted for nearly two decades.”
“In 1979, and again in 1987, negotiations prevented a descent into anarchy. The doomsayers have gathered; but it is increasingly likely that, once again, negotiations will prevent Zimbabwe becoming the region’s first failed state. The stakes have never been higher,” he said.
The ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change started talks aimed at ending the political and economic crisis at the weekend.
Some critics say the two sides are just sizing each other up and buying time, but it appears time is not on their side. Zimbabwe is already rated the fourth most unstable country in the world.
A survey by Foreign Policy magazine showed that Sudan was the worst followed, surprisingly by Iraq. The United States had poured billions of dollars and posted 150 000 troops into Iraq but it continues to slide. It was ranked fourth last year.
Afghanistan, where Dell will be going, is ranked eighth.
But all is not lost for Zimbabwe. Reports say donors, including Britain, are ready to bail out the country with US$3 billion in aid but they are insisting that the money will only be disbursed the day when Mugabe leaves office.
President Robert Mugabe has already indicated that he will be standing in next year’s elections. The condition set by donors could be viewed by the ruling ZANU-PF as undermining South African President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts as it implies that the international community will only accept election results if Mugabe loses.
Dell said the United States would accept the results if the elections were deemed free and fair by the international community.