The Emperor without his clothes


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Bill Clinton’s famous statement about, and focus on, the American economy in the 1992 Presidential campaign more than any other factor probably secured his Presidential election victory. And more than any other factor it is the parlous state of the Zimbabwean economy that is going to undermine Mugabe’s hold on power.

The Zimbabwean economy is a bubble waiting to burst. The 2003 budget, whilst insidious in its intent and no doubt designed to crush industry in the same way the so called land reform programme was designed to crush commercial agriculture, will simply speed up the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. Even prior to the new budget the Mugabe regime’s economic policies were simply unsustainable. I have been saying repeatedly in public meetings since May that economic laws are as inviolable as the law of gravity – take a stone and drop it and it will hit the ground, mess with an economy by implementing ridiculous policies and it will collapse.

The best example of a ridiculous policy has been the fuel price which in real terms has been for some time amongst the cheapest in the world in real terms. The regime’s insistence on maintaining the price of fuel at its present levels simply cannot be sustained for any length of time. The price is being held to prevent industrial unrest (which would almost inevitably follow an increase in the price to realistic levels) but in the process massive debts are being run up, which will have to be repaid at some stage. For months I have been predicting that at some point even our principal suppliers of fuel, the Libyans, would insist on being paid in full and up front and that as our foreign currency supplies dwindle it would become increasingly difficult for the regime to meet its obligations. The chronic shortage of fuel (last) Christmas should have come as no surprise.

Exactly the same considerations apply to the exchange rate and government expenditure policies. Mugabe has termed as traitors any people who dare suggest that the Z$ should be devalued and the regime itself has doggedly refused to set the dollar at realistic levels. Whilst this policy is primarily designed to enrich the Zanu-PF elite (who have had access to hard currency at the official rate) it too is unsustainable. Although the Zanu-PF elite have made massive profits out of the policy ultimately it will be self defeating for two reasons. Firstly it has sped up the rate of economic collapse and secondly it is breeding enormous resentment amongst the vast majority of Zimbabweans as they witness an enormous transfer of wealth to a tiny ruling elite. The ostentatious displays of this newly acquired wealth (evidenced in the obscenely large and luxurious houses being constructed in Harare and Bulawayo, the continued importation of luxury motor vehicles and the brazen cherry picking of prime farms – all done by the same group of people) has not gone unnoticed by the working and middle classes.

The new foreign exchange policy announced by Murerwa is another breathtakingly brazen attempt to transfer even further wealth to the same elite. The regime now wants to control 100% of foreign exchange earnings which will ensure the continued flow of cheap hard currency to the ruling elite. That policy aligned with the announced low interest loans for “exporters” (read Zanu-PF aligned businesspeople) is designed to enable the ruling elite to cherry pick in the industrial sector as well. The regime knows it cannot simply invade and take over industrial concerns in the same way it did farms so it has devised a plan to starve businesses of foreign exchange, bleed them to near death in the process and then force the owners to “sell” to the same elite who will have access to cheap taxpayers’ money.

It all sounds so simple and it would be were it not for economic reality. The policy may work for a short period of time but very quickly this policy will result in dramatic declines in the amount of foreign exchange earnings, the increasingly rapid collapse of the economy and increased anger amongst the vast majority of Zimbabweans against the ruling elite. In short the regime is simply heaping coals upon its own head and it seems oblivious to what it is doing to itself.

These policies are so glaringly destructive and it is difficult to understand how it is that the regime does not appreciate what it is fomenting for itself until one reads the wise words contained in Psalm 7:14-16: “He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.”

In other words as the Zanu PF regime devises cunning policies to help itself and to crush the opposition, and thinks it will get away with these policies, what they do not appreciate is that in the policies themselves lie the seeds of their own destruction.

No more graphic illustration of this can be given than in the events of the last few weeks. The fuel shortage is not just the result of the ridiculous policy to keep it as cheap as it is but it is also the result, ironically, of the budget proposals designed to secure control over all foreign exchange. Ironically the new exchange control policy has in fact exacerbated the shortage. I have been told that many exporters have responded to the new policies by doing all in their power to keep their foreign exchange earnings off shore. The situation has been further compounded by the timing of the new policies, namely just before the Christmas shutdown. Industry (was …able) to get through to Christmas without drawing down on foreign exchange and accordingly was in a position to delay repatriation of foreign exchange.

Had the new measures been announced in, say, February, then exporters would have been in full production and in dire need of cash. With the Christmas shutdown until mid January they had breathing space, just at the critical time when the regime did not have breathing space and desperately needed foreign currency to import fuel to keep a restive population happy over Christmas. Talk about being hoisted with one’s own petard!

Some would argue that the Zanu-PF regime simply doesn’t care if the economy collapses totally, just as Hitler didn’t care, and to a certain extent that is true. However, just as Hitler’s policies ultimately caused his demise so too will this regime’s policies. The Zanu-PF elite have reaped gargantuan profits in the short term through their looting of the nation but there is little left to loot now and the system of patronage, which has been the bedrock of Mugabe’s power, will be unsustainable with the collapse of the economy. Indeed the only clothes left on the Emperor are his immediate political and military elite. All the rest of his previous supporters are reeling under hyper inflation and their plight is no different from the average MDC supporter.

There is one final comment to make in relation to the economy. Finance Minister Murerwa, in presenting his budget in November, curiously ended by quoting Jeremiah 29:11 which reads: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Minister Murerwa read these verses out and then said, and I quote from Hansard, “I believe Mr Speaker, God has a similar plan for Zimbabwe as well.” God of course I am sure has a plan for Zimbabwe but I am sure that it does not include rewarding those responsible for murder, kidnapping, rape, arson and all the heinous acts committed by the regime. What Minister Murerwa did not read out were the warnings directed against those responsible for disobeying God recorded further on in Jeremiah 29:18-19: “I (God) will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth and an object of cursing and horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I have sent to them again and again by my servants and prophets.”

Murerwa’s reference to Jeremiah was undoubtedly an admission that Zimbabwe’s economy is beyond repair and needs in effect a miracle to come right. The irony is that these words of wisdom and history show that no such miracle will occur for so long as mayhem is perpetrated by those in authority. In other words despite Murerwa’s optimism no such miracle will be forthcoming under the present regime for so long as it continues to plunder. Indeed if anything this reference to Jeremiah 29 is confirmation that Zanu-PF’s voodoo economic policies will be their own undoing.

“Land is the economy, the economy is the land”. So went the Zanu-PF jingle in the run up to the Presidential election. The land issue has been the centrepiece of Zanu-PF’s campaign to remain in power and continues to be so. To ensure that they obtained physical, if not legal, control over land Zanu-PF deployed the core of its support, war veterans and other loyal communal farmers, from towns and communal areas on to commercial farms.

In most cases settlers have simply been dumped on farms without sufficient infrastructural and input support. They have been moved from towns and communal areas where there are schools, good and extensive road networks, clinics, business centres and supplies of clean water to commercial farms not originally designed for relatively high density settlement. To give but one example, whereas towns have reliable water supplies and communal areas have low maintenance, and therefore relatively reliable, wells, most commercial farms have boreholes which are operated using relatively high maintenance diesel or electricity powered pumps.

In many cases war veterans and communal land people have been moved on to relatively arid farms with little surface water and no wells to speak of. On these farms they have relied on functioning boreholes for water. That works fine for so long as there is sufficient diesel to run the engine or somebody pays the electricity bills and of course only for so long as these remarkably fickle engines are properly maintained. The moment the pumps stop working for whatever reason grave problems arise. Of course if there are adequate rains there will be sufficient surface water to sustain the population. If there is drought then life becomes well nigh untenable for those without access to water.

The other basic necessity is the provision of food. The Zanu PF regime has sought to cater for this during the period of food shortages by delivering supplies to its faithful supporters and by attempting to supply the necessary inputs for them to grow their own food on the farms they have occupied. This necessity has however created a logistical nightmare for Zanu-PF in that settlers are spread far and wide across thousands of kilometres and hectares of land not originally designed for this type of settlement. This logistical problem can be overcome, and to a large extent has been overcome until now, if one has sufficient quantities of spare food, fuel to deliver the same and money for agricultural inputs such as seed and fertiliser.

Throw into this scenario a drought and what was potentially a problem becomes a catastrophe. Zanu-PF was undoubtedly gambling on having a good, early rainy season so that its core supporters could get over the hump of food shortages by reaping an early crop. Good rains would also have secured water supplies. Now Zanu-PF does not have sufficient food to deliver to these far flung and disparate (and desperate) communities. Even if it did have food to deliver it has insufficient fuel to deliver it with. The situation is greatly exacerbated by the failure, or at least reduction, of the crop already planted. Even if it starts raining well now there are insufficient inputs to ensure a good late crop.

It must also be borne in mind that the most vulnerable people to famine in any country are poor, illiterate rural dwellers – in other words the very core of Zanu-PF’s support base, such as it is. And Zanu-PF will find it increasingly difficult to feed this core support base, especially those who are in occupation of commercial farms. Once again its own policies have rebounded on Zanu-PF and as this devastating situation takes its course so its strength will evaporate. This is the regime that promoted the concept of “va Mugabe” (Mugabe the provider).

Most of those who followed the regime’s call of “Chave Chimurenga” – (“Now its war”) – would have done so in the na‹ve belief that they would be provided for by the regime in the same way infantrymen expect their generals to provide them with food, uniforms and weapons. The regime’s inability to supply them with any food, other than that clearly supplied by “the enemy” Britain, the European Union and the United States will shatter the unwavering support many in the rural areas have given the regime over the years.

Furthermore, as happens in most famines, the time will come when thousands of rural dwellers will move to urban areas in the belief that their chances of survival are better there. The moment that happens Zanu-PF’s clutch over these erstwhile supporters will be greatly weakened if not removed entirely.

Zanu-PF’s one ray of hope comes from the expectation that it would have sufficient foreign currency to purchase its own supplies of food, even if the national crop is insufficient to meet the nation’s needs. Ironically as a direct result of its own policies that is not going to happen because foreign currency inflows are going to be greatly reduced in 2003. It is now common knowledge that only a relatively tiny tobacco crop (traditionally one of the largest generators of foreign currency) and other cash crops will be produced as a direct result of Zanu-PF’s chaotic land “policy”.

Mugabe’s racist hate speech against Europeans’ “kith and kin” at (the) Zanu-PF congress has ensured that the flow of American and European tourists to Zimbabwe, with all their valuable foreign currency, will be minimal for so long as Zanu-PF is at the helm. (This) year Zanu-PF will be almost solely reliant upon the very nations it has vilified this year to feed its own supporters. In short Zanu PF’s land policy, its last throw of the dice, is now rebounding against them and is in fact its nemesis.

If ever the verse from Isaiah 1:31 had any practical application it is in relation to the land policy – that very “work” will be the very spark that sets this tinderbox Zanu-PF leadership ablaze. When hundreds of thousands of its own supporters starve (This) year and have to be fed by Zanu-PF’s enemies, Zanu-PF will not be able to use food and the land issue as a political weapon and it will have nothing left to offer the populace. Jongwe’s policies will have indeed come home to roost.

Zanu-PF would have us believe that they and Mugabe himself scored some major diplomatic coups last year. Mugabe’s performance at the Earth Summit and the stand off between the EU and the ACP countries over Zanu-PF MPs’ participation were hailed as victories. Likewise the recent appearance of Mnangagwa at the ANC Congress and President Mbeki’s own remarks about its “ally” Zanu-PF have been exploited to create the impression that Zanu-PF’s international pariah status will come to an end shortly.

This view is undoubtedly enhanced by the actions of that faction within the ANC which supports Zanu-PF wholeheartedly. Foreign Minister Zuma’s pleas to Europe and North America that “bygones be bygones”, that personal sanctions be lifted and that there be some form of rapprochement with Zanu-PF would appear to indicate that Zanu-PF’s woes are over and that the rest of the world is now just going to forgive and forget all the horrors of the last few years. These members of the ANC and Zanu-PF believe that if they put a new coat of paint on Zanu-PF that will be acceptable to the world. Move Mugabe aside and put Mnangagwa in his place presumably is their thinking and that will do the trick.

Those advocating for such a move are terribly mistaken about the mood in most of the countries that have the ability to rescue Zimbabwe and the region from its present crisis. President Bush has said that the Mugabe regime is illegitimate and accordingly any window dressing done by the same regime will be equally illegitimate. Britain, Germany and the Scandinavian countries hold a similar view. Indeed in some countries even if their governments were of a view to compromise and look the other way they would be unable to do so because of domestic public opinion. This is illustrated in the debates raging in Britain and Australia regarding their teams’ participation in Zimbabwe during the cricket World Cup. The Zimbabwe crisis has captured the attention of voters in those countries who will not brook any attempt to shore up the Zanu-PF regime.

In fact Zanu-PF’s pariah status (and resultant isolation) has, if anything, grown in recent months. The UN Security Council report on blood diamond trade in the DRC, which names Mnangagwa as part of an international criminal cartel, did grievous damage to Zanu-PF’s succession plans. It will simply be impossible to sell Mnangagwa to North America and Europe as a reasonable successor to Mugabe. How can one have a leader of a country who is included on a UN list for travel bans and other forms of personal sanctions?

When MDC Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Moses Mzila Ndlovu, and I met Kofi Annan and Colin Powell in Washington in November we were both impressed by their compassion and determination to do the right thing regarding Zimbabwe. I found the same when I met with Bill Graham, the Canadian Foreign Minister, in Ottawa. In other words key players in the international community are aware of the gravity of the situation and will act to promote democracy. I have heard rumours circulating recently that the United States of America will agree to a quick fix, compromise, solution. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Furthermore, and most importantly, the action by SADC, initiated by President Muluzi of Malawi to ensure that Zimbabwe (under the leadership of Mugabe or Mnangagwa) did not assume the chair of SADC is evidence of deep disquiet in the region about the contagion affect that Zanu-PF’s policies are having on the region. Likewise for all the bluster that the ACP meeting was a diplomatic coup the reality is that even that was a disaster for Zanu-PF. Part of the final statement released by the ACP reads:

“The ACP members would thus like to point out that their position cannot be construed in any way as providing political support for an ACP Government (namely the Zanu-PF government)…” In other words the ACP countries were at pains to distance themselves from the situation prevailing in Zimbabwe. Subsequently we have learnt that there was in fact serious division within the ACP countries with countries such as Botswana and Ghana expressing grave concerns about what was going on in Zimbabwe.

The attitude of these countries is not surprising – their relationship with Europe and its markets are worth far more than buttressing a despotic regime that is damaging the interests of Africa. These two actions by SADC and the ACP are an indication that many African nations are not prepared to defend Mugabe and Zanu-PF as they have done before. Now that Mugabe himself has declared that the land programme is over there will be even less “justification” for the campaign of violence, suppression and intimidation waged over the last few years. One can “justify” legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act when fighting a colonial injustice; once that struggle is over however any use of such legislation is laid bare for what it actually is – the negation of democracy.

In fact there is a growing core of important African States who are opposed to the Zanu-PF regime. Botswana and Ghana have already been mentioned. But in the course of 2002 Senegal, Mozambique, Mali, Mauritius, Madagascar and Uganda have also expressed concern. The election victory of Mwai Kibaki of the Kenyan opposition is of a major importance in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting scheduled for March.

Kibaki knows exactly what it is like to have an election stolen and will be very sympathetic to the MDC. The person earmarked to become Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, is a long standing campaigner for human rights. Several years ago when he had dinner in my home I was impressed by his commitment to promote democracy throughout Africa. I have no doubt that he will be a very useful ally in Africa. In short the noose around Zanu-PF’s neck is tightening – even in Africa. And Africa is all important; when the noose tightens fully in Africa the Zanu-PF regime will be finished.

Despite the regime’s sliding support elsewhere the support of President Mbeki for the regime is obviously a worry. However we should not be surprised. As Iden Wetherell, the editor of the Independent, noted recently 1930 German newsreels showed a procession of distinguished visitors such as David Lloyd George, Charles Lindberg and George Bernard Shaw who gullibly intoned on arrival that “Mr Hitler” had been completely misunderstood in Britain and America and that he was simply trying to right past wrongs and give the German people back their self-respect. There will always be people who either through their own naivety or in pursuit of their own personal agendas defend the indefensible.

President Mbeki is not na‹ve and when I recently asked a senior ANC member what motivated Mbeki’s Zimbabwe policy I was told that Mbeki’s domestic intra-ANC problems dominated his thinking. In other words Mbeki’s desire to manage the Zimbabwean crisis (rather than solve it) and his desire to ensure the continuation in power of a reformed Zanu-PF stems from his fears surrounding deep divisions within the ANC itself.

His belief appears to be that an MDC government will worsen the strains that exist within the ANC between his supporters on the one side and COSATU and the Communist Party on the other side. The MDC provides an alternative to the notion that liberation movements have some moral right to rule ad infinitum and as such are deeply threatening to any liberation movement based political party that fears a split in its own ranks. At present it serves Mbeki’s purposes to ignore the MDC because he feels that he may be able to persuade the world to accept a new face on Zanu-PF, namely Mnangagwa.

But in doing so Mbeki has made two wrong assumptions. The first is that Mnangagwa will be acceptable to Zimbabweans and to Zanu-PF itself. Mnangagwa was of course unable to win his own Parliamentary seat in June 2000 when he was comprehensively beaten by little known (then) Blessings Chebundo. That was a reflection of the fact that Mnangagwa commands very little personal, grassroots, support. Furthermore for all Mnangagwa’s intelligence he is a poor orator and is unlikely to capture the imagination and support of Zimbabweans.

Mnangagwa’s role in Matabeleland in the 1980s is well documented and known by the Ndebele people. He is unlikely to get any support from that sector. In short whilst Mnangagwa may be the strong man Mbeki seeks to take Zimbabwe through its current crisis he simply will not enjoy sufficient support both within and without Zanu-PF to carry it off.

The second is that Mnangagwa will be acceptable to the West. Related to this is the assumption that all the West is interested in is removing Mugabe. That may have been the case prior to 9th September 2001 tragedy but is definitely not the case now, especially in light of the UN Security Council report implicating Mnangagwa in criminal activities in the DRC. Had Zanu-PF and Mbeki shown some savvy they would have promoted someone like Simba Makoni who could have perhaps convinced the world that Zanu-PF had turned over a new leaf. The promotion of Mnangagwa will not fool anyone – it will simply be more of the same oppression, albeit under a new guise.

Furthermore the world is a vastly changed place from even a few years ago. The world is no longer prepared to look the other way, especially where there are no strategic interests at play as there was, for example, in Pakistan. Mugabe and his Zanu-PF elite gambled on the international community being prepared to overlook the fraudulent conduct of the elections. It was a costly gamble but one which Mbeki appears to be repeating to his own eventual cost.

President Mbeki has not learnt yet how unacceptable the plan to promote Mnangagwa is because the plan has not been made public. All he has done is give the stage to Mnangagwa at the ANC congress. When he learns that Mnangagwa is not the panacea he desires Mbeki is going to have to think again and face up to the hard reality that he simply cannot ignore Tsvangirai and the MDC. When that happens the Zanu-PF regime will finally find itself at the end of the road in terms of international support.

The only meaningful international succour it is receiving now is from that faction of the ANC which supports it. When that support becomes too costly to Mbeki the Zanu-PF regime will find itself totally isolated internationally. At that point, which is not far off, Zanu-PF will be forced to negotiate a way out for itself and its leadership.

 

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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