Zimbabwe ripe for change


Although Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is “a master at outlasting his foes”, the current economic crisis could spell his end because unhappiness is mounting in his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, according to the London weekly- Economist.

“Mr Mugabe is a master at outlasting his foes,” the magazine reported in today’s edition. “The Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition party that ought to have won the rigged elections of 2000 (and several since), has splintered into bickering factions and poses no real threat.

“Its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, fulminates impotently to his dwindling followers. Western countries have also been outsmarted. The European Union, which slapped targeted sanctions on Mr Mugabe and his inner circle, has quietly dropped most of them. Countries that had stopped giving development aid in protest against election-rigging and violence by Mr Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF are now feeding hundreds of thousands of people.

“Yet unhappiness is mounting within the party, and its bigwigs have started to dismantle Mr Mugabe’s economic policies, among them his plan to ‘indigenise’ the economy by insisting that all companies must be majority-owned by black Zimbabweans. Some are even said to be trying to get him to announce his retirement.”

The magazine said Mugabe’s biggest problem seemed to be his failure to turn around the economy. It said, for example, despite price cuts of more than 20 percent over the past year, sales of beer have fallen by 8 percent.

“The collection of value-added tax has slumped by 8%. Corporate tax receipts have fallen sharply, too, as have sales of tobacco, Zimbabwe’s main export crop. The IMF reckons Zimbabwe’s economy will grow by about 1.5% this year, but that seems optimistic, especially since a drought has halved its maize crop (and left 1.5m people needing food aid), workers have been laid off en masse and power cuts last 18 hours a day in parts of Harare,” it said.

“Zimbabwe is no stranger to economic crisis. In 2008 it suffered a crippling bout of hyperinflation that at one point saw prices rising at a rate of 500 billion percent before the government ditched its currency in favour of dollars. But the economic stress of this downturn is so dire that, for the first time in more than a decade, there is a real possibility of political change in the country. Robert Mugabe has ruled for 35 years and impoverished his people. His big problem now is finding money to pay the policemen and soldiers who prop up his rule.”

But it adds:  “Only the naive would count Mr Mugabe out of the game. His rule has lasted as long as it has because he has proved a master at setting potential successors against one another and ruthlessly cutting down the winner. Even now no clear heir has emerged. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president, appears to be in the lead, but his position is not secure.”

However, the magazine says the current crisis is particularly acute largely because the government’s responses to each previous one have narrowed its options.

“In the 1990s, when faced with a debt crisis, Mr Mugabe simply defaulted. In the 2000s, when he ran out of money, he simply printed more. When that sparked hyperinflation he ditched Zimbabwe’s currency in favour of the dollar. Now Zimbabwe has run out of road: it can neither borrow money nor print it.”


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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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