Trusted Lieutenants, Runaway Economy, Monopoly Violence: A Long read on three Decades of the Zimbabwe Story (The past, present, & future)
By Maynard Manyowa
There is something ubiquitous about the impending fall of Robert Mugabe. The walls are closing in on a leader who seemed so invincible for well over 6 decades. What is ironic is that, the same walls that are closing in on him, are the same walls that have kept him in power; poverty, violence, anarchy, and a patronage system.
For the second time in less than a decade Zimbabwe stands on the foot of a total collapse of state and economic implosion.
On the back of a severe drought that has left nearly half the population desperately in need of critical food aid, a massive cash crisis has crippled the nation’s banking sector and paralyzed the entire economy.
At the center of the disaster is a pantomime figure, Robert Mugabe, the former guerrilla leader and the only man to have led the country since its independence 1980, and his Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) which ratifies him as the only center of power.
6 years ago, a similar script and pattern of events culminated in a regional intervention that forced Mugabe into a power sharing deal and the country abandoned use of its currency, adopting the United States Dollar as its main currency, among others.
The total collapse in 2008 was the result of over 18 years of intensified ‘institutional bad governance’. From around 1990, cadre deployed government ministers looted state funds to the cost of billions of dollars and permanent injury to critical sectors like banking, and the motor industry.
Meanwhile the administration borrowed heavily from international institutions, looted the funds, defaulted payments and severed relations with development partners.
No effort was put into production while government expenditure grew exponentially, ultimately sowing the seeds for a disaster. Unbudgeted payouts and participation a war in Congo bankrupted the country, crashed the currency and led to civil unrest.
In retaliation, the administration orchestrated a widespread violent crackdown on civil society and opposition, engaged in racist illegal land invasions which brought the already bankrupt country’s agricultural production and its top revenue earner to a standstill.
This led to massive food shortages and in 2002 the citizens voted against Mugabe, who resorted to rigging, intensified human rights abuse against civilians.
For this he earned himself and key members of his administration sanctions from the US and EU. The country’s currency went into a free fall. The government raided all foreign currency reserves from the banking sector and it crashed.
After a heavy election loss in 2008, the electoral commission withheld results and Zanu PF launched a brutal attack on civilians and plunged the entire Southern African region into a humanitarian crisis. Regional leaders intervened and forced Mugabe into a power sharing deal with the opposition.
For 4 years the country stabilized economically, and politically. In 2013, the country headed into elections which were once again marred with irregularities.
In the aftermath of that victory Zanu PF returned to its old ways – corruption, theft, looting, abductions and senseless policy. By end of 2014, less than 2 years after the power-sharing deal the country was basically bankrupt.
Again the government raided commercial banks of their cash deposits and replaced them with treasury bills which they hoped to settle from ensuing revenue.
After struggling to pay back on time, the consumptive government eventually failed outright causing banks find themselves stuck with treasury bills which they can’t give to their customers.
Depositors find themselves stuck with electronic balances which they can’t withdraw. Business are failing to settle payments abroad, and supplies have suspended deliveries to Zimbabwe – a drought hit country that imports everything from earbuds to dental floss.
The implication is massive food shortages and interruptions in production for whatever few companies were left, and the emergence of a parallel market where “hard cash / paper money” is sold in exchange for electronic funds at a premium. A case of the $USD trading against the $USD.
To address the cash crisis, the governor of the country’s central bank has suggested another double entry termed “bond notes”. Essentially the country will import cash which they will prevent from going into circulation, and rather print Zimbabwe’s own equivalent version of $US.
Common judgement would assert that such a solution is unsustainable and illogical. It does not address the critical problems. Zimbabwe’s government spends more than it earns, creating a huge budget deficit.
The administration obliterated production and manufacturing capacities to near insignificant levels. Rampant corruption in the diamond mining sector led to loss of revenue 4 times the budget. Consequently, Zimbabwe is heavily reliant on imports to service non-productive needs like food. This is called a trade deficit and will always lead to cash shortages.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabe is often given due praise for his academic achievements. He has been conferred with many degrees, among them one in economics. Yet the reality he pursues defeats the very competence expected of an economics mind.
Common knowledge states that whilst one can create double and triple entries for genuine $USD through local replicas, they can only spend real money once.
Yet Mugabe’s response has been to lay the blame of citizen resistance squarely on hostile politics and rampant ignorance.
It is paradox of Shakespearean proportions, given how Robert Mugabe’s actions and lack thereof simultaneously resemble a spectacular kind of ignorance, one that is grandiosely self-harming.
The ignorance that calls for exiled diaspora investment in fixing a mess it has created, while simultaneously threatening to unleash a second genocide. Ignorance that seeks help from expatriates that fled from its state-sponsored brutality and state-induced poverty to begin with.
A diaspora that is fully aware that the leadership will divert whatever investment is remitted and spurn it on joy rides to Singapore. That is akin to one teaching one’s bully how to fight.
Diaspora capital, just like local and international capital, is a coward, and a smart one with a long memory. It takes a special kind of ignorance for one to think one can promise a genocide and simultaneously beg the potential victims to sponsor it.
When a leadership’s ignorance is so arrogant, it is destructive. When it is not held to account, it develops an obsession with chaos. It assumes that for every bearer cheque it can do it again in a bond note, or in one land reform it can pull off another in indigenization, or Gukurahundi one and Gukurahundi two.
Zanu PF’s post-independence narrative is marred by chaos in every form imaginable. Not only have they created and perpetuated national suffering, but they have used it as a tool to elongate their rule.
As the sole bearers of wealth in a carved matrix, they have created a patronage system that relies heavily on keeping the masses in poverty and lining the pockets of those that keep them in power.
But as we know, dynasties do die, and often times they are the midwives of their own demise.
Our leadership’s arrogance and / or reliance on chaos though hurtful; is also their downfall. Governments that create, perpetuate and rely on chaos cannot always control it.
The leadership in Zimbabwe has lost control. Chaos threatens to turn into its big brother anarchy.
The country is out of money, and the entire government is bankrupt and will not be able to pay its workers.
Once capital starts to flee, it does at the speed of light. Unlike activists, and opposition leaders, you cannot abduct it either.
The traditional instruments of state terror, like the police, the army, will themselves for the first time struggle to get their salaries too.
Whilst it has been easy to replicate the economic chaos of 2008, the regime will find it impossible to replicate the same levels of terror.
The center (pun intended) cannot hold and faces internal revolts on three fronts. Factionalism has torn the autocrats apart and Mr. Mugabe has lost his grip on power and faces implosion. He finds himself ensnared by another of his own vices.
For years, he used the chaos of his succession to pit his rivals against each other and keep himself in power, yet as stated, chaos cannot always be controlled.
The citizens are rising with never before seen unity. Arrests have not led to silence; they have increased the dissent.
Arrogance and ignorance may yet inspire him to take this fight to the last round. Dictators are known to do that. Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein were arrested kicking and screaming hiding in the dirt. The same dirt they condemned their victims to.
The vanguards of Greek wisdom termed this ‘hubris’ – A typical flaw in the personality of a leader who enjoys a powerful position; as a result of which, he overestimates his capabilities to such an extent that he loses contact with reality.
Having lost contact with reality, it overtakes him, and history sweeps him brutally but rightly aside. Mugabe is halfway there. Having ruled for so long with an iron fist, his favourite vices appear to have ensnared him. Chaos is like borrowed time, having mortgaged the future by borrowing the present, he ultimately forgot that the future arrives.
For Zimbabwe it has, and as the country collapses, it will do so with him on board.
- Maynard Manyowa is a political commentator and contributing Editor of Khuluma Afrika – a budding center for analysis, commentary and investigative journalism.