EDITORIAL: Whither Zimbabwe?

AMIDST the utter devastation that has overwhelmed the Zimbabwe economy and pauperised the mass of its people, the international community could only watch in disbelief as images of President Mugabe popping champagne and gloating happily over an expensively decorated birthday cake were beamed around the world. The occasion was the celebration of the President's 85th birthday.
Contrasting the images of President Mugabe's euphoric and exuberant visage with the images of Zimbabweans e

The fact that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai refused to participate in the birthday celebrations demonstrates the extent to which President Mugabe is disconnected from the reality in his country. Yet, contrary to expectation and standard procedure, Mr. Tsvangirai could allow President Mugabe rather than the Chief Justice to swear him into office as prime minister, when his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), finally decided to join the ruling ZANU-PF party in a power-sharing government. These multiple contradictions demonstrate the complexity of the situation confronting the people of Zimbabwe, hence the question: whither Zimbabwe?

The situation in Zimbabwe is bad, and short of a state involved in total war, no condition could be worse than what the mass of Zimbabweans face currently. Even while President Mugabe and his cohorts are spending $250,000 on his birthday party, his government is asking African countries for $2 billion to resuscitate the country’s collapsed economy. The collapse is deep, wide and all encompassing. The cause, as is often the case in Africa, is bad government.

At independence in 1980, Zimbabwe was undoubtedly one of the leading economies on the African continent, with a potential to become the regional, if not a continental industrial engine and breadbasket. Unfortunately, President Mugabe has been consumed by a singular ambition to hold on to power at all cost. One unfortunate effect of this tenacious hold on power has been the total collapse of the country’s economy, infrastructure, social and municipal institutions.

Zimbabwe has become a basket case, perhaps the worst in Africa. Inflation is at an incomprehensible rate of 231 million per cent. Serious food shortages have turned many citizens into scavengers; images of both young and old literally eating directly from garbage dumps or drinking from heavily contaminated water sources have been beamed across the world.

Most schools and hospitals are closed. Roads and sewers are in tatters. The country’s health services can no longer offer any succour to the sick or dying, not even at the most rudimentary level. So far, 3, 894 people have died from a devastating and preventable cholera epidemic that has ravaged the country since August 2008. The World Health Organisation has already recorded more than 84,000 cases across the country.

Unemployment is currently at over 80 per cent, with just about 10 per cent of adults having regular jobs. Millions of Zimbabweans have escaped to South Africa and other neighbouring countries as economic refugees. Of those who are left behind more than half, at least seven million according to Morgan Tsvangirai, survive on food aid.

Understandably, Prime Minister Tsvangirai has made fixing Zimbabwe’s "basket-case economy" his first priority. He has also stated that it would cost at least $5 billion to end the economic meltdown and bring some life back to the country. The obvious question and one that will challenge the Prime Minister’s administrative and financial acumen is: where will the money come from? Zimbabwe is already in debt peonage, owing as much as $5 billion to foreign creditors. The donor and foreign aid community, especially Western governments and international monetary institutions, have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

Most Western countries have maintained very cold relations with President Mugabe in the last decade or so and most have in fact imposed some sanctions on his government. They are waiting to see if President Mugabe would actually allow the power-sharing government to function effectively and inclusively before they offer any aid. For instance, the European Union wants to see "tangible signs of respect for human rights, the rule of law, and macro-economic stabilisation" before offering any aid. Similarly, the United States has called for evidence of "good governance and particularly real, true power-sharing on the part of Robert Mugabe" as a pre-condition for offering aid.

However, as we have said in previous editorials, the greatest obstacle to resolving the multifarious economic, social and political problems confronting Zimbabwe is President Mugabe himself, or rather, his continued presence in government.

Zimbabwe’s condition is urgent and immediate and the least the world expects of President Mugabe is that after 29 years in power he will give a little back to his country by doing the right thing and start winding down his long tour in office. This will give his people the platform they need to rejuvenate themselves and their country.

Guardian Newspapers (Nigeria)

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