ZIMBABWE has had plenty of scandals since it became Zimbabwe under the leadership of Robert Mugabe.Â Tenders have been dished out to cronies, Ndebeles were slaughtered as Mugabe tried to deal with what he saw as a â€œcobraâ€ in the house whose â€œheadâ€ must be crushed, people like Itai Dzamara have disappeared, the treasury has been looted, the Zimbabwean currency was bled all the way to the graveyard, parastatals have been looted dry and ghost workers have been kept on the payroll among others. But nothing beats the MOTHER OF ALL SCANDALS which Robert Mugabe himself disclosed in an interview 3 March 2016.
If there is ever a scandal that should see Robert Mugabe leave office sooner rather than later, itâ€™s his disclosure that the country was bilked of fifteen billion dollars ($15 billion United States Dollars) over the last seven or so years or so under his watch. As a matter of fact, Mugabe should have made that announcement while tendering his resignation and apologising to millions of starving Zimbabweans at home and scattered across the world for gross leadership incompetence and managerial ineptitude. For a 92-year old man whose leadership has wasted an entire generation to laugh and crack jokes while talking about such grand theft under his watch is a vulgar insult to millions of jobless Zimbabweans and millions more who are presently being fed by donors.
When Robert Mugabe hoodwinked Zimbabweans who voted for him in 2013, which choice they must be badly regretting, he waved around a good-as-useless five-year plan dubbed ZimAsset. Further scrutiny of that plan by officials revealed that this plan could not be funded as it requires $27 billion to implement.
â€œTotal financial requirement for ZimAsset is $27 billion up to 2018 with the bulk of it earmarked for energy, water, sanitation and social sectors,â€ the acting director fiscal policy in the finance ministry, Jonah Mushayi told participants attending a workshop debating the blueprint on Wednesday as cited by The Source.
Even though itâ€™s not smart to create a plan you can barely fund, this showed that Zimbabwe needed a huge bailout. This amount was nowhere to be found and ZIMASSET today is not worth the paper itâ€™s written on.
But all this is beside the point. What matters is that with the stolen $15 billion, Zimbabwe could have provided its economy a huge bailout, funding refurbishment of railways infrastructure, construction and expansion of national highways, provide working capital to the sinking industrial sector, provide clean water in cities, fund alternative agriculture and processing industries and invested in clean energy. It could also build at least ten power stations providing over 1000 MW of power for local consumption and export. It could also build hospitals and import the latest technology and Mugabe himself would not need to fly to Singapore and Dubai for medical treatment.
Itâ€™s selfish to stash national wealth in foreign countries and then fly there for medical treatment. The stolen $15 billion could transform Zimbabwe overnight, taking millions out of street vending back into the productive sector. Sadly, while he was touting ZIMASSET, Robert Mugabe did not tell Zimbabweans a secret he knew, that billions have been and were at that material time being siphoned out of the country. He only revealed this when he turned 92.
The question that keeps nudging my mind is how do human beings became so bland and lose their souls to such a point? How does Mugabe sleep well at night? How do his coterie of praise-singers and bootlickers live with themselves? How do you preside over such theft and keep a straight face? How do you disadvantage 99% of the population and not bat an eyelid? What kind of people live between the two rivers – Zambezi and Limpopo? How do people continue to eat, drink, sleep, go to work, vend, or even make merry in the midst such a scandal?
A President discloses that mines essentially owned by his government looted $15 billion and the newspapers donâ€™t even make it front page news with screaming headlines is a sign of a country that has lost its soul. I have observed before that colonialists were racist and unkind, but given the chance black Zimbabweans do not treat themselves any better than the colonists treated them. In fact, they treat each other like trash without any qualms.
Not only that, they spirit and fritter away so much national wealth and even stash it away in foreign countries without losing sleep over it. Nobody cares about the weak, the poor and the meek. This attitude is manifested by none other than Mugabe himself â€“ he will drive through potholes in a convoy of imported limousines only dressed in European outfits after making sure that the police have removed the beggars and street children hassling at traffic lights and intersections.
So why should Mugabe tender his resignation now, and not later?
To put this into perspective, letâ€™s throw in a few numbers. No other country in Africa is known to have lost so much money in such a short space of time in one sector. Even under Sani Abacha, Nigeria did not lose money at such a grand scale. Now if you can beat Nigeriaâ€™s lootocracy, frankly u canâ€™t be helped. But why is $15 billion theft a mind-blowing number? Itâ€™s five times the size of Zimbabweâ€™s measly $3 billion dollar budget. $15 billion lost in seven years means an average of $2 billion stolen every year meaning that the looters basically stole over half of Zimbabweâ€™s national budget every year.
It is also larger than Zimbabweâ€™s peak GDP of $14 billion according to World Bank statistics. Since this national wealth was spirited away under Mugabeâ€™s watch, it means the money is stashed away in foreign capitals lubricating the cushy lifestyles of international bankers and dealers in Europe, China and the Middle East while the average Zimbabwean is living on less than US1 per day and some Zimbabweans are picking grain falling of trucks on roadsides to have at least morsel or two.
What kind of man will reveal that $15 billion was stolen under his watch and in the same interview blame sanctions for ruining the economy? The question is, how much could have been stolen if there were no restrictions on certain individual persons in Zimbabwe. Even more mind-boggling is how much was actually stolen â€“ given that Mugabe with his ineptitude would have an incentive to present a lower figure? What was actually stolen could be much higher, perhaps in the region of $20 to $25 billion. The figures are staggering enough to knock you off your perch, for such a country where the average citizen is laboring in poverty on a daily basis.
In 2012, Obert Mpofu, a man who is, by many accounts, allegedly very corrupt, and directly responsible for the mess in Zimbabweâ€™s diamond sector accused De Beers of looting diamonds during the time that it was prospecting in the Marange fields up until 2005. If after taking over the diamond fields, Robert Mugabeâ€™s government issues licences to miners, each of them partnering the government-owned ZMDC then went on to lose $15 billion, then no other level of incompetence and criminality can beat that!
Robert Mugabe did not tell Zimbabweans who actually stole the $15 billion. Neither did he appraise them of the efforts he has made as CEO of the country to recover the money and bring the culprits to book.
In his announcement, Mugabe said:
â€œSo where have our gold or carats been going? â€“ the gems, and there has been quite a lot of secrecy in handling them and we have been blinded ourselves. That is our people who we expected to be our eyes and our ears have not been able to see or hear what was going on and lots of swindling, smuggling has taken place and companies that have been mining virtually I want to say robbed us of our wealth and that is why we have decided that this area should be a monopoly area and only the state should be able to do the mining in that area.â€
Now only a dunce would disclose that he was blinded to the only cash-cow the country has ever had. Anybody who believes Mugabeâ€™s claim that â€œour people we expected to be our eyes and our ears have not been able to see or hear what was going onâ€ needs to have their head examined. Everybody knows that since the military-led crackdown of alluvial panning took place in 2008, Zimbabweâ€™s military and police took over the security of the diamond fields and ensured all villagers around the mines were relocated to ARDA farms elsewhere. Itâ€™s is not a secret either that Zimbabweâ€™s military under Mugabe and Chiwenga barred Morgan Tsvangirai, then Prime Minister, in 2011 from visiting the diamond mines.
Despite calls for transparency and wise counsel from several quarters, Mugabe worked, not with Cabinet, but with the CIO and Obert Mpofu to dish out mining licences to over half a dozen mining companies. Under Mugabeâ€™s, and military direction, they crafted Zimbabweâ€™s notoriously opaque diamond sector whose numbers were largely monetary black hole until Mugabeâ€™s revelation of this scandal.
Despite protests, all manner of criminals, mobsters, obscure companies and military outfits with neither experience nor expertise in mining, let alone diamond mining were dished licenses. In the end, companies never heard of in the diamond trade were issued with licences namely: Mbada Diamonds, Marange Resources, Diamond Mining Corporation, Jinan Mining, GyeNyame Resources, Kusena Diamonds, Anjin Mining Investments, Rera Diamonds and Sino-Zim Development Company.
It is common cause that all the mining companies in Marange were 50% owned by ZMDC, a state-owned company controlled by Zimbabweâ€™s Ministry of Mines. Mugabeâ€™s minister Obert Mpofu was responsible for issuing those licences. As a matter of fact, Mpofu did not just issue the licences, he had to get authority from Mugabe each time for each issue. Mugabe is the ultimate authority on all these licence issues the same way he made the ultimate decision to turn down a bid for Ziscosteel by Arcelor Mittal in favour of Essar Holdings.
Almost all the companies issued with the licences are run by men from Zimbabweâ€™s military. Key among these firms is Mbada, which was run by airman Robert Mhlanga and his daughter. South African media reported of Mhlangaâ€™s flamboyant spending on real estate in South Africa, and there is no way Mugabe can claim not to have known of such reports, given that the media speculated this to be a bolt-hole for Mugabe. The last time a report like that came out was when in a whiff of scandal, Chris Kuruneri, then a minister of finance was caught up in a similar mess involving a property in Cape Town. Mugabe moved to swiftly arrest him and dropped him out of cabinet.
Strange as it may seem that the national police can run a mining company, even the Zimbabwe Republic Police was issued with a diamond mining licence. Itâ€™s all unbelievable!! The Zimbabwe Defence Forces partnered with an obscure Chinese mining company owned by the military to form Anjin. CIO director general Happyton Bonyongwe brought in Sam Pa, and his company Sino-Zimbabwe was issued with another mining licence. I have written about Sam Pa, corruption and his recent detention in China here (http://bit.ly/1RauL24).
A team of alleged Ghanaian fraudsters whose remotest connection to Zimbabwe can only be Mugabe himself formed another diamond mining company Gye Nyame and got a diamond mining licence. All these diamond mining firms were connected to the Zimbabwean military, ZMDC, CIO and the Zimbabwe Republic Police. Their licences were authorized by Mugabe himself.
That, in issuing these licences, Obert Mpofu demanded his pound of corruption flesh is a matter that has been revealed in Zimbabwean courts in the matter between the state and one Lovemore Kurotwi. As such there is no way Mugabeâ€™s people â€œwe expected to be our eyes and our ears have not been able to see or hear what was going onâ€. Itâ€™s very simple, arrest them and trace the money. While Mugabe tries to use sanctions as a ruse, there are no bigger sanctions than this theft under his watch which, if proper investigations are done, will lead to his bedroom.
Zimbabweâ€™s foreign debt is around $10 billion. With the stolen money from diamonds alone, Zimbabwe could have paid off this debt, remained with around $5 billion change and never want to have all these meetings itâ€™s having with the IMF. It is telling that the IMF in its staff-monitored programme first demanded transparency in the opaque diamond trade. Zimbabwe had to wait for a funder from Washington DC to make that demand. With this money, it wouldnâ€™t even need donor funds to feed the millions going hungry.
With the disclosure of this grand theft of national resources, only criminal investors will take their investments into a market like that. International financiers like the IMF and the World Bank that are owed billions by Zimbabwe will now have to review the countryâ€™s prospects as a creditor since it fails to pay back money it borrowed yet it can afford to lose so much.
This case is the single most important case which should provide a basis for Zimbabweans to not just challenge Mugabe on the streets, but also take his admission to court as a basis to argue that he is no longer able to discharge his duties as President. One lawyer in the diaspora has approached Zimbabweâ€™s constitutional court seeking it to declare that Mugabe is no longer able to discharge his duties. A second application must now be made using his admission that under his watch $15 billion worth of diamond wealth was stolen from Zimbabwe as a basis that he is not capable of running the affairs of the country.
This kind of plunder must immediately make Zimbabwe pass a vote of no confidence in Mugabe and his government. If this theft does not cause Zimbabweans to demand that he resign, then nothing else will. In that case, going forward, Zimbabweans must just be left to their own devices and the donors currently feeding the population must just take their efforts to other countries. The country cannot be helped. And no more of this nonsense that Zimbabweans are the most literate people in Africa.
Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently between Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. This op-ed is part of a series he writes, partly based on notes he prepared for Nippon Keizai-dantai RengÅkai
Post published in: Business