The real cause of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse

Zimbabwe’s problems are not exclusive to Zimbabwe, they are actually the same as in all Africa’s other 53 nations. 9 out of 10 of all Africans live on less than US$5 a day, nearly half on under $1.90. Many also suffer under corrupt, oppressive regimes, some worse than Zimbabwe’s, some not as bad.

Paul Bogaert

Even worse, in every one of our nations, the gap in living standards between Africans and Westerners has widened in a truly horrendously manner since they got their independence. And this is true in even the fastest growing ones. We are much further away from living as well as Westerners do than we were when the colonials left us. How can that have happened in EVERY African nation?

So virtually all Africans are in the same boat as Zimbabweans, and this makes the problem not a Zimbabwean one but an African one. And if we want to solve Zimbabwe’s problems, then we must look to the pan-African cause and effect. So the question is not, “Why are Zimbabweans in extreme poverty and ruled by a repressive regime?” but: “Why are virtually ALL Africans in extreme poverty and largely ruled by oppressive governments?”

Once you put Zimbabwe’s problem into that context then why we are in this mess in Zimbabwe takes on a new perspective.

To explain that, all Africans traditionally blame the government for their plight. But if ALL African governments are behaving in the same way, that suggests there must be a deeper cause behind our problem, one that affects them all. Otherwise, surely, at least ONE government out of 54 would have managed to develop itself and at least start to catch up with the West by now?

The other point to make is that if African citizens had had their way, ALL 54 nations – not just one – would have made huge strides forward.

So what does that tell us? That democracy – at least, the type of democracy foisted on all our nations by the ex-colonial powers – does not work in Africa. In fact, it has been proved that it would not do so. It has been proved that democracy cannot work properly when any of the following situations exist in a nation:

  1. Per capita incomes (i.e., the income of typical citizens) are too low, OR
  2. Small elites have too much power, OR
  3. Too much internal division exists (in Africa’s case, these would be mainly tribal, ethnic or religious), OR
  4. Where education standards are too low.

As you can see, any ONE of these is enough to ensure that the wish of the majority (which of course is what democracy means) will not hold power. Unfortunately, in the case of all 54 African nations, ALL FOUR conditions apply.

In fairness, the West did not know this when they taught us that Western-style democracy was the form of government to use. But that is not true now. The UN, the World Bank, the IMF and Western governments – the agencies that are supposed to teach us how to develop – have known about these four conditions ever since 1996. SO WHY HAVE THEY NOT TOLD US, AND THEN ADVISED WHAT TYPE OF GOVERNMENT WE SHOULD BE USING?

Here we are getting to the root cause of all our problems. Neither African governments nor African citizens had had any experience of governing themselves when colonialism ended.

But before colonialism came, we had had enormous experience of self-government. Colonialism destroyed over 41 African nations and kingdoms. Some had lasted hundreds, even thousands of years, and early Western explorers were amazed at how well organised some were despite facing far greater challenges than European nations had: a logistical problem of a huge difference in size (Africa is as big as China, India, the USA and most of Europe added together), 2,000 languages compared to Europe’s 230, several hundred ethnic groups (estimates vary) to Europe’s mere 87, and over 500 tribes many of which to this day would be happier as self-governing entities in their own right.

But because of colonialism, all that experience of self-government we had amassed over centuries was lost to us.

It was therefore down to the ex-colonial powers initially and, later, the Western aid & development effort in Africa (led by the UN, World Bank and IMF), to teach us what to do.

You might of course justifiably say: “Why was it their job to teach us how to govern ourselves? When we got independence, surely it became our responsibility, not anyone else’s, to sort ourselves out.” And you would be right except for one thing: when colonialism ended, the West highjacked the aid & development effort in Africa and, without our permission, has insisted on dominating it ever since. Even to the extent of riding roughshod over the AU’s plan that wants Africa itself to take over responsibility. And the AU is being supported by a fast-increasing number of activists, campaigners and other progressive Africans who also want us to be in control of our development. Yet we are being totally ignored by the UN, World Bank, IMF, the EU and Western governments who still insist on holding the reins.

So if the West is insisting on dominating our development, then it is totally responsible for making sure we go about it in the right way. And that, it most certainly is not doing.

The failure of the West to tell us that Western-style democracy is not the way to go is just one way it is allowing us to go badly astray.

They should also have warned us very strongly that governments are not naturally democratic. They should have explained that the natural state of any government anywhere in the world, not just in Africa, is not to be democratic, it is to be authoritarian, dictatorial, brutal. In fact, it is not so long ago that all nations, even those of Europe, were under authoritarian rule. Huge numbers of citizens did not even have the vote.

Then they discovered that the only way to end that state of affairs is for the citizens themselves to take action. Nowadays, there is only one reason why Western countries have democracies that work: Western politicians know very well that their citizens simply will not tolerate any other behaviour. If Western citizens stopped doing that, their governments would rapidly become as bad as ours.

It should have been explained to us that democracy can only work if a nation’s citizens themselves take responsibility for ensuring that their government (a) is acting for the good of the nation, and not for its own self-interest, and (b) is actually carrying out the will of the majority.

In other words, you cannot blame ZANU PF for our problems because it is only behaving in the way ALL governments will if their citizens let them.

But has anyone told us this vital truth? No. We think the government should automatically work in a democratic way, and should automatically be working for our best interests as citizens. And when it does not (and it invariably will not), we become surprised, we think the government is letting us down, we do not realise it is simply acting in the way ALL governments will if we let them.

The result is that, throughout Africa, not just in Zimbabwe, citizens have spent their time since they got independence (in many countries, over half a century, in our case 38 years) telling their governments where they are going wrong and what they ought to be doing. And, as we have seen, that has got us nowhere.

The second mistake we have made is to assume that the government’s agenda is the same as ours. It is not. When a government becomes (or is allowed by its citizens to become) authoritarian, its agenda changes. Its agenda becomes to run the country for ITS benefit and enrichment, NOT for the benefit and enrichment of its citizens. So it is daft for us to tell it what it is doing wrong and what it should be doing when, actually, it is doing a superb job according to its agenda of exploiting its nation and its citizens.

The third mistake is to think an authoritarian government actually cares what any of us think. It does not. We can see this very clearly in Zimbabwe. The sum total of all the efforts of all the activists, campaign groups and civil society organisations for the last 38 years has been no more than trying to stick a pin in an elephant’s hide. We are much worse off than we were 38 years ago.

In fact, the government actually WANTS us to keep criticising it because, while we are doing that, we are not concentrating on the one and only thing that corrupt, oppressive governments fear. If you want to know what that is, contact us as below.

Our next mistake is to rely on elections to create the nation we want. Unfortunately, elections simply do not work when dealing with corrupt, oppressive governments. They ONLY work in properly working democracies. 38 years of trying (over half a century in many other nations), really should have taught us this by now. Even more unfortunately, the UN, World Bank, IMF and Western governments – and Western NGOs as well – all know elections will not work in governments like ours. But NOT ONE has told us.

From this, you should be able to work out what all African citizens, including Zimbabweans, should be doing to create the type of government, and therefore the nation they want.

However, the UN, World Bank, IMF and Western governments have led us all badly astray in another way. Even if our governments actually had wanted to take us out of poverty and close the gap of living standards with Westerners (and very few including ours do), they would have failed anyway because these Western agencies have given our governments the wrong advice.

The West is teaching us that aid, globalisation and free trade are the way to solve our problems. Yet NOT ONE of their nations took their citizens from poverty to affluence by using aid, globalisation and free trade!

In fact, it is worse than that. NO nation in history has ever taken its citizens from poverty to affluence by using aid. NO nation in history has ever taken its citizens from poverty to affluence with globalisation and free trade.

All globalisation and free trade have done is to make already rich nations richer. But where poor nations like ours are concerned, they have done the opposite. So what the Western agencies are actually teaching us is how to stay poor.

So why is the West teaching us to use aid, globalisation and free trade? Why is it NOT telling us to do copy what Western nations did to take their citizens from poverty to affluence?

If you want to know what we should be doing, please contact us.

David Barber and Tendai Ruben Mbofana are Co-Principals of The Arise-Africans Initiative

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