Robert Mugabe, 83 years old, now in the twenty-seventh year of his reign as prime minister, then president of Zimbabwe, is once again maneuvering to extend his longevity in that office.
Cleverly, as Mugabe usually acts when he isn’t simply brutal, the self-ordained “father of Zimbabwe” has had floated the idea of rescheduling to 2010 the presidential election due at the end of his term in 2008 in coordination with the parliamentary elections. This device would prolong his stay in office while giving him time to sort out the current bitter infighting within his own ruling party, Zanu-PF.
Meanwhile his country’s economic state is disastrous. What once was a balanced economy before he assumed power in 1980 now borders on bankruptcy. The national inheritance of a modern agriculture and growing mining and manufacturing sectors has been squandered. Inflation neared 1600 percent in January of this year and international banking circles predict it to reach a possible 5,000 per cent by the end of the year.
Mugabe, who supposedly earned a master’s degree in economics from London University, appears to have forgotten or ignored the basics of his discipline while espousing his own form of dictatorial socialism learned from his days in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. It seems of little interest to Mugabe that a majority of Zimbabwe’s populace lives at a bare subsistence level.
Zimbabwe is not bereft of technically trained administrators. They are simply disregarded, exiled, or worse. The head of the central bank, Gideon Gona, however, laid out the economic problem quite accurately, and indeed courageously, to a parliamentary committee recently. He put the onus squarely on the politically organized squatters who have taken over the land sequestered from the European settler-owned farms. He made clear these thugs and their tribal allies have simply ravaged the once commercially profitable holdings and then moved on.
The official estimate of losses due to the smuggling of Zimbabwe’s mineral products runs between 40-50 million dollars a month. The plans for a government takeover of the marketing of gemstones have been slow to develop. In any case, government buying offices remain questionable as a method to deter the illegal sales as long as the proposed new bureau remains a politically controlled instrument.
The entire transport system of the country is in danger of collapsing from the absence of foreign exchange reserves. The once dependable rail system is breaking down from lack of infrastructure maintenance and spare parts, as is the government-controlled airline.
For his part Robert Mugabe appears oblivious to the economic degradation of his country. He even has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t believe a sovereign nation can become bankrupt. Apparently the term doesn’t fit his socialist lexicon. He is quite happy with the results of his “democratic redistribution” of the land. He does not recognize that Zimbabwe’s farmland has little intrinsic value, but that it is the act of farming and managing that land which gives it value.
Of deeper meaning is the government-encouraged behavior of the roving gangs who pass as “farmers.” For a country so endowed with both natural beauty and richness of economic potential to undergo such socio-economic rape is a sadomasochistic crime.
The people are not quiescent, but the repression of opposition demonstrations remains brutally harsh. Even with this Hitlerian method of governance there is a dangerous and ironic sign of official bureaucratic breakdown in the reported growing desertion rate of members of the security forces.
Mugabe can no longer trust his own party from being torn apart by political rivals seeking to be his replacement. The vicious infighting between Zanu-PF leaders has added to the turmoil created by the public demonstrations of the opposition. In an effort to quell the uproar Mugabe has ordered a ninety-day ban of all political rallies. However, such internal disruption may actually perpetuate his reign.
In Africa turmoil has often ensured the retention of power of many of their original leaders no matter how despotic they became. Peaceful democracy has had a difficult time being cultivated in the otherwise rich soil of Africa. Zimbabwe is no exception and Robert Mugabe persists as a living monument to African self-destruction.