What really happened to Zim’s economy

A popular media myth seeking to explain Zimbabwe’s economic downturn has been that Zanu-PF has mismanaged the economy. Gibson Nyikadzino, in this article originally published by The Southern Times, tell us there is much more to the story than has been told.


Gibson Nyikadzino

Since the turn of the millennium, there have been many theories as to why Zimbabwe’s economy – one of the most promising in Sub-Saharan Africa, spectacularly nosedived.

The former United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, claimed that the government in Harare was practicing what he called “voodoo economics”.

Others have said Zimbabwe’s participation in the DRC War from 1998 to around 2002 battered the economy.

There could be some truth to this seeing as wars are expensive affairs (economists believe US involvement in so many wars over the past decade has greatly contributed to the fact that America today owes around US$22 trillion – the biggest debt in the world).

Another popular conception is that Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed because land reforms gave farms to blacks who are allegedly not as good farmers as whites are.

This argument is getting closer to the real issue at hand – but not for the reasons that the Western media and lazy journalists in Africa claim.

In 2000, Zimbabwe started transferring land tenure from around 6 000 white commercial farmers to some 300 000 black families.

To summarize the matter, this policy did not go down well with the whites who controlled the economy and their friends in the West and eventually what the world saw was capital flight from Zimbabwe and imposition of economic sanctions.

(In fact, the design is that the US sanctions could remain on Zimbabwe until land tenure patterns revert to the status quo in 1998, that is, when whites controlled commercial farming.)

An example had to be made of Zimbabwe so that other developing countries would not dare implement policies that, according to Washington itself in relation to Harare, “pose an extraordinary and continuing threat to US foreign policy”.

US lawmaker Chester Crocker, in advocating for the sanctions on Zimbabwe, infamously exhorted his fellow legislators to “make the economy scream” so as to separate the people of Zimbabwe from Zanu-PF.

The US sanctions – among other things – decree that any Americans sitting on the board of any multilateral lending institution (World Bank, IMF etc) must not vote to extend any support to Zimbabwe.

How then are the sanctions “targeted” or “smart” as is so often claimed when they affect the whole country and the national economy?

The European Union, on its part, flouted the procedures of the Contonou Partnership Agreement in its rush to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe ahead of the 2002 Presidential elections in the Southern African country.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement regulates that relationship between the EU and the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific bloc and provides for consultative steps to be followed in case of a possible breach of this pact.

According to a 2006 study on the implementation of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement – by EU members themselves – the EU, under pressure from the UK, Germany and Holland, imposed the sanctions in the hope that they would influence the outcome of Presidential elections.

What are sanctions?

On a global level, they are punitive measures imposed by an economically and militarily powerful country/bloc on a weaker entity to force them to toe a particular line.

They are designed to weaken the economy and break the will of the people so as to make them change their course.

In essence, they are a punishment to induce a desired behavior on an organization, state and or person.

There is no such thing as a “smart” or “targeted sanction”.

These same measures when imposed on Iraq were allegedly targetted on Saddam Hussein.

Instead what we saw were the deaths of millions of Iraqi children who could not access medicine.

Further, the Iraqi state institutions were so weakened that when the West finally decided to send armies there, they met little resistance, killed Hussein and put in office a puppet leader who panders to the whims of the new imperial master in Baghdad.

There is nowhere in the world where sanctions have ever been “smart” or targeted”: they hit national economies and as a natural consequence, affect the most vulnerable in society first, hardest and longest.

It means a huge section of the population in Zimbabwe has been hurt by the sanctions and an equally huge part of the population agree with President Emmerson Mnangagwa that the sanctions must go.

The media are used to drive home the myth that economic mismanagement is solely to blame for Zimbabwe’s slump and unabashed propaganda to this end has been peddled for nearly two decades and continues up to today.

So is the cost worth it? Should countries risk the ire of the West so that they can empower their own people?

Many African leaders certainly think not: they would love to empower the people (and in the process also guarantee their continued stay in office and secure a lasting legacy) and that is why Sadc is today standing with Zimbabwe to demand an end to the sanctions.

African leaders are largely aware that the collapse of the Zimbabwe economy was mostly a direct consequence of external factors.

What the continent should be aware of is that through real empowerment of people and creation of a solid indigenous middle-class, we will enter a brave new era of prosperity.

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