Press "Enter" to skip to content

Unravelling the Zimbabwe problem

It has long been suggested by many that Mugabe cannot rig the economy. It is an interesting but unconvincing argument. The complexity of the Zimbabwe problem is one which we may only fully understand with the benefit of hindsight, assuming all the pieces of the puzzle fit together in our lifetimes. It was the economy, stupid, in 2002 and they still say it’s the economy, stupid, in 2008; or is it really?

What if Zimbabwe has “inexhaustible” economic capital and an inelastic wealth generating potential? For instance, could it be that because Zimbabwe has the second largest known reserves of platinum in the world, it will always attract foreign investment come democracy or dictatorship, rain or sunshine? If not, please explain Anglo American’s US$400m investment in Unki mine, amidst heightened talk of sanctions. What sanctions?

Could it be that if Mugabe was not so adamant on total indigenisation of the economy (rhetoric or not), he wouldn’t pose such a formidable threat to Western interests? (Omar Bongo of Gabon has been in power for much longer — since 1967 in fact. He has since abolished restrictions on presidential terms and they say he’s corruptible, hence the West have left the political status quo unchanged in that oil-rich state for decades).

I contend that if Mugabe knew nothing of the duplicity of the West (who with one hand invest in his country and with the other point an accusing finger at him); that if he knew not how to “look-east”, pandering to the interests of the Chinese and using them as a leverage against the West, then perhaps we wouldn’t have witnessed the ruin that we have come to know as Zimbabwe.

Lest we forget, Mugabe was knighted in 1994, the madness of Gukurahundi notwithstanding. For decades he was the “darling of the West”, up to the point when he decided to play them at their own game whether by design or by sheer force of circumstances. In the aftermath of a failed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (sponsored by the West mind you), which accelerated the deterioration of Zimbabwe’s economy, he took his army into the DRC to prop up Kabila (September 1998), among other more pressing imperatives. The irony of Mugabe’s intervention in the DRC is this: it was not the rebels he was fighting. Wittingly or unwittingly, he was fighting Western interests in that resource rich country.

It was a war Zimbabwe could not afford, said the IMF at the time. That act of foreign policy “misjudgement” (said the naive press of the day) led to strained ties with Western governments and their multi-lateral institutions. Abandoned and betrayed by the withdrawal of aid for land reform and IMF balance of payments support, he turned his anger to those he perceived as their “kith and kin”, the farmers. He then branded the MDC, puppets of the West, treated NGOs with impunity and wait for it …threw his lot with the Chinese. “Look-east!” became his rallying cry.

The Chinese foray into Africa was bound to have reached Zimbabwe at some point. After all, by that time, they were already carving up the Zambian copperbelt next door. This time however, history needed not to repeat itself. Unlike the colonialists who uninvited, trekked up north in the 1890s, Mugabe ran to the Chinese in desperation, coalfields, diamond-fields, platinum-reserves, gold-fields, acres of rich fertile land and an educated labour force, in hand. “Save us from the big bad west!”, he seemed to cry.

Around the same time, it was rumoured that Libyans were offered various concessions in exchange for fuel, only for the shipments to be intercepted on the high seas by Western foes. Well, at least that was the line peddled to Harare motorists in the winter of 2000, while they waited in long winding fuel queues.

As history will someday record, Mugabe’s undoing was not so much the evil that men do, but a complex combination of an audacious clinging to power and an unflinching resolve to take the liberation revolution to its logical conclusion whilst yielding too little ground to the two global powers, the USA-led West and China. To either side, Mugabe’s brand of nationalism has been the antithesis of what they have set out to do in their contest to control global resources.

In the name of democracy and good governance, America and its “coalition of the willing”, is fighting a campaign for global domination. The Chinese camp is fighting the same campaign minus the democracy rhetoric and without fabricating a global “war on terror”. For African governments (despots and democrats alike), sitting on the fence will not do. Mugabe might have attempted sitting on the fence for a while to buy time while figuring out his next move. He even seemed to believe he could go it alone, using Zimbabwe’s plentiful resources as leverage. However, as the reality of the past decade has shown, what determines stable politics and economic prosperity in any African country is not so much democracy, but which side of the global power axis, a particular country is aligned to.

And so reading in between the much dithering on what to do regarding the vexing issue of Zimbabwe at the G8 summit and at the UN Security Council, is this ancient tussle for domination. At these forums, the Russian-Chinese coalition is on the one side of the fence and on the other, is the broader West led by America. I suspect, Zimbabwe’s numerous natural resource endowments (platinum is one), loom large in this tussle. The sooner the world’s power brokers come to a truce, the better for all long suffering Zimbabweans. Its world politics, stupid.