Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

It's the Economy, Mr President

Robert Mugabe’s supporters as well as his opponents urge him to do something about the ravaged economy.
By Norbert Gogodza
Zimbabwe’s skyrocketing inflation rate is provoking fierce criticism of President Robert Mugabe – now not just from his opponents but also from some of his senior allies.

Some officials who once helped bring him to power now believe the 84-year-old ruler cannot go it alone any longer and must conclude a power-sharing deal with his political rivals, if complete economic collapse is to be averted.

Edgar Tekere, a powerful figure in Zimbabwe’s nationalist leadership, and the founding secretary-general of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, has urged the embattled leader to concede power to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the majority faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC.

Negotiations between Mugabe and Tsvangirai remain deadlocked over the central issue of which man – the former as president and the latter tipped to become prime minister – should wield the real executive power.

In elections held on March 29, the MDC took control of parliament from ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in the presidential poll. However, a campaign of violence against opposition supporters prompted Tsvangirai to pull out of the presidential run-off, leaving Mugabe to be re-elected unopposed.

Tsvangirai wants to hand-pick a coalition cabinet, as well as powers to hire and fire non-performing ministers.

He wants Mugabe to move to a ceremonial role – a demand the president has rejected.

Economists say international support for the beleaguered Zimbabwean economy is unlikely to be forthcoming without a political settlement.

Tekere warned the veteran ruler that he should talk less and do more for his country.

“Inflation won’t be resolved through slogans and political manipulation,” Tekere told IWPR.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been in sharp decline for eight years, with severe shortage in fuel, power, foreign currency and food. On August 19, the Central Statistical Office announced that the country’s year-on-year inflation rate reached a record 11 million per cent in June.

Central bank governor Gideon Gono recently lopped ten zeroes off the Zimbabwe dollar, introducing new banknotes as well as coins, which had long fallen out of use. But these monetary measures have failed to stem the deepening economic crisis.

Mugabe, as sole candidate in the presidential “run-off” stood on a populist ticket, promising to eradicate poverty, improve living standards and tackle unemployment. Now he is being challenged to deliver on those promises.

Analysts, opposition politicians, and even some ZANU-PF leaders believe the president has concentrated too much on fiery anti-western speeches and not enough on the realities at home, and have become increasingly aggressive in calling him to account.

The president’s claim that he is not responsible for the economic meltdown is now being denounced from all sides.

While Mugabe said during a ceremony held last week to mark the fallen heroes of the independence war of the 1970s that he was losing the battle against inflation, he continued to place the blame for the failure on sanctions imposed by the international community.

Meanwhile, inflation continues to soar.

Official figures for June show that prices of basic commodities and services doubled in the course of three weeks, while overall year-on-year inflation was running at a minimum of a staggering 11.2 million per cent. Economists at the private firm Kingdom Financial Holdings insist the real inflation rate is closer to 20 million per cent.

While no official figures are available for specific items, the cost of basic commodities has skyrocketed in the past three months with the price of fruit and vegetables in many shops almost tripling. Housing prices in many neighbourhoods have more than doubled in the past month, with properties now selling in hard currency rather than in the Zimbabwe dollar.

Zimbabwean economist Tony Hawkins has accused Mugabe of economic mismanagement by printing too much money, placing too much reliance on imported goods and sourcing cash from the domestic market to pay for the government’s day-to-day expenditure.

“Profligate printing of money by the government is driving inflation in Zimbabwe to unprecedented levels,” said Hawkins, adding that this policy merely added to the misery of an already impoverished people.

He likened the situation to that in the German Weimar Republic after the First World War, when wheelbarrow-loads of cash were needed to buy a few groceries.

Economist Witness Chinyama said there had been a “huge, unusual increase in liquidity that has led to high inflation”.

He added, “President Mugabe can’t escape responsibility for this.”

A prominent Mugabe ally, Ambassador Chris Mutsvangwa, has reversed his usual strong support for the government and acknowledged that the president has made mistakes.

Mutsvangwa is seen as a hardliner and thought to have been a key engineer of the election campaign that brought Mugabe back to power.

“Inflation is a reality,” he said. “If a fundamental solution is not found, we are going to see harder days in the next months.”

Norbert Gogodza is the pseudonym of a reporter in Zimbabwe.

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