Violet: We continue the teleconference interview discussing various issues of national interest with three people who have at one time or another advised some of the key players in Zimbabwean politics – political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos, former Information Minister, now independent MP Professor Jonathan Moyo and leading economist John Robertson. This week we are going to be discussing how Mugabe thinks. What is his mindset? Why is he allowing the country to collapse so totally? A huge part of that collapse has been economic and so we start this week’s discussion with the economy.
With inflation nearing 1200% it’s been said the economy has become Mugabe’s real opposition. So I first asked economist John Robertson to explain the state of the economy and tell us how bad things really are.
Robertson: The state of the economy is certainly extremely serious. We have lost about half of our gross domestic product. The GDP per capita has come down to less that US$1 per day for the population as a whole and at that level we have, I am afraid, a very debilitated population. I think many, many people are suffering malnutrition and because of the treatment and the various little security measures taken by the government we have also a traumatised population. Which might explain why they have not taken mass action to date. There was some evidence of courage to do that back in 1997/ 98, but the treatment that was meted out to the people after that has left them very, very cautious and very anxious not to have that experience again.
Now these problems are mounting in such a way that the economy can no longer employ most of the people. We’ve got some 300 000 youngsters turning 18 in this country every year – about maybe 10% of them can find work – the rest of them are unemployed and unable to find any kind of suitable employment anywhere. So they have to leave the country if they want work. We’ve got many of them leaving for South Africa illegally and facing very serious problems when they do that. I think that we face a very, very long recovery unless we get a massive amount of assistance from abroad. And once again I say that South Africa’s position here is the most important. We could speak of following the same path of recovery as say Uganda or Ethiopia or Mozambique and each of those cases we are talking more than 30 years and they still haven’t come right. We could come right very much more quickly with a lot of assistance from South Africa. I believe that the South African assistance could be in the form of the assistance given say to East Germany by West Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.
We need to become part of a bigger union and I think this would be needed for other reasons as well. As a region, Southern Africa needs the protection of some more cohesive structural patterns that can allow the territory to develop against the very, very fierce competition from the Far-East and elsewhere in the world. We need the protection that will allow our own industries to develop and I believe we can do that far better as a federation of all the Southern African states. But that will allow South Africa to bring its force to bear in Zimbabwe in form of central bank management even a single currency union across the borders of not only Zimbabwe and South Africa but other regional countries. And we can look, I believe, at these very much bigger ideas for the kind of solution we want to our very, very big problem. We are not going to solve these problems by looking at small ideas and sort of fiddling around the edges of the problem and trying to hope that none of the basic political decisions need to be changed. We do need to change the fundamentals. We need to change them very quickly to avoid going into a very much deeper recession.
Violet: At what point will the decline of the dollar precipitate a real crisis leading to the collapse of the country? Or are we at this point now?
Robertson: We’re not quite there yet but one of the limiting factors is how many notes we can print? Believe it or not we have to print about four million Z$100 000 notes every day to keep pace with the rate at which prices are increasing. That soon is going to become eight million notes per day. Our capacity to do that isn’t there and I believe soon we are going to find there is a massive cash crisis because people are going to have such difficulties to get money out of the bank they will be reluctant to put it into the bank. And when banks stop getting the proper circulation of money under their control all the basic systems of the management of money will begin to fall apart. I think they are very close to that and there is every prospect that we will see prices double again in the next three months and double yet again in the following three months. So that will take the prices of today to four times what they are today by the end of the year and at that level you need to have four times as much money in the country as we have today. I think the physical ability to do that is not – we just don’t have it, and so that could cause one of the crisis that lie ahead of us.
Violet: Now Professor Moyo does a country ever really collapse or does it just limp along as more and more professionals flee the economic crisis?
Moyo: Well in sociological terms a country does not collapse obviously Zimbabwe will always be around but the question would be in what state and what would be the kind of impact on people’s lifestyles and conditions of living. What clearly collapses is the government and frankly I don’t think that we should expect a government – whether a dictatorship or a democratic government – to survive four digit inflation. And this is the reality check that ZANU PF must do and this is why many people believe that at this very moment the ball is on ZANU PF’s court and if we say that the fundamental problem now has to do with the collapse of the economy then we should also ask what the response of the government is. We know that six weeks or so ago they came up with something they called; The National Economic Development Priority Programme – something like that and this is supposed to see a turnaround of the economy over the next six or eight months. And that’s what the government is putting on offer. And if you look at the content of that programme and assess it against the background of what is actually happening in the economy then you will see that we are not dealing with a government which has awakened to the serious nature of the problem at hand. I don’t believe that anyone imagines that we will have an economic turnaround in this country if we do not look at the structural problems that have led to the current situation in general so as to have a structural reform framework that addresses the situation. But in particular, I don’t think we can expect an economic turnaround if we do not accept that, yes, much as the land reform programme has been necessary, the way it was done created a lot of problems that must be corrected and that there will be no international participation in a package unless there is a willingness to bring real finality to this problem. Not the kind of finality we saw the government attempting through the last constitutional amendment. And, I don’t see yet a willingness within ZANU PF, from a policy point of view, to address that or to really get to the roots of this economic crisis. There is still wishful thinking that if we forward sell our minerals we will get some US$50m here, US$1.3million there. We are hearing reports that Vice President Mujuru is superintending over some agreement in China which will bring some 1.3 billion dollars and that this programme in particular – the economic reform programme that is underway – is targeting 2.5 billion dollars. There is still some fantasy out there that the real problem is because we do not have enough investment and this is possible if we attract certain friendly countries in the east or in Russia as the case is right now. Until there is a recognition of the roots of this crisis I don’t see ZANU PF rising to the challenge and coming up with a solution and consequently very soon the economic meltdown is going to become a political meltdown and the prospects of a leadership emerging to deal with this will disappear.
Violet: Still on that same issue, the late Eddison Zvobgo once said Mugabe will not listen to anyone. Now, do you think he goes by his own whim? You know, when you were Information Minister, how did he operate? Did he listen to anyone especially when you say there is no willingness by the regime to get to the root cause of this economic crisis.
Moyo: Well, obviously he has his own approach to this whole issue. I think if we look at what has happened in our country over the years – since independence – and if what we want to do is to find out whom Mugabe really listens to disappointingly he does not really listen to free rational advice especially coming from outside the system. But, even within the system, he does not listen to people – either because they are cabinet ministers or they are Politburo members or Central Committee members. He ultimately and always consistently listens to his security people. His economic advisors are his security people. His political advisors including who to appoint to cabinet, who to appoint to Central Committee or Politburo are his security people. He is a security president. And that explains why many responses of the government to economic challenges are predictable and they often take a law and order dimension. He is very much a creation and a product of the security apparatus.
Violet: So, Professor Raftopoulos, if Mugabe doesn’t listen to anyone except some of his security people why do people waste their time advising the Mugabe government, clearly knowing that nothing will change?
Raftopoulos: Clearly it’s the de-facto government in Zimbabwe whatever it’s nature. So by definition, any diplomatic efforts at international level have to be levelled against him. The problem of course, is even for the security people there becomes a time when the security question is precisely the future reproduction of that leadership. The future problems around the economy, the very security issues they are concerned with that the future of the incumbent becomes, as it were, an increasing problem. So security issues have there own kind of internal debates I suppose around who then becomes the key figure to continue a particular kind of formation. I think the other problem is that given what has happened in Zimbabwe the paradox is; despite Mugabe’s so-called anti imperialists rhetoric, Zimbabwe is now more vulnerable than ever to any future influences of international financial pressure. As an economy it’s much more vulnerable to future international influences and even already the South African economic influence in Zimbabwe is been growing and not necessary in a positive direction. So there are increasing problems that are being created by this vulnerability which will make a reconstruction programme very, very difficult.
Violet: That’s what I actually was going to ask. Is Mugabe still a key player in any process towards the democratization of the country? In other words, do you believe that without his agreement nothing is going to be democratized?
Raftopoulos: Well I think his future is a key issue. I don’t think his presence in a future government is at all going to stabilize the situation, but certainly, his future is a key political question and given – you know what Professor Moyo said about the securitisation of the state – the state has become an increasing problem and will be a problem for any transition. But clearly, Mugabe’s future is a key issue in any discussion about the future.
Violet: Now Mr. Robertson I am going to come to you just now but I am just interested again, I want to go back to Professor Moyo about Mugabe’s mind. Professor Moyo can you explain Mugabe’s mindset, now that – you were very close to him at the time he was terrorizing Zimbabweans? In fact, he is still terrorising. But can you explain Mugabe’s mindset as he continues to ignore the fact that Zimbabwe is in a crisis? You know, is Mugabe’s mind amenable to a negotiated solution in Zimbabwe?
Moyo: Well, I have heard that I have been close to him but not as close as to understand his mindset. He does not allow anyone to get that close. But, you know, he is; as Professor Raftopoulos was saying, his own future is part of the issue on the table right now. But I don’t think ultimately it’s going to depend on whether he wants to accept. We have heard him recently talking about building bridges with the EU, and in particular Britain. But, if you look at the origins of this talk it is coming from the security people. I don’t think this is his own way or even wish. Mugabe operates like an opposition politician. He does not accept the kind of conservative role or decision approach of a leader who has to balance different interests and so forth. No! He is very single minded and now he has had to discover only too late that the situation in Zimbabwe is almost irretrievable and I see that he is concerned about his legacy. I also see that there are influences on him; let us remember he has a young wife and a young family and he must be quite concerned about the future for that family. But now all indications are that he is in a negotiation mood. He is negotiating with the Churches. He is sending Churches to reach out to western embassies. He has confirmed through his Minister of Information that Benjamin Mkapa is his chosen mediator so this man wants to strike a deal there is no question about that.
Violet: What sort of a deal do you think he wants to strike?
Moyo: I think he wants to strike a deal which would preserve his political party, obviously. But, he also wants one that would safeguard his own interest. The possibility of President Mugabe facing all kinds of legal suits after office is something which plays heavily and regularly on the minds of his advisors and so we are now dealing with a President who will simply not leave office without trying to win certain safeguards regarding possibilities of prosecution; whether within Zimbabwe or internationally. But a deal; certainly he is looking for right now.
Violet: And Mr. Robertson are Zimbabweans resigned to their fate? Is this now a matter for the intelligentsia and external forces to deal with Mugabe?
Robertson: I do believe that some analysis of his mindset is called for because his approach to the problem seems to have changed in recent years. I believe that he personally feels that he has been let down by the population of Zimbabwe. I think he feels that having given them everything that they were asking for, he has given them back the land and he was wanting the population to deliver to him the success that he said to the world would be achieved by land reform that would put the land back in the hands of the indigenous population. And they have not done so. We have not had a single decent harvest since land reform. The country has gone backwards and President Mugabe feels that he has been let down very badly by the people. And, now that he hears from many sources that they are suffering, I believe that his approach is that they deserve to suffer because he gave them everything and they have done nothing with the massive largess that he’s handed over by taking the land from the colonising population and giving it back to the indigenous population. So, it becomes more a psychological debate than a political or economic debate, but I think that itself explains why ZANU PF and President Mugabe have become very much preoccupied with their own survival rather than with the country’s survival and recovery. And for that sort of reason we haven’t yet got the focus on the area that needs to be attended to and we need some dramatic changes not these trifling ones that they keep speaking about.
Violet: Although we initially advertised this teleconference discussion as a three part, the issues were so interesting that we have decided to continue it for another week. So two weeks the panelists will give us their analysis on the issue of international engagement, what a post-Mugabe regime must do to reverse the economic meltdown and a general look at what happens after Mugabe. Don’t miss this discussion with economist John Robertson, political analyst Professor Brian Raftopoulos and former information Minister Jonathan Moyo – next Tuesday.