President Robert Mugabe (93) in his election manifesto ahead of the 2013 general elections, promised to create 2,2 million jobs under an ambitious programme known as the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset). But four years after his controversial victory, the economy continues to bleed.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mugabe in one sweeping move has managed to run-down a country once described by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere as “Africa’s jewel” and widely touted as the continent’s bread-basket. But the Zanu PF leader and his cheerleaders appear blind to it.
Last Wednesday Mugabe’s chief-of-staff, Misheck Sibanda claimed government was still working to create the over two million jobs promised in 2013. Twenty four hours later, Mugabe himself told the World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa that Zimbabwe was Africa’s second most developed country after its southern neighbour.
“Zimbabwe is one of the most highly-developed countries in Africa. After South Africa, I want to see another country as highly-developed,” Mugabe said.
Over the years, Mugabe and those close to him have talked about the economy being on the rebound, about a turnaround strategy and about a Zimbabwe set for economic boom. Denial of some of the most obvious things has kept Mugabe in power. One time in 2008 in the midst of a devastating outbreak of cholera, Mugabe’s then Information czar, the late Sikhanyiso Ndlovu denied that anyone had died of the tropical disease. Some 4 000 people lost their lives to the disease before the international community intervened while Mugabe and his government kept denying it.
Mugabe and his lieutenants have always focused the spotlight on their adversaries, accusing the opposition of colluding with Western countries in a sinister regime change agenda and of bringing upon the country “evil sanctions”.
Last year, opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) secretary general Gorden Moyo said of Mugabe’s claims an economic rebound:
“This is like the devil quoting the Bible. He may pontificate as much as he wants but no sane people would take him seriously”.
Zimbabwe has suffered years of economic difficulties and the mass emigration, infrastructural decay, collapse of social service institutions and political instability all point to a failed state, according to analysts.
“I am not sure which country the president was talking about. Surely, all Zimbabweans would disagree with him. It is cruel misinformation on the part of the president’s advisors. The economy, politics and institutions all point to a broken country. We are not even a fragile state anymore. The president was being economic with the truth,” University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure told The Standard.
PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume went further, suggesting Mugabe could have mistaken his favourite destination, Singapore, for Zimbabwe.
“To say the country is developed is the craziest sentence of the year. Maybe he [Mugabe] is mistaking Zimbabwe for Singapore where he spends most of his time.
“Can he name a country where the police use crude spikes to enforce traffic rules. Mugabe has successfully turned Zimbabwe urban centres into rural areas. What is left is for him to start installing chiefs and headmen,” said Mafume.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said Mugabe has been shielded away from the crisis to the extent that he might actually be unaware of the gravity of the situation at home.
“We are not too sure whether President Mugabe is living in, the real Zimbabwe that most of us are living in or perhaps he is living in his own world of make believe,” Gutu said.
“It’s not surprising, however, that Mugabe made those kind of remarks because him and members of his family, including members of the ruling elite, are cushioned from the hardships that the majority of Zimbabweans are facing on a daily basis; ranging from lack of cash, lack of jobs and a generally depressed economic environment in which all businesses are suffering.”
Describing Zimbabwe as a fragile state would be an understatement, Gutu said.
“In reality, Zimbabwe is actually a failed state in which more than 75% of the population is living in grinding poverty and penury. Zimbabwe’s national road and railway infrastructure is dilapidated; our public hospitals are in a complete mess where even the most basic of medicines such as painkillers are hard to come by.
“We are now a basket case, thanks to decades of Zanu PF misrule, rampant corruption and unprecedented dereliction of governmental responsibility,” said Gutu.
Afflicted by old age and reported ill-health, Mugabe now rarely spends time in the country. Owing to his apparent love for foreign travel, the Zimbabwean leader has earned himself the moniker “visiting president”.
Social activist and #ThisFlag front-man cleric Evan Mawarire said this about the issue of whether or not Zimbabwe is a fragile state: “There is no doubt about our fragility as a society and nation. The president’s comments reflect his willingness to sacrifice Zimbabweans for naked power.
“There is no sense of commitment or urgency to resolve the crisis from his government. Anybody can see that Zimbabwe is collapsing and with each passing day, things are becoming more difficult for the people. If anything, our country’s state of fragility has exposed the entire region. Zimbabwe needs leaders, not rulers,” said Mawarire.
In February 2015, Mugabe stumbled and fell at the Harare International Airport as shocked party supporters he had just addressed watched in horror. In September the same year, the president read a wrong speech while officially opening Parliament. Efforts at spin-doctoring the incidents failed dismally.
Besides these embarrassing episodes, Mugabe has often slept in meetings as well as suffering memory lapses, including an incident when he inadvertently chanted “down with Zanu PF”.