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Zimbabwe’s heads for Venezuela-style economic meltdown

Financial Times (UK) Editorial

Flashback … Zimbabweans take to the streets in November 2017 to support the army’s intervention to force then-President Robert Mugabe from power. Since then, hopes of economic turnaround have turned forlorn.

The president of Zimbabwe would like the world to know he is shocked. After Sky News broadcast footage this week of soldiers beating an unarmed man in the street, Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted that he was “appalled”.

“I have instructed that the individuals behind this be arrested,” he added. It is unclear whether Mr Mnangagwa has watched Casablanca, the 1942 film in which Captain Louis Renault, the corrupt Vichy prefect of police, feigns shock at the gambling in Rick’s Bar. Like Renault, who cheats at the roulette wheel himself, Zimbabwe’s president is perfectly familiar with the violence and intimidation routinely meted out by the state apparatus.

Far from being an aberration, thuggery is Zanu-PF’s stock in trade. As former president Robert Mugabe’s enforcer for nearly four decades, Mr Mnangagwa was the one who perfected it. The recent violence stems from a slow-motion economic collapse. The country — which has no currency of its own after hyperinflation destroyed the Zimbabwe dollar a decade ago — has stopped generating the export dollars it needs to survive. It depends almost entirely on remittances from millions of Zimbabweans forced to seek a living abroad. The central bank has run out of dollars, forcing it to pump out ever more of the electronic money that passes for a currency.

Another bout of hyperinflation beckons. Zimbabwe appears to be heading for a Venezuela-style meltdown. The World Food Programme worries that 8m of the estimated 14m-16m population face food insecurity. Some 38 years of theft and incompetence by Zanu-PF have brought the breadbasket of southern Africa to this. The international community is caught in a bind. There is no appetite to engage with a government that has shown itself to be as bad as that of the Mugabe era.

How could it justify propping up a vicious regime, knowing that much of the money it handed over would be stolen? Yet the alternative is equally appalling: allowing the economic situation to get so grim that Zanu-PF implodes. There is no guarantee that regime change by attrition — even possible starvation — will work. As for Zanu-PF, it is locked in infighting. There are rumours that General Constantino Chiwenga, deputy president and the man who led the 2017 coup, wants to push Mr Mnangagwa out.

Much of the feud seems to be over control of moneymaking rackets. Even if you credit Mr Mnangagwa with a genuine desire to reform the economy, his efforts have come to naught. If anything, reform has made things worse. There is simply no money left. Cutting expenditure further will lead to collapse. So will printing money. Without an injection of outside money, there is no way out.

The only possible solution is to form a government of national unity with which the international community could engage. An injection of money and a new programme monitored by the IMF could begin to restore economic credibility. The west could even consider lifting sanctions, in place since 2001. They have little effect, but give incompetent and corrupt Zanu-PF officials a scapegoat for economic catastrophe.

The chances of such an accommodation with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are slim to non-existent. Far from reaching out, Zanu-PF has hunted down many MDC members and locked them up. The alternative is that things will get worse before they eventually get better. Zimbabwe’s educated people could be participating in one of the most dynamic economies on the continent. Instead, they are witnessing an implosion. – FT.

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