No Decisions. The World Outside.

The BBC is celebrating its 70th birthday and invited two leading international statesmen to give public interviews as part of its commemorations. The first was Tony Blair and the second Kofi Annan. I listened to both in the hope that we might get a perspective on just how our situation is perceived at this moment in time.

Blair did not disappoint mainly due to an excellent question from a Zimbabwean in Harare. He responded as we have come to expect from British politicians and especially the Blair government. Much wringing of hands, echoes of despair that so little has been achieved, determination to "do something", "sometime" and little else. Asked about Mbeki's ambivalence towards the Zimbabwe crisis he fudged the issues again - acknowledged that South Africa was the key and that was why Mbeki was on the Commonwealth troika dealing with the issue. It was a classic Blair performance - lucid, clear, and completely empty of content.

Then Kofi Annan. This was even worse - he did not even get asked to comment on Zimbabwe or the crisis in Africa, his home continent. He did cover the Aids pandemic and said that we (the globe) were headed for a catastrophe. But the main issue was Iraq and the struggle for power and influence in the world between the UN and the USA. But it was also classic Annan - clear, reasoned and calm. The perfect international civil servant, ruffling no ones feathers and making no waves other than those already in motion. He did say that when he retired he wanted to go farming, I am sure he did not mean in Zimbabwe, in fact he did not say where - I hope it will be back home in Ghana. I assume he will want to invest his life's savings in land and improvements in Africa and then hope and pray that Mugabe does not hear of it.

Then a meeting in Johannesburg called to discuss the way forward for Zimbabwe. They debated the crisis in the economy on the basis of a new study just completed which clearly showed that we are close to melt down. Then they talked about food, the crisis of governance and the human rights abuse. What to do? Nothing - past policy has failed to achieve anything, recent meetings in Pretoria with the Zimbabwe government had yielded no movement on any front. They asked for the MDC position on the way forward and when this was set out they asked Zanu PF for their reaction - it was rejected outright.

They then came back to the same old line - lets work on a reformed Zanu PF, accept that they are in power for the next 5 years and try to get them back into the world community. No recognition of the validity of the MDC position as principled and the only path back to democratic legitimacy. No recognition of the hopeless task of trying to turn the ship around when it is firmly stuck in the sand and being pounded to destruction by the waves of corruption and bad policy. Just a shallow, futile attempt to justify the ANC/SA governments position on the March 2002 elections and despair that the MDC refuses to be swallowed up by Zanu PF.

Only the USA seems to be absolutely clear on where it stands and what it sees as the way forward. They come under so much criticism the whole time - "war mongering" in Iraq, when only a credible threat of military action could get movement towards removing weapons of mass destruction. The determination to go it alone, if the rest of the world has not got the gumption to do what is required to protect American interests and security, resulting in a scramble to debate the issues in the UN system.

In the case of Zimbabwe, only the US has made its position absolutely clear - the March elections were a sham, the only way back to the road is fresh elections, properly conducted according to the accepted norms of democracy. They have thrown their weight behind efforts to get movement back to the road we left two years ago but feel that it is not their responsibility to act as global policemen - especially when you have the UN, the UK and South Africa with more direct responsibility.

And so it is back to us in Zimbabwe. This week we were told that the current population of the country was only 11,6 million - according to the census conducted in June. There are only 60 000 whites left in the country. We are not surprised by either statistic - with some 2,5 million Zimbabweans outside the country and a million deaths from Aids in a decade, its astonishing that our population is in fact not smaller than it was 10 years ago when the last census was conducted. What the statistics did not tell us was just who is missing? If we could look at this we would find that it is the cream of our society - the educated, the experienced and the skilled. Emigration from Africa is always qualitative - our best go and we do not allow those who want to come to the continent to help permission to do so.

The ZCTU and other bodies called a stay away this week - only a third of the work force, if that, responded. Even my own staff did not respond and when we asked them why, they said they had told the organizers that they wanted to go onto the streets and demonstrate - not a stay away. In their view a stay away would be an empty gesture - it would cost them money, damage their companies and be ignored by the State. They want to get Mugabe's attention in a way that cannot be ignored. I was dissapointed but could not argue with the logic.

A journalist came to Zimbabwe the other day and when she got home, wrote an article that said that we were overstating the crisis in Zimbabwe - sure there were problems, but the country was still functioning. The term "melt down" is often used to describe the state of the economy here and if you have ever witnessed metal in a foundry being melted down you will know that for a long time it maintains its shape and form until it reaches melting point at which stage the collapse is rapid and total.

We are in a similar position here and I wrote to the journalist in reply to her article that she should not lose sight of the basic facts. Our GDP has declined 30 per cent in three years; inflation is in 3 figures and rising rapidly, exports have collapsed to a third of what they were in 1997 and still falling. Industrial output is down 40 per cent and declining at 3 per cent per month. Tourism is down 80 per cent, mining output is falling in most sectors and agriculture is in a state of complete collapse and chaos. We are importing 75 per cent of all our food and 8 million people face serious food shortages and famine. Incomes have fallen 25 per cent in a decade and life expectancies 22 years in the same period. Our national debt is out of control and the arrears on foreign debt alone now exceed our total annual exports. Employment has fallen a third in two years.

Now the State is attempting to take over virtually all the foreign exchange earnings of the country at a ridiculous rate of exchange and has imposed a mindless "price freeze" on everything it can think of except liquor. Next it plans an 18-month freeze on wages in an environment where prices are rising 25 per cent a month. Labour leaders and business organisations are frantic - one business leader is reported to have asked the Minister of Industry "what are you doing to us?" That is what commercial farmers have been asking incredulously for two years now.

Well might he ask? The reply would not have enlightened him at all as he would not be told the truth, but the reality is that Pol Pot has died in Asia and come back to haunt us in Zimbabwe. They plan to starve the MDC structures into submission and to kill all non-Zanu PF related business activity in the country. Mugabe is doing what the Lancaster House process denied him in 1980, a chance to burn the country to the ground so that he can then build a Zanu PF haven in its place where he and a handful of chosen supporters can live in splendid feudal luxury and isolation. Surrounded by a population of peasants who are totally dependent on him and his largesse to survive. He does not care if half the population finds itself in the squatter camps of South Africa or the leafy suburbs of some English city.

So it is now a race against time - to try and haul Zimbabwe out of the witches' cauldron before it melts down into just another failed state in Africa. A race against a humanitarian disaster that is man made and Zanu PF managed. A race against the negative perception that African leadership is hopeless and corrupt and that the best course of action is to leave them to stew in their own juice.

The stakes are high - half the total population of Zimbabwe is at risk. The stability and growth of the whole sub continent is in jeopardy putting the welfare of hundreds of millions of African people at risk. The democratic foundations of a new start for South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia are at risk from socio economic pressures and demands. The future of Nepad with its potential to uplift the whole continent and give all Africans a new start is in jeopardy.

In business we know that no decisions are the worst decisions and must inevitably lead to failure. From what I heard this week, despite the clear understanding of the consequences of no action, those with the capacity to deal with the crisis here most effectively are doing just that - making no decisions.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 12th December 2002