Double Speak

We have just had a team from the IMF here. Headed by the Director for Africa they stated that their reason for coming to Zimbabwe was a last ditch attempt to head off the compulsory expulsion of Zimbabwe from the IMF for non-payment of our debt to the IMF. Their press release following the visit talked of a meeting with President Mugabe and a restatement of the Funds position on Zimbabwe and what we needed to do to pull us back from the edge.

These multilateral institutions operate on the basis that their members are all independent governments and that their own debt in each country, is a first priority when it comes to debt servicing. There is scant regard paid to the circumstances under which the debt was originally incurred or the direct consequences of the debtor countries own actions and self inflicted damage.

So you have the IMF and the World Bank and their many affiliates, dealing with countries like the Congo. Even though the Congo hardly has a government and is about as a corrupt and incompetent a collection of people you can find anywhere. Because they describe their activities in these terms, the multilateral institutions work on the assumption that what they are doing in the world economic system is good, irrespective of the mounting evidence to the contrary.

Before Independence in Zimbabwe, the then settler regime had no relations with any of the multilaterals. Forced to rely on their own resources and ingenuity, they established a small, reasonably honest government, which administered the countries resources and economy with remarkable efficiency. When we came to independence in 1980 we had a currency which was stronger than the US dollar and the British pound in local markets, there was virtually no black market for anything, the country had a small export orientated economy which delivered to its people an income per capita that was second only to South Africa in the region. Our food was the cheapest in Africa and our small but sophisticated medical and education system delivered services that were unrivalled on the Continent.

We now live in a country where all of those foundations have been swept away. We have a large, inflated government that is corrupt from the top to the bottom, our local currency is worthless, our export industries are in ruin and one third of our total population has fled the country - mainly for political and economic reasons. We are now near the bottom of the log in terms of income per capita and our social infrastructure is in a shambles - producing school graduates that can hardly read or write and are not functionally numerate. We have seen the fastest collapse of life expectancy of any country in the world that is not embroiled in conflict.

The reasons are not sanctions as the Mugabe regime sprouts at every opportunity - the Rhodesians spent 15 years under UN mandatory sanctions and survived, they are not colonial - we never were a colony in the strict sense of the word, we were a self governing dominion within the Commonwealth from virtually 1923. They were not conflict - the Rhodesians fought a savage, no holds barred civil war for 8 years before they succumbed to international and region pressure.

No, this collapse in our economy, our social infrastructure and society is totally self-inflicted. We have no one else to blame but ourselves. We decided to live beyond our means; we decided to undermine the rule of law and the sanctity of our own constitution. We subverted our Courts and neglected our civil service. We wasted our scarce resources on the senseless war in the Congo and on patronage extended to a political minority on whom the State depends for survival.

No, our scars are self inflicted and just for once, I would like to hear someone - anyone, from any of the multilateral institutions say so. The UN, the UNDP, the IMF and the World Bank, the ADB. Anyone. But there is nothing but silence and double speak such as we heard this week from the IMF.

I would have thought that a much higher priority for Zimbabwe than the servicing of IMF loans would be feeding the people, treating the victims of the Aids pandemic, providing for the million children who are Aids orphans. What about the thousands of pensioners who have not had their pensions paid for the past year or even longer, many of whom are starving and dependent on others for survival. What about the billions of dollar (real dollars) of assets stolen from their rightful owners with no prospect of compensation or legal redress? I would have thought that the IMF should demand these priorities as preconditions to membership, not simply the repayment of debt by a starving nation that is on its knees.

We all know that only democratic states that respect the rule of law have any chance of success in economic and social terms. Where are the stated priorities of these multilaterals on these issues? If we are going to bring delinquent governments like the Mugabe regime into line, we all have to speak the same language and play the same tune. Instead we have the State owned Herald with banner headlines stating that the IMF has thrown Zimbabwe a lifeline. Giving Mugabe the slightest hope that he will be forgiven for all that he has done will only perpetuate the agony, not solve the problem.

Just this past week we have seen the Zanu juggernaut at work - setting the democratic clock back another 20 years, harassing the opposition and civil society at every opportunity and subverting the rule of law and virtually every tenet of sound democratic practice. We are not making progress - we are going backwards, economically, socially, politically. We are losing ground on every front and it is our people who are paying the price. We expect the international community and its representative organs to defend the principles of freedom and progress whenever they are given the opportunity. So when the IMF comes to Harare and engages the State and defends its position with double speak instead of plain talking, we have every reason not to trust them with our future.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 21st November 2004