Starving our Children

A billboard next to the road last week had printed on it the statement "Government pay's the IMF another US$15 million". I do not know what that takes us to - we must be approaching the total of US$150 million paid to the IMF since Mugabe famously raided corporate FCA's (Foreign Currency Accounts) to steal US$120 million last August to pay the IMF and stick one in the eye for Thabo Mbeki.

The stated purpose of these payments is to prevent the IMF Board resolving to kick us out of that funny club of nations that sends its Ministers of Finance and Governors of Reserve Banks to Washington for a hugely expensive bash twice a year. For some reason that eludes me, President Mbeki seems to lose sleep over the possibility of our expulsion from this the most capitalist club in the world. Mugabe killing thousands of his people by proxy makes no impact at all - but lose our membership of the IMF Club - that would be a disaster!

I find this whole thing rather nauseous - like the head of a family in a starving village, throwing food over the fence to baboons waiting on the outside, while the children of the village die of hunger, malnutrition and disease. Too stark an image? Just think of what we could have done with that money over the past 5 months - we could have bought enough food and raw materials to resolve all the shortages of basic foods in the country. We could have imported enough liquid fuels to overcome the persistent fuel shortages that are crippling our public transport system and pushing transports costs through the ceiling. We could have satisfied the needs of all our hospitals for disinfectants, cleaning materials, drugs and essential medical supplies.

Instead we go on paying this money to the IMF - they do not want the money, they do not need the money, it does not change our status as a country under threat of its membership because we are not servicing anyone's debt - least of all the IMF and its sister institutions of the World Bank and the African Development Bank. What the IMF and the WB want is clear signs that we are coming to our senses, restoring our democratic credentials and the basic rights of our people. Then and only then, will they consider an integrated package of economic reforms designed to stop the hemorrhaging of the Zimbabwe economy and even then they would require an extended period of national discipline and management before they finally gave us the green light and restored our rights as a member.

When we first paid that initial sum to the Fund I wrote to a staff member who watches Zimbabwe from Washington and said they should refuse to accept the cheque - send it back I argued, we need it more than you at this time; people will die because these funds are being paid to you. Needless to say I never got a reply and now they are here yet again with a small team to assess our situation and to investigate where these funds are coming from! It is bizarre to say the least.

And what will they find in Zimbabwe. They will find a country much worse off than when they were here just six months ago. The media is more repressed than six months ago; the economy is still shrinking, exports still falling and food production, despite a wonderful wet season, set to decline. We still have no freedom - we cannot meet without police permission, we cannot talk freely on the streets or on the phone, we cannot demonstrate without fear that the armed forces will use live ammunition on us. We cannot vote for the leadership of our choice. Since they were last here three more democratically elected mayors have been kicked out of their offices and replaced by Zanu PF hacks and lackeys.

Our hospitals are worse than they were six months ago, our schools are still sliding down hill in every department. Hundreds of thousands of children have been withdrawn from school because they cannot afford the fees. Our government is more corrupt and less competent than it was six months ago and if anything, economic and monetary policy is in an even bigger mess than when they were here last year.

There is not a shred of evidence that the Fund is about to start helping us get out of our crisis, all that will emerge from this visit will be another depressing analysis saying that Zimbabwe continues its downward slide in all spheres including governance. The IMF Board will read the staff report with a deep sigh of resignation and frustration and decide to keep us in limbo for another six months and then get on with other business. We do not have that luxury. I have just listened to an interview with Mel Gibson of "Passion" fame. I have long been an admirer of Mr. Gibson since he made that marvelous film on Robert the Bruce - one of my own personal ancestors. Mel said, "Pain always precedes change". If that is true then surely we will see change this year.

We certainly cannot take much more of this - inflation at over 1000 per cent per annum (it has been at this level for the past four months), this past week in Bulawayo we have had no maize meal - the primary staple food of our people and I see no signs of a resumption of deliveries. If anything the fuel situation is worse and this past week local bus drivers went on strike to protest low fares. The great majority of people simply can no longer afford even the basic necessities of life.

I think it is time we all agreed "no more, we have had enough!" The restructuring of the MDC after the leadership split is nearly complete and what is emerging as the "new" MDC is certainly determined that this will be the year we see change. The MDC road map remains the same - a new, people constitution, and a transitional government followed by fresh democratic elections under international supervision.

We are now working on how to start this process and will in February meet with our civil society partners to debate the strategies we are going to use. Zanu PF is nervous and quite rightly so, they, like us, sense the national mood is changing. The General commanding the Army said this past week that he does not want to use the army to shoot hungry, angry people. What he has to worry about is what happens when his army joins the people in their demand for change.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 28th January 2006.