For a nation that boasts of the highest literacy rate in Africa, Zimbabwe displays a shocking disregard for statistics and figures, where authorities just thumb suck figures and shove them down the nation’s throats.
On Thursday, Zimbabwe woke up to news that the country was sitting on a stockpile of ivory worth $9,6 billion, which if sold could almost wipe out both the country’s local and external debt.
So serious and emotive was the matter that it was discussed in Parliament and emotions ran high on how the West, without elephants, was constricting and constraining Zimbabwe’s economy and there were calls for the country to pull out of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
What makes this debate more appropriate is the fact that Zimbabwe like all Cites members globally is preparing for the conference of the parties (Cop 17) in September to discuss the welfare of the African elephants as they continue to face a serious threat from marauding poachers.
While the arguments in the legislature might have made sense, the sad reality is that the $9,6 billion figure may have been a guess from Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri and no such amount of ivory may exist.
A simple search reveals that ivory sells at between $1 000 per kilogramme officially to $2 100 on the black market, instead of the $100 000 mentioned by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa. In that case, the ivory in question may not amount to more than $20 million.
Left unchallenged, Chinamasa and Muchinguri will successfully remove Zimbabwe from Cites on the basis of a lie, but in future they will fail to justify this decision.
Zimbabwe does make compelling reasons for it to be allowed to trade in its ivory, but the $9,6 billion figure is simply untrue and should not be the basis of any argument.
In the past, Zimbabwean authorities have displayed a shocking disregard for figures and have resorted to the crassest of guesses.
One such example is the employment figures, the government has failed to provide accurate figures and this has resulted in wild guesses for these.
Officially, unemployment is between five and 11%, but everyone knows this is patently untrue and the number is certainly above 85%.
The government has then come up with the most artful measures for employment figures, including underemployed and informal traders in this matrix and are using this as a basis to formulate policy.
While this may seem clever on their part, the reality is that unemployment continues to grow while the tax revenue shrinks, meaning the country can claim so many people are employed, but that does not reflect in tax revenue.
The same goes with the missing $15 billion diamond revenue President Robert Mugabe revealed.
A cursory glance shows that it probably is impossible that Zimbabwe lost so much money because of the quality diamonds the country produces and the price the gems fetch on the market.
Some speculated that Mugabe’s statement was a casus bellis to shut down mining companies and force them to consolidate into the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company.
Numbers are important because they are the basis on which policies are made and government’s failure to provide factual statistics means they cannot be trusted to implement development plans, as their projections for growth are based on thumb suck figures.