THE run up to this week’s 43rd Independence Day commemorations was filled with positive and celebratory messages from ruling Zanu PF and government spin doctors.
The messaging was clear — to convince Zimbabweans that they are better off despite four decades of economic ruin.
Strategically, they ignored the disastrous offshoots of rampant public corruption, governance failure and human rights violations, which have relegated millions to decades of hardships.
Over four decades after the country’s independence in 1980, Zimbabwe ranks among Africa’s worst economies, with political and socio-economic indicators showing a complete reversal of crucial milestones achieved during the early years of uhuru (a Swahili term meaning freedom or independence), which was achieved following a bloody liberation war.
As the Union Jack — Britain’s flag — was lowered at the Rufaro Stadium on April 18 1980 to mark the end of white rule, the late former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere exhorted Zimbabwe’s leaders to preserve the: “Jewel of Africa.”
Today, the Pan African statesman must be turning in his grave, as Zimbabwe takes a trajectory that few ever imagined.
The Zimbabwean dollar was trading at par with the British pound and was stronger than the United States dollar at ZW$1:US$1,60 back in 1980.
At the time, Africa’s newest state inherited a vibrant economy, which was riding on a thriving agricultural sector — which itself was backed by a stable financial sector.
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It was not a surprise when leaders of the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference, now Southern African Development Community, gave Zimbabwe the food security mandate.
Back in 1980, the international community saw Zimbabwe rising from the rubbles of war into the ‘Singapore of Africa’.
Yet this week, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa presided over the grand event in Mt Darwin, a double-digit inflation rate — one of the region’s highest, along with a huge debt stock estimated at US$19 billion — hung over the country.
The Zimbabwean dollar lost 58% of its value during the first quarter alone, according to a report by FBC Securities, after seeing its value eroded by over 70% in 2022.
So rapid has economic decline been since 2000 that in December 2008, annual inflation hit 500 billion percent, according to International Monetary Fund data.
The country carries the shocking record of having to shut down its stock exchange twice in a decade.
For many years since the collapse of the domestic unit in 2008, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was relegated to a ceremonial role, without the ability to set interest rates or print money – some of the most important roles of a central bank.
Protracted diplomatic tussles have not been resolved in 23 years.
And, as FBC Securities hinted last week, as Zimbabwe put final touches to Independence Day celebrations, more headwinds were mounting.
Following his dramatic rise to power in 2017, Mnangagwa announced a plan to turn the country into an upper middle-class economy by 2030.
But until this week, prospects for this dream appeared to be dimming, given the sea of troubles that Mnangagwa has to tackle.
In an address to thousands of Zimbabweans who attended the Mount Darwin celebrations this week, Mnangagwa said the country was on the path to recovery.
“The successes realised by the Second Republic are irreversible,” the President said.
“To date, my administration has implemented 7 000 high impact life changing projects since 2018, as a bedrock to lift our people out of poverty into prosperity.
“It is encouraging that inflationary pressures continue to ease due to a combination of fiscal consolidation and tight monetary policy measures.
“The notable expansion, productivity and profitability of entities across all sectors of the economy have seen our country recording the highest GDP growth in our region,” Mnangagwa added.
His speech came as a ground breaking documentary by Qatar based television network, Aljazeera, completed a series of investigations linking Mnangagwa’s acolytes to alleged industrial scale gold looting and money laundering.
Widespread unemployment, massive de-industrialisation, a shambolic health delivery system and rising poverty levels are some of the glaring symptoms emanating from decades of mismanagement and plunder of the country’s vast natural resources by its political elite.
Dwindling exports, declining foreign direct investment, policy inconsistencies and massive skills and capital flight choked the southern African country as it raced towards this week’s important political milestone.
The capital starved southern African country, under the grip of a tough global embargo, has been shut out of the global financial system after failing to settle billions to international lenders.
State-run enterprises, which propped up the Rhodesian economy, and made up 40% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the 1990s, have been affected by protracted looting.
State firms’ contribution to GDP slid to 12% by 2020, according to Ministry of Finance data.
Firms like Ziscosteel, once Africa’s largest integrated steel maker, has been reduced to a shell.
The Cold Storage Commission, once Africa’s largest meat processor, has been another victim of unrestrained pillage.
Air Zimbabwe, once a national pride, has been reduced from an international carrier to a small operation running mostly domestic flights and two regional connections, so is the
National Railways of Zimbabwe, which has bled for decades.
Political analyst Dumisani Nkomo was this week concerned that 43 years after independence, prospects of millions have been obliterated.
“Zimbabwe is independent but not free,” Nkomo told the Zimbabwe Independent.
“Many of the goals of the liberation struggle have not been achieved. Housing for all remains elusive. The average Zimbabwean is unemployed. The average pensioner has no social security. We need a new beginning.
“The poor and vulnerable are growing poorer and more vulnerable. Basic services, such as water and electricity, are no longer available. Health care is still elusive 43 years after independence.
“We have missed the mark. Some of the major reasons for this (crisis) include political mismanagement, policy inertia, misuse of natural resources and corruption. Failure to uphold the constitution has not helped the cause of Zimbabwe,” Nkomo noted.
On the political front, Tshwane University public affairs associate professor Ricky Mukonza argued that Zimbabwe has achieved key milestones.
However, these have continued to stir debate, Mukonza added.
“Zimbabwe has made some progress since the attainment of independence in 1980. What remains debatable is whether that progress is satisfactory to the majority of the population,” Mukonza opined.
“However, from the late 1990s, there was evidence of poor political decision-making and mismanagement of the economy, which had deleterious effects on the socio-economic life of Zimbabweans.”
The weaponisation of laws to muzzle dissent, along with a brutal clamp down against opposition figures, has reduced Zimbabwe to a pariah state, analysts argue.
In recent years, civil society has been at the receiving end of an intolerant regime.
Zimbabwe is battling to end 23 years of western imposed sanctions – the results of a poor human rights record, and collapse of the rule of law.
Sanctions, which have been renewed since 2000, have been condemned across Africa, but western powers say reforms would be important before they can reconsider their stance.White farmers who lost their land have not been given compensation amounting to US$3,5 billion by the government.
Increasing cases of violence and political persecution have blighted Zimbabwe’s standing on the global stage.
The continued incarceration of opposition senior political leader Job Sikhala without trial has triggered the international community’s wrath.
Mnangagwa’s mission, upon assuming office in 2017 following a military assisted transition that toppled the late former president Robert Mugabe to reset frosty relations with the Western powers.
But the West has indicated that re-engagement with Zimbabwe can only take off if Harare shows the appetite to implement sweeping political and economic reforms.
At 43, Zimbabwe is still wandering in the woods. “As long as the ruling establishment survives by oppressing the opposition and clamping down on voices of dissent as well as disputed elections, the country will never mover forward,” social commentator Reuben Mbofana averred.