Zimbabwe's slide into kleptocracy

Eddie Cross says at one stage the Zanu-PF elite was stealing a third of annual GDP

The Criminal State in Africa

In the old Rhodesian days, many whites expressed the view that Independence under a majority rule government would bring chaos and collapse. Their justification for such a view was based on experience in other newly independent States in Africa where the post colonial experience had been pretty disappointing. For me, a long time opponent of Ian Smith and right wing politics, I felt that majority rule was inevitable and that a tiny white community could not expect to govern for very much longer and what was needed was a managed transition.

The war that led to majority rule started in earnest in 1972 and by 1976, the Smith government had all but collapsed and a transition was accepted as being inevitable. The problem was how to hand over a relatively sophisticated government and economy to people who had not run anything bigger than a cash box in a bush camp. I was part of the transition team and worked with the top leadership of both Zanu and Zapu as they prepared for elections and then to take over control of the State.

Many of the new leaders became friends and I found that between them there were considerable intellectual and professional capabilities. I had confidence that this team of men and women would take up the reins of power and make good use of their new opportunities. In particular there was this aloof intellectual in the form of Robert Mugabe who spoke eloquent English and was clearly well tutored in all aspects of public life.

Assisted by the major nations of the world, the transition came and went and the new leadership took control of the State. The transition itself was unexpectedly smooth, despite tens of thousands under arms, not a shot was fired and on the 18th of April 1980, minority rule ended and the new government under Robert Mugabe was sworn in.

Restrained by many different elements in the complex situation of the day, the Mugabe regime was slow in its expected lapse into chaos and anarchy but when challenged by newly emerging democratic forces in the form of Zapu in the south west in 1983 and the MDC in 2000, the reaction was the same - a savage, unbridled attack on the leadership of these opposition elements resulting in thousands of deaths and widespread abuse of human rights.

In 1983 the campaign to wipe out Zapu did not lead to a national collapse being confined to the region in the south west of the country, but its deep wounds remain unhealed and will haunt us for many years to come. However the campaign to crush the MDC was in a different league.

By 2000, 20 years of proliferate spending and unsustainable deficits in the budget funded by printing money, had begun to sap the resilience of the economy. The international community had got beyond its early belief that Mr. Mugabe and his band of not so merry men could do no evil, were in less of a mind to look the other way as they had in 1983/87.

The consequence was a rapid collapse of the domestic economy with GDP declining by more than half and exports by two thirds associated with the withdrawal of support by the majority of the international community. What is less well documented is the parallel slide into what has become a well entrenched kleptocracy.

In the beginning, the new elite that made up the Zimbabwe government and corporate executive class, behaved in an exemplary manner. There was respect for the rule of law, property rights were observed and contracts awarded with very little graft and corruption.

Gradually this changed, first the rights of Zapu and its membership were abused and the law simply brushed aside. Then creeping patronage and corrupt practices in government contracts and business in general started to gain momentum.

By the time the conflict with the MDC was launched in 2000, the Reserve Bank had become the bank of the Zanu elite, printing money at artificial exchange rates had begun to strip away the assets of established business and citizens and the looting of national resources had started. By my own estimates, when the final collapse came in late 2008 and Zanu was forced in to a coalition government with the MDC by regional leaders, the Zanu elite were stealing a third of annual GDP.

This was achieved in many different ways, fuel imports were subjected to huge premiums that were channelled into private accounts overseas, pension funds were looted and the State Social security Agency used as a private savings bank. Through the Reserve Bank the Zanu elite literally stole the gold stocks and siphoned off the accumulated national wealth created by a 100 years of enterprise and hard work. Connected individuals were able to acquire assets for virtually nothing.

Zimbabwe, once regarded as a promising middle income developing State, became the second poorest country in the world in a decade, one of the only countries to experience such a decline without being engaged in a war. A tiny (no more than 2000 people) criminal cabal became some of the wealthiest individuals in the world. Zimbabwe abandoned any pretext of being a law abiding State and the theft of State and individual assets was only curbed when finally regional leaders imposed a coalition government on Zanu PF.

Stripped of access to the Reserve Bank, fuel resources and the artificial blood supply created by the printing presses in Harare, the criminal elite concentrated their efforts on what was left. The alluvial diamond fields in the eastern areas of the country were taken away from their rightful owners, handed over to an international criminal cabal drawn from Israel, South Africa and China. Where the elite still controlled the administration (mining and agriculture) the looting simply accelerated and broadened its base fuelled by the international appetite for all raw materials.

A similar process has crippled many African States, the book 'It is our time to eat' published in Kenya reveals the depth of State led corruption and the difficulty of rooting it out. The Congo is our Brazil, but remains one of the poorest and most brutal States in the world where life is pretty dreadful for all but a few. Zambia is only slowly climbing out of the hole that it was left in after Kaunda.

South Africa shows frightening signs of a similar slide into theft and corruption on a scale seldom seen on other continents. In Angola the elite steal a third of oil revenues and nobody takes any interest except the Banks that become host to this flood of wealth that bleeds Africa and for which the aid inflow is simply a rather bloody band aid.

Eddie Cross is the MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com

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