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The primacy of regime survival state fragility and economic destruction in zimbabwe

State Fragility and Economic
Destruction in Zimbabwe

Mark Simpson and
Tony Hawkins

The Primacy of Regime Survival
“The destruction of Zimbabwe’s economy and institutions over the last four decades
has been nothing short of spectacular. This carefully researched book shows that the
cause of this carnage is the attempts of Robert Mugabe’s regime to survive by polarizing society, rewarding the regime’s cronies and weakening the economy. A mustread for anybody interested in learning from Zimbabwe’s mistakes so that we can
better defend against other autocrats doing the same.”
—Daron Acemoglu, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, and
co-author of Why Nations Fail - The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
“If you want an authoritative, dispassionate and forensic analysis of Zimbabwe’s catastrophic economic decline, set in political context, go straight for this definitive work by
Hawkins and Simpson. Their exposure of the way the country’s ruling Zanu-PF party
turned a once-thriving economy into a milch cow for an elite, whilst systematically
subjugating dissent and enforcing an increasingly despotic regime, makes for an engrossing read. The authors pose some awkward questions about the performance of the IMF
and the World Bank: should they have done more to expose Mugabe’s venal regime?

And above all, are they in danger of making the same mistake when dealing with the
new regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa?”
—Michael Holman, former Africa editor of the Financial Times
“The book describes the economic and political history of post-independence
Zimbabwe. It focuses on the causes of the country’s economic collapse, and details
the policies and processes that drove it. It is the only volume I’ve seen of its kind that
covers the entire post-independence period. The referencing is outstanding and it
shows genuine scholarship. It is a book that an interested layman would find fascinating and I’d see the international diplomatic and economic community being
genuinely interested. It is also well referenced, bringing in both general theory and
local documents. Both authors have impeccable credentials.”
—Tony Leiman, School of Economics, University of Cape Town
“At a time of momentous change in Harare and across Southern Africa, this timely
study is a must read for anyone who wants to know if economic prospects are set to
take a turn for the better.”
—Ed Balls, Senior Research Fellow, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard and
former UK Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (2011–2015)

Administrative map of Zimbabwe

Mark Simpson • Tony Hawkins

The Primacy of
Regime Survival
State Fragility and Economic
Destruction in Zimbabwe

Mark Simpson
University of London
London, UK

Tony Hawkins
University of Zimbabwe
Harare, Zimbabwe

ISBN 978-3-319-72519-2    ISBN 978-3-319-72520-8 (eBook)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2018932363

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To Natalie Inês and Nicholas Tiago who were also there, and above all to
Allison who shared the space at the coalface.
To Glynne who shares the frustrations and disappointments of life in a
fragile state, as well as the hope of better days to come.

“As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another has a right to; so tyranny is the
exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to. And this is making
use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it,
but for his own private advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the
law, but his will the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge,
covetousness, or another other irregular passion”
—John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (1689)


The military coup of November 2017, which eventually forced the resignation of Robert Mugabe and led to the evisceration of the ZANU-PF
faction associated with his wife’s political ambitions, was the logical conclusion of the creeping militarization of the Zimbabwean state, a dominant aspect of the country’s political, social and economic regression. The
new President’s reimbursement for the long-standing support of the military and War Veterans – essential props in the maintenance of the extractive political and economic institutions that had long determined the
country’s trajectory and enabled his move into State House – was both
immediate and generous.
The Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces was rewarded with
the post of Vice-President, the Major-General who had acted as spokesperson for the military during the November events took over the Foreign
Ministry, and the Commander of the Air Force became the Minister of
Agriculture and Land Affairs. The leader of the War Veterans, who had
helped orchestrate demonstrations of support for Mnangagwa during the
bitter succession struggle between the latter and the President’s wife
which eventually triggered the putsch, took on the role of Special Advisor
to the President. Hopes were quickly dashed that ZANU-PF’s new leader
would reach out to the opposition parties and form a coalition government to oversee the necessary reforms to pave the way for free and fair
elections scheduled for later this year. In addition to the dominant

x  Preface

­ resence of securocrats in the new Cabinet, all other posts were distribp
uted to old ZANU-PF notables linked to the Mnangagwa faction.
Retribution was also swift, with the full prosecutorial powers of the
state deployed to settle scores with opponents within the ruling party.
While Mugabe and his immediate family were allowed to remain in the
country, and granted a series of privileges and immunities, a number of
senior ranking officials from the former administration were not so
favoured. Former Ministers and their minions who had not slipped out
of the country have been targeted by the country’s anti-corruption agency,
and those who did manage to escape have had their assets seized. The
highly selective singling out of individuals on charges of corruption and
abuse of office – which many in the new dispensation would be hard-­
pressed to mount a credible defence against should the net be widened –
has also provided further and extraordinary insights into the extent of the
plundering under Mugabe.
Photos of police charge sheets listing hundreds of properties accumulated by insiders from the Mugabe era, reports of stashes of foreign currency found in the homes of those who had gone to ground, and footage
of the palatial mansions of beneficiaries of the former patronage networks
(including a 54 room mansion that allegedly belonged to the former
Minister in charge of Indigenisation), circulated widely within the country. They have shocked even those Zimbabweans who had seemingly
become inured to the venality of their leaders.
Notwithstanding such highly visible, and widely trumpeted, demonstrations of good intent by the new administration, a huge leap of faith is
required to buy into the government’s narrative that the military coup
heralds a ‘New Dispensation’ and ‘New Economic Order’. Two elements
stand out in the post-coup economic narrative  – that only one man,
Robert Mugabe, and only a small handful of his close associates, are
responsible for the country’s protracted economic decline, and that ‘bold
reforms’ promised by the Mnangagwa administration will turn the economy around overnight.
While there is an apparent consensus amongst many domestic and
foreign observers that the Mnangagwa administration is more likely to
implement economic reforms than its predecessor, with the ruling party
in electoral mode expectations are being stoked with scant regard to



the economic and social reality on the ground. An extreme example was
Mnangagwa’s recent claim that $3 billion in foreign investment had been
secured in just seven weeks to February 2018. In this heady atmosphere,
the new administration is planting the seeds of another future crisis of
expectations, not least because it portrays the post-coup mantra of ‘re-­
engagement with the international community’ as all gain and no pain.
That the economy will benefit from the removal of the obdurately
anti-reform Mugabe and some of those around him is undeniable, but
the state and party architecture, and the dirigiste mind-set within which
it operates, will continue to determine any reform trajectory. The extension and expansion of the ‘command agriculture’ programme referenced
in this book, a pet project of the new President, carried out with the
extensive involvement of the military when he was Mugabe’s deputy, and
now backed up by the former Major-General in charge of the portfolio,
is a clear sign of the strong elements of continuity at work.
This is also obvious already in the rejection of political reform, most
notably foot dragging in terms of granting the significant (and potentially
decisive) number of Diaspora Zimbabweans an opportunity to exercise
their right to vote in their current countries of residence. There is virtually no new blood at political level, while the bureaucracy was untouched
by the putsch. As a result, it is hardly surprising that after the initial public euphoria that accompanied Mugabe’s relinquishing of office, many
now view the November 2017 coup as a domestic spat, with septuagenarians replacing a nonagenarian, all being hewn from the same wood.
In espousing what he calls the ‘China model’ of economic development, Mnangagwa hopes that Zimbabwe will emulate the bad-politics,
good-economics strategies that have proved so attractive to many African
leaders. Some foreign investors, IFI staff and bilateral donors are only too
willing to accept this ‘good enough governance’ stance for Zimbabweans,
their justification being that a bad solution is better than none, a replay
of the myopia of their earlier efforts during the 1980s and 1990s at promoting reform.
To the very limited extent that it has been articulated, the economic
reform menu is essentially similar to that of the unsuccessful Economic
Structural Adjustment Programme, and other reform programmes of the
past. Then as now, the authorities have committed themselves to public

xii  Preface

sector reform, including privatisation, fiscal deficit reduction, trade,
investment and monetary liberalization and a reduction of the civil service payroll. In its 38 years in office, not one of these policies has been
adopted on a sustained basis, posing the question why the post-coup
future should be any different.
The gain-without-pain scenario promoted assiduously by the government and its state media publicity arm assumes, for example, that a massive international bailout, including as much as $8 billion for farm
compensation, itself a hugely unrealistic number, will be forthcoming.
The Structural Adjustment package of 1991 was less than $1 billion a
year for 5 years, but current estimates are that Zimbabwe will need $30
to $40 billion over ten years.
Policymakers are similarly reluctant to discuss the economics of job
creation, taking refuge in grandiose and meaningless promises to generate a million jobs a year, equivalent to jobs growth of 15 percent of formal
employment each year. Over the long haul in Zimbabwe employment
has grown at half the rate of output, which means that GDP would have
to increase by 30 percent annually. Since this is not going to happen, the
realistic conclusion is that millions of the 200,000 well-educated school
and university leavers each year who fail to get formal jobs will continue
to have to choose between the informal sector and joining the Diaspora.
Politicians have long been content to sweep such long-term problems
under the carpet of an exploding informal sector and deepening rural
poverty, especially in communal farming areas. But two immediate challenges that cannot be hidden from public scrutiny are the unsustainable
debt burden and the currency regime.
At the end of 2016, foreign debt was $9.4 billion or 57 percent of
GDP. This has since increased by at least $2 billion, mostly through new
offshore borrowings (another strong element of continuity in terms of
economic management) from Zimbabwe’s new lender of last resort, the
Cairo-based Afreximbank, and which the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe
claims is partly being used to back the continued printing of bond notes
in its efforts to solve the country’s liquidity problems. Simultaneously,
domestic debt – denominated in US dollars, which means it cannot be
inflated away as happened with Zimbabwe dollar debt during hyperinflation – has burgeoned to over $6 billion. This debt will likely exceed $8



billion by the end of 2018, by which time the debt-to-GDP ratio will
likely exceed 100 percent.
These numbers underline the necessity for the immediate tightening of
fiscal and monetary policy. But that is not feasible politically during an
election year, which helps explain why Mnangagwa has made it clear that
he wants the polls to be held as soon as possible.
The same logic applies to the government’s exchange rate dilemma. It
is common cause that the currency is overvalued to the tune of 40 to 50
percent and that a switch to a different currency anchor, such as the South
African rand, makes no sense unless it is part of a devaluation strategy.
The new President has ruled out the rand option, but has promised to
launch a new Zimbabwe currency backed either by gold or a currency
board arrangement.
Inflation and currency depreciation, driven by excessive government
spending, borrowing and money printing, has bedevilled the country
since independence, with all the market-destroying and state fragility
effects described in this book. Repeatedly over the 38 years since 1980
when ministers have had to choose between economic stabilisation via
austerity on the one hand, and populism (and opportunities for elite
enrichment) on the other, the latter has always won. The military
acknowledges the populist nature of its coup, leaving little room for
doubt over its stance when forced to choose, as it will be in the years
ahead, between on the one hand the pain of political and economic
reforms and potential challenges to the ruling party’s monopoly on
national political and economic life which might thereby emerge, and on
the other regime survival which will remain the priority.
University of London
London, UK
University of Zimbabwe
Harare, Zimbabwe 
February 2018

Mark Simpson
Tony Hawkins


Both authors were privileged to have been members of a group of eminent Zimbabwean economists, brought together between 2007–2010
under the aegis of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
and tasked with analysing and reporting on the state of the economy, the
wider social consequences of the country’s economic travails, and providing policy advice in terms of recovery options. In addition to the present
authors, what came to be known as the UNDP ‘Recovery Team’ included
Dr. Godfrey Kanyenze, Professor Daniel Makina, Dr. Daniel Ndlela and
Dr. Dale Doré, all exceptionally talented professionals who in uniquely
challenging circumstances were able to probe, dissect and explore the
drivers of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown during the crisis period of the
late 1990s and 2000s, and its historical roots. Their willingness to work
as a team, and the fact they were all amenable to being challenged by
evidence, ensured that work produced was of the highest quality. We
remain deeply indebted to this earlier collective effort, and hope the present book reflects the quality of those earlier influences.
We are also indebted to Dr. Agostinho Zacarias, Mr. Lare Sisay and
Ms. Bettina Kittel of UNDP Zimbabwe. They recognised the potential
of the policy-relevant research being carried out by the aforementioned
team of economists in a context in which many international development agencies had either left Zimbabwe, downgraded their operations,
or were focused on the country’s humanitarian crisis, and provided the

xvi  Acknowledgements

team with a ‘long leash’ and generous administrative and financial support to engage in the challenging exercise of understanding and reporting
on what turned out to be a unique case of economic regression. At the
time, Pauline Brine in Harare helped wrestle ‘economese’ into intelligible
Mark Simpson takes this opportunity to thank Professor Philip
Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in the
School of Advanced Study of the University of London, for having welcomed him as a Visiting Research Fellowship at the institute which he
heads, a uniquely conducive environment for reflective work of this kind.
Rachel Sangster, Head of Economics and Finance at Palgrave Macmillan,
was everything the authors could have wished for in terms of providing
advice and support, and patiently held our hands throughout the editorial and production processes.
Mark Simpson and Tony Hawkins


1Introduction   1
2The Economics of State Fragility   19
3Zimbabwe’s First Decade: Building the One-Party State
and Controlling the Economy   45
4Regime Interests and the Failure of Economic Reform
in the 1990s  61
5Regime Survival and the Fast Track Land Reform
Programme  87
6Regime Survival and the Attack on the Urban Poor  121
7Regime Survival: Poverty Creation, Mass Migration
and Elite Enrichment  139
8International Isolation and the Search for New Friends  165


xviii  Contents

9Economic Meltdown and Elections  195
10The Challenges of Cohabitation  227
11Protecting the ZANU-PF State: Safeguarding Extractive
Political Structures  247
12Protecting the ZANU-PF State: Safeguarding Extractive
Economic Institutions  285
13A Resurgent ZANU-PF  307
14The Transitions That Weren’t 335
Index 381


Africa All Party Parliamentary Group
Africa Caribbean and Pacific
African Development Bank
Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
African Union
Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement
Bretton Woods Institution
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe
Constitutional Commission
Community Empowerment Scheme
Commercial Farmers Union
Central Intelligence Organisation
Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism
Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee
Country Policy and Institutional Assessment
Consolidated Revenue Fund
CRISECentre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and
Civil Society Organisation
Crisis States Research Centre
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries
Development Assistance Committee
Danish International Development Agency

xx  Abbreviations

Delimitation Commission
Department for International Development
Democratic Republic of Congo
Employers Empowerment Scheme
Environmental Management Agency
Economic Structural Adjustment Programme
Education Trust Fund
European Union
Food and Agriculture Organization
Foreign Direct Investment
Food Poverty Line
Fast Track Land Reform Programme
GAPWUZGeneral Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of
Gross Domestic Income
Gross Domestic Product
Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria
Grain Marketing Board
Government of Zimbabwe
Global Political Agreement
General Resource Account
Human Development Index
Highly Indebted Poor Country
HIV and AIDSHuman Immuno-Deficiency Virus and Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome
Health Transition Fund
Health Workers Retention Scheme
International Crisis Group
International Development Association
Internally-Displaced Persons
International Financial Institution
Inclusive Government
International Labour Organization
International Monetary Fund
Joint Operations Command
Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee
Low-Income Countries Under Stress
Movement for Democratic Change
Movement for Democratic Change – Mutambara



Movement for Democratic Change – Ncube
Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai
Millennium Development Goals
Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative
Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe
People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola
Mass Public Opinion Institute
National Constitutional Assembly
New Partnership for Africa’s Development
Non-Governmental Organisation
National Health Strategy
NIEBBNational Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment
National Peace and Reconciliation Commission
National Railways of Zimbabwe
National Security Council
Official Development Assistance
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
OECD-DAC Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development-­Development Assistance Committee
Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration
Poverty Assessment Study Survey
Public Enterprise
Patriotic Front
Public Information Notice
Public Order and Security Act
People’s Republic of China
Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility
Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
Parallel Voting Tabulation
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe
Mozambique National Resistance
Southern African Development Community
Severe Acute Malnutrition
Special Drawing Right
Small and Medium Enterprise
Staff Monitored Programme
Sub-Saharan Africa
Short-Term Emergency Recovery Programme

xxii  Abbreviations

Total Consumption Poverty Line
Transitional National Development Plan
United Nations
United Nations Capital Development Fund
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Children’s Fund
UN-OCHAUnited Nations Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs
United States Agency for International Development
World Food Programme
World Justice Project
ZAADDSZimbabwe Accelerated Arrears clearance, Debt and
Development Strategy
Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army
Zimbabwe African National Union
Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front
Zimbabwe African People’s Union
Zimbabwe Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Council
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority
Zimbabwe Elections Support Network
Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act
Zim AssetZimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic
Zimbabwe Conference on Reconstruction and Development
ZIMPRESTZimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority
Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee
Zimbabwe National Roads Administration
Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation
Zimbabwe National Army
Zimbabwe Republic Police


Notwithstanding damage to the economy, loss of life, large numbers of
refugees forced to leave the country, and tense inter-racial relations resulting from the bitterly fought liberation war which brought an end to white
minority rule, at Independence in April 1980 Zimbabwe was widely
feted as a country that had the potential to be an African success story.
Although it was just emerging from 15 years under United Nations comprehensive mandatory economic sanctions against the white-minority
government, as well as from a decade of debilitating guerrilla and counter-­
insurgency warfare, Zimbabwe was widely seen as being better placed
than many, perhaps most, African countries to deliver prosperity to its
The Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 between the government in
Salisbury and the two liberation movements  – the Zimbabwe African
National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe
African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by his rival Joshua Nkomo which
came together as the Patriotic Front (PF) for the Independence negotiations hosted by London – resulted in a constitutional arrangement which
entrenched the fundamental principles of the separation of powers, an
independent judiciary, democratic multi-party elections, and a justiciable
Declaration of Rights. Within the senior echelons of both liberation
© The Author(s) 2018
M. Simpson, T. Hawkins, The Primacy of Regime Survival,



M. Simpson and T. Hawkins

movements, a willingness to compromise prevailed during the Lancaster
House negotiations. The Patriotic Front delegates had also been under
pressure from a number of neighbouring African states interested in
bringing the Rhodesian conflict to an end as quickly as possible given the
negative spill-over effects on their own peoples and economies, and
accepted a number of constitutional provisions which they undoubtedly
saw as contentious in order to bring the talks to a successful conclusion.
Foremost amongst these was the establishment of a separate white voters roll for the elections of 20 white lower House of Assembly representatives out of a total of 100, and 10 white senators out of a total of 40. This
arrangement was to all intents and purposes frozen for a period of seven
years, since amendments were only allowed subject to an unlikely unanimous vote in favour of changes in the House of Assembly. In addition,
the Patriotic Front accepted provisions embedded in the constitution’s
Declaration of Rights which severely circumscribed the scope for compulsory acquisition by the new state of private property, and which could
only be altered after a period of ten years, again subject to an unlikely
unanimous vote in the House of Assembly. In those exceptional cases in
which compulsory acquisition was permitted (on the grounds of national
defence, public order and safety, public health and town and country
planning considerations), there was to be prompt payment of adequate
compensation, with owners to be granted access to the High Court to
contest both the acquisition order, as well as the amount of compensation
to be paid. The provisions also covered land, despite the fact that the need
to address the highly inequitable distribution of this asset between whites
and blacks had been a key rallying cry of both liberation movements.
Both ZANU and ZAPU had to accept that these provisions hindered
their ability, at least for the first ten years of independence, to trigger a
process of land reform that was not based on the willing buyer, willing
seller market-driven principle entrenched at Lancaster House.
In the run-up to Independence President Samora Machel of
Mozambique, who had granted ZANU’s armed forces bases along its
extensive border with Rhodesia, famously advised future Prime Minister
Robert Mugabe to tone down revolutionary Marxist rhetoric in order not
to trigger an exodus of whites as had happened in Mozambique in 1974–75
with dire economic consequences (Zimbabwe Today 2017). Mugabe went



on to surprise many observers with his conciliatory speeches in the run-up
to Independence, calling upon the new country’s white citizens to remain
in order to help build a new country on the basis of “a common interest
that knows no race, colour or creed” (Ministry of Information, Immigration
and Tourism 1980, 3). In addition, during the years of sanctions and the
liberation war, many of those making up Zimbabwe’s first Cabinet had
lived in failing neighbouring economies, particularly Mozambique and
Zambia. When they took office, they were able to bring to their deliberations direct experience of the consequences of highly dirigiste economic
policies, and how important it was to maintain the institutional fabric and
physical infrastructure they were inheriting.
Unlike many of its African peers, Zimbabwe was never a mono-­
economy heavily dependent on a single export product. Instead it boasted
a diversified economy driven primarily by large-scale commercial agriculture, underpinned by Sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest manufacturing
sector – after South Africa and Nigeria – a small, but diverse and profitable mining industry, and the region’s second most sophisticated financial
and banking sector after South Africa. There was immense potential in
tourism, and the country had an exceptionally strong human capital base
by Sub-Saharan African standards, with more skilled and trained people
than any other African country at Independence. Although it was to lose
thousands of skilled, experienced, white citizens in the late 1970s and
early 1980s,1 this outflow was offset by the return of many thousands of
highly-educated and trained black Zimbabweans. After South Africa it
also had the most developed and best maintained physical infrastructure
in Sub-Saharan Africa, while health and education facilities, although
historically heavily skewed in favour of the privileged white minority,
were years ahead of those available elsewhere on the continent, again with
the exception of South Africa.
Moreover, Zimbabwe enjoyed the benefits of being a late-comer. It was
one of the last African states to achieve independence, and had plenty of
experiences in terms of Africa’s post-independence trajectory, both negative and positive, which it could draw upon as it set about devising its
political governance systems and economic development strategies. The
new government that took office in April 1980 also enjoyed tremendous
international goodwill, and the donor/international lender community


M. Simpson and T. Hawkins

also had 20 years of history and experience in Africa that it could tap into
when devising development and lending strategies for the new country.
In theory then, in 1980 Zimbabwe was well placed to learn from the
lessons of economic failure elsewhere in Africa. Unlike many – indeed
most – of its African peers, the country was not starting from scratch, but
from the sturdy platform of a well-diversified economy richly endowed
with skills and expertise and with the goodwill of most of its neighbours –
with the vitally important exception of apartheid South Africa – and of
the international community.
Understandably – and with the advantage of hindsight perhaps even
inevitably – Zimbabwe’s strengths and potential were exaggerated, especially by Western governments and a donor community avidly in search
of an African economic success story. The West needed Zimbabwe to
showcase how an African country could thrive as a non-racial society in
the hope that this would smooth the path to majority rule in Namibia,
and especially South Africa. A failure in Zimbabwe would only serve to
bolster intransigence in South Africa, strengthening the hand of the white
die-hards  in that country. For this  reason, as international pressure
mounted on apartheid South Africa, Robert Mugabe’s government
attained a strategic importance in the eyes of the West well beyond its
punching weight, and notwithstanding Mugabe’s and ZANU’s declared
adherence to Marxism-Leninism.
Accordingly, it was in a better-the-devil-you-know spirit that even
conservative Western governments – the Reagan Administration in the
US and the Thatcher government in Britain – threw their weight behind
the new government. Western diplomats insisted that Zimbabwe was ‘in
play’ in the sense that during its formative years the new government
would be open to advice and technical assistance that would help the
West achieve its goals of showcasing Zimbabwe as a non-racial African
success story, while simultaneously, and in the context of the Cold War,
detaching Mugabe from the Eastern bloc and Chinese backers that had
supported his party and its armed forces during the liberation war. In
these endeavours the West was enthusiastically backed by the IMF and
World Bank, especially the latter, anxious to demonstrate that their advice
could produce African economic success stories.



Yet the long-term outcome could not have been more disappointing.
From a situation of great promise and high popular expectations at
Independence, by 2008 Zimbabwe had regressed to the point where daily
life for the majority was characterised by completely empty supermarket
shelves and a relentless search for basic goods as people lugged around
wads of worthless currency. In addition, should they fell sick they were
forced to sleep and await treatment in the corridors of hospitals that had
neither staff, equipment nor medicines, while many children sat in classrooms devoid of electricity, furniture, text-books and increasingly teachers. Many were so desperate to flee the country they joined a mass exodus,
sneaking under barbed wire fences and crossing over into South Africa
and other neighbouring countries in search of refuge. Many of those who
remained inside the country became increasingly reliant on emergency
food aid distributed by international organisations and local charities,
while if they openly opposed the government they ran the risk of joining
the growing ranks of the victims of state-sponsored violence and torture,
photographs of the disturbing results of this circulating widely on the
internet to be viewed only by those with strong stomachs.
Economists and political scientists will long ponder the reasons for
Zimbabwe’s initially disappointing, and subsequently catastrophic, post-­
independence political governance and economic performance. How and
why did one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s best-endowed economies – in terms
of physical infrastructure, human capital and diversified production – fail
to exploit the potential it inherited? Why did successive governments fail
to trigger economic growth rates that attracted foreign investment, and
improve the welfare of its citizens through increased employment opportunities and rising real incomes on a long-term and sustainable basis?
How was initial and significant progress during the 1980s in terms of
improved public services and social indicators reversed so quickly during
the ‘crisis decade’ between 1998 and 2008, and from which the country
is still trying to recover? How did national economic policies result in a
disastrously weakened and fragile state that presided over a dramatically
impoverished, cowed and alienated population, and which at the peak of
the crisis had turned Zimbabweans into arguably the unhappiest people
in the world?

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