There are no winners in Zimbabwe

After its elections of April 2008, the people of Zimbabwe continued to lose battles against inflation, AIDS, and for many of the basic minimum requirements for physical survival. Zanu PF party conceded they lost the elections, but Mr Mugabe continued to cling to the Presidency. There are no winners in Zimbabwe

[These notes were compiled over the month of April 2008, and updated May 2008, Feb 2009, Dec 2009, March 2012 and on 21st February 2014, the 90th birthday of President Mugabe]

Some years ago on a visit to that beautiful country, I found that inflation in Zimbabwe was already taking off. I still have a twenty (Zim) dollar bill from that time. It is now worth roughly one millionth of a US dollar. The inflation is more than a match for that experienced in Weimar Germany in the 1920s- 1930s.

Lucie Powell in The Guardian drew on her direct experience to sketch the scale of the human disaster in Zimbabwe. She arrived at an estimate of two million people who have fled Mugabe’s regime.

David Miliband was to offer an estimate of twice that, in the commons debate (see below).

A Week in Politics

One week after the elections, external reports have widely reported that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had won by a small but decisive margin over President Robert Mugabe. But the six days limit to announcing the result came and went [on Friday, April 4th 2008].

In the UK a Parliamentary debate was the first for a while that seemed genuinely focussed on this issues, and was remarkably free of point-scoring. It was a good and dignified performance from David Miliband .

In essence, the debate accepted that this was no time for political gestures, but one in which behind-the-scenes efforts were going on from the key areas around the world, but particularly within Africa itself.

No one in the House would want me to hand ZANU-PF a propaganda coup by endorsing one candidate or another, or by taking it on myself to announce the result. In truth, in spite of what President Mugabe would want the world to believe, the crisis in Zimbabwe has never been about personalities. … It is, and has always been, about the policies that Robert Mugabe and his Government have chosen to follow and the terrible destruction that has been wreaked on the Zimbabwean people. …The situation preceding these elections was shocking. The conditions for free and fair elections were certainly not in place. The playing field was tilted heavily in favour of ZANU-PF. Up to 4 million people who had fled Zimbabwe’s crisis could not vote. In some areas, [many] who tried to vote were frustrated by an inaccurate electoral roll. We will probably never know how many dead people on that roll cast ‘ghost’ votes. … if a second round of voting is deemed necessary, it must be held in a way that gives far greater respect not just to our standards but to the Southern African Development Community electoral standards. We remain in contact with our SADC partners on the issue

The theme of the discredited leader made quite an impact on me. In my scribbled notes at the time:

‘ In the UK, [David] Miliband argued that the weakened leader in Zimbabwe should now step down. Maybe as they listened, some members of his party were reflecting on whether pressure could also be applied in the UK for replacing another weakened leader …’

The BBC offered a clear summary of why Mugabe’s claims of vote rigging appeared no more than delaying tactics:

In the parliamentary race, the MDC count is almost exactly the same as the official results, suggesting that there was little or no ballot-box stuffing after ballots were cast. Furthermore, in some seats the MDC won by a handful of votes – again suggesting that the count was fair.

A week after the election the delaying tactics that many commentators feared became even more obvious.

The Huffington Post explored two rumours emerging from the country:

[The first rumor is that] President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has agreed to a run-off election. The date that I have heard bantered about is April 19th. There are text messages flying across the continent and various groups ramping up to ensure Zimbabweans get out and vote the tyrant out of the office..

The other rumor …is that [Mugabe] is busy filling bags of currency as he raids the treasury. The suggestion is that he will leave the country. This would be great for Zimbabweans in many ways. Yet if he does this, there are major concerns that he will not leave a single Zimbabwe dollar for the country’s recovery.

I was reaching a similar conclusion, although I’m not sure about the details. Why should the President leave with trainloads of worthless Zim dollars, when the general exit strategy for deposed political figures is to have squirreled away most of what is needed well in advance, in traditionally safer modes of exchange such as gems?

Let’s not assume it was Utopian before Mugabe
According to a 1995 Word Health Organization report on Zimbabwe

“smallholder agriculture expanded rapidly during the first half of the 1980s and social indicators improved quickly.” From 1980 to 1990 infant mortality decreased from 86 to 49 per 1000 live births, under five mortality was reduced [by approximately 50%] and immunisation increased from 25% to 80% of the population …child malnutrition fell from 22% to 12%, and life expectancy increased from 56 to 64. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrollment rate than average for developing countries”.

The figures also stand as indicator of the plight of the majority of Zimbabweans under the Ian Smith’s regime, and the gains that were initially made after its overthrow. This point is worth making. A common Western view seems to be that the earlier regime presided over a halcyon era for all, and that everything was immediately worse under Mugabe. At the time he was seen as the most promising leader for an eventual transition to a more democratic country with a more equitable distribution of resources.


Nevertheless, the tragic state of the country today [2008] is far worse than when Mr Mugabe came to power. The possibility of a re-birth akin to what happened in neighbouring South Africa seems as remote as the possibility of Robert Mugabe taking a place in history alongside Nelson Mandela, as a wise and successful leader of his people.

Update [Feb 1st 2009]

After many painful and tortuous twists in negotiations, a new unified administration was announced [Jan 31st 2009]. Commentators hope for the best, but remain cautious about its viability.

Update [Dec 2nd 2009]

Foreign journalists are allowed in to the country. They marvel at Harare’s beautiful centre, with its wide roads and buildings, heritage of its imperial past. The US dollar has become the de facto currency. It may be more accurate now to say that there are some winners emerging in Zimbabwe

Update [March 9th 2012] The toothpaste assassins

This curious tale of two visitors from Australia accused of being would-be assassins of Mr Mugabe

Acknowledgement: Image from episcopal website.

5 Responses to There are no winners in Zimbabwe

  1. rainbow says:

    What Zim needs is a new leader. The ppl need to get together and force him to step down from power. The white dominance might have been bad… but don’t you think this is much worse? kids dying of aids, colera, starvation….
    School teachers not being able to pay their transport fees with their salaries…..

    Please…. let’s all open our eyes, heart and COMMON SENSE !!


  2. Tudor says:

    Sad news continues to flow from Zimambwe this week with the death of Susan Tsvangirei and injuries to her husband.
    One positive sign: your plight remains painful and visible to outsiders around the world who would like to find constructive ways of helping in ways that transcend politics.

  3. sonia says:

    People in Zimbabwe should rather have no children. It is not fair on those little people to suffer like that. There should be a law against having children and abortion should be legal. How can anyone handle looking into those little faces and feel nothing. Dont put them through misery. They deserve to live a better life!!!

  4. Tudor says:

    Situation seems a little better with journalists allowed in, some food where there was none, the US dollar as currency etc.

    I would welcome news from ‘on the ground’. Is the Rail Museum in Bulawayo still there as one of the symbols of an Imperial past? Is Harare still on first sight worth more of a visit than almost any city in Africa?

  5. I signalled I ‘liked’ this post partly because it repeatedly gets the most visits to LWD. Partly because Zimbabwe has not attracted as much attention in world headlines for some while. I will keep an eye on that, for a leadership update.

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