So the old monster has gone. Now Zimbabwe can be rich again. It’s all too easy to get pessimistic, even to despair, over Zimbabwe. It is perfectly possible that Mugabe’s successor may just turn out to be as corrupt, vain and misguided as Mugabe was, though probably not as smart or as driven by the strange mixture of Jesuitical and Marxist doctrines that guided Mugabe’s career.
There is an alternative, and there is plenty of cause for optimism. The very good news for Zimbabwe is that this particular country has much potential, and it was always a global-scale tragedy that it declined from the bread basket of Africa into a basket case.
The fundamentals are still there; a temperate climate; rich, fertile soil; national parks, majestic landscapes and wildlife that normally attract hordes of tourists; Victoria Falls; a fine commercial tradition built on the trade in commodities and cash crops such as tobacco; a comparatively united people across ethnic lines (no thanks to Mugabe’s genocidal attacks on the Ndbele people); huge international goodwill; mostly friendly neighbours.
In the right hands, then, Zimbabwe can once again be a regional economic power, and one that can export its goods and services rather than import everything. Too much is made of how prosperous Zimbabwe was under its white minority rulers during the period of self-government as Rhodesia (and not a British colony, by the way; successive British governments applied pressure and sanctions to their “kith and kin” to get them to accept democracy and black majority rule).
It was very rich indeed for some – but only for some, and most black Rhodesians/Zimbabweans had to be content with a fairly meagre version of trickle-down economics. The strict apartheid of South Africa wasn’t practised in Rhodesia, but the structures amounted to the same thing.
The point about pre-independent Zimbabwe is that it merely demonstrates the possibilities, not that it could in some way be improved by white supremacy (an offensive and nonsensical claim, of course).
There are plenty of African disaster stories that have become reformed and wealthy, though with their tribulations, stumbles and failings along the way. Who would have thought, for example, that Uganda could return to some stability and economic growth after the insanity of Idi Amin? It did. Or that the Rwanda, which went through a genocide known across the world for its brutality, could become one of the more stable and business-friendly places in its region under Paul Kagame, only now beginning to show signs of absolutism?
One of the worst hyperinflations in history took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but within a few years currency reform had restored order, a necessary but sadly not sufficient condition for that country’s economic progress. Post-Second World War Western Europe and Japan, post-1990s conflict Slovenia, post-communist Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam – all demonstrate that economic collapse and bestial violence are hardly confined to Africa and also how undreamt success can follow when human rights, property rights, a sound currency and enterprise are allowed to flourish.
Sensible land reform, foreign expertise and investment (and not just the Chinese), incentives for smaller enterprise, incentives for the diaspora to return from the British NHS and South African mines – all would transform the nation in a few short years.
As it happens, I am the owner of a powerful symbol of what Comrade President Robert Gabriel Mugabe did to his country. It’s a one hundred trillion Zimbabwean banknote – that’s Z$100,000,000,000,000.
By the time it was issued by the jokingly named Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in 2009, it would hardly buy a loaf of bread, and the note is only of value today to collectors of such curiosities. Even since then things have improved, but I would like to see a time when the Zimbabwe dollar, like the country itself, is no longer an economic joke. Time to party in Harare, for a change.