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President of the Free Africa Foundation
and a Distinguished Economist at American University, both in
Washington, DC



Zimbabwe is finished
George Ayittey, PhD

For Ghanadot, July 15, 2008

Nothing coming out of Zimbabwe makes sense. The country is now a certified “coconut republic,” where common sense has been butchered and arrogant insanity rampages with impunity. A loaf of bread costs 6 billion Zimbabwean dollars and one U.S. dollar exchanges for one trillion Zim dollars.

A family heads to the market place in a scotch cart in Esigodini where poverty due to Mugabe's policies is everywhere where one looks. In fact, Mugabe is no different from Mobuto or such other dictator that stepped across the skyline in Africa, Prof. Ayetti argues.

The rate of inflation is over 3 million percent – whatever that means. Even African villagers laughed off the June 27 coconut run-off election, in which President Robert Mugabe, the sole candidate, won a “landslide victory.” Morgan Tsvingirai, his rival and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) withdrew amid escalating violence, beatings, torture and assassination of opposition supporters.

Over 90 members of the opposition have been killed since the March 29 elections. Even babies have not been spared of the insane brutalities – as if they have anything to do with Western colonialism and imperialism. Meanwhile, over 200 opposition supporters have sought sanctuary on the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Harare.

Zimbabwe is a tragedy in more ways than one. It is a despicable disgrace to Africa and reinforces the racist notion that black Africans are incapable of ruling themselves. We took over from the departing white colonialists and in country after country we ran our economies into a sump and ruined our countries. The exceptions are few. Ian Smith, the former and late prime minister of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, must be dancing in his grave. This hurts and cuts deep into my African pride.

The crisis took long to unfold and I repeatedly warned of the impending implosion in Zimbabwe after my visit there in 1990. In my book, Africa Betrayed, I wrote this: “It would be wise for Mugabe to retire now, after running the country for 10 years, rather than to stay on to fall from grace to grass.” A liberation hero I once admired, he has transformed himself into a murderous despot.

In May 1999, I attended a conference organized by the Mario Soares Foundation in Porto, Portugal, to address conflict and security issues in the Central and Lake Regions of Africa (Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire). I opined that the response of the international community to Africa’s crises had been woefully inadequate. It waits until an African country implodes before rushing in blankets, tents and high-protein biscuits to cater for the refugees. Prevention is better than cure, I intoned. I stunned the audience when I warned them that, as they seek to resolve the crises in the Central and Lake Regions of Africa, they should be aware that there were other African countries standing in line ready to blow. Specifically, I mentioned Ivory Coast, Togo and Zimbabwe. But few paid heed.

Barely six months later after the Porto Conference, General Robert Guie seized power in the Ivory Coast in December, 1999, unleashing a chain of events that led to a civil war. The country is still divided between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Zimbabwe started to unravel after the Feb 2000 referendum and I warned in a PBS interview with Bill Moyers (Wide Angle) that the country faced the grim prospects of a military coup or civil war. Togo imploded in 2005.

Zimbabwe’s economic situation started to deteriorate by the late 1990s. The country had been rocked by a wave of strikes by workers, nurses, teachers to protest rising food and fuel price hikes. In 1998, even doctors went on strike to protest shortages of such basic supplies as soap and painkillers. And while the urban poor were rioting about food prices, the Mugabe government ordered a fleet of new Mercedes cars for the 50-odd cabinet ministers while 77-year old Mugabe himself and his wife and his 36-year-old wife, Grace, attended lavish parties and conferences abroad. In 1999, President Mugabe further angered voters by tripling and quadrupling the salaries of his ministers.

Rampant shortages of basic commodities -- such as mealie meal, the national staple diet, bread, rice, potatoes, cooking oil and even soap -- kept inflation raging at more than 110 percent. Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product dropped from US$8.4 billion in 1997 to about US$5 billion in 2001, a fall of around 40 per cent"(The Times of London On Line, March 06, 2002). With the flight of investors and closure of businesses due to attacks by militants -- more than 30 businesses were attacked in May 2001 alone -- jobs became scarce, pushing Zimbabwe's unemployment to nearly 60 percent. In 2000, 400 companies closed and some 9,600 jobs were lost.

The state treasury stood empty, pillaged by kamikaze kleptocrats and drained at the rate of $3 million per week by some estimates by a mercenary involvement in Congo's war (The Washington Post, March 3, 2002; p. A20). Cabinet ministers, army generals, relatives of President Robert Mugabe, prominent figures in the ruling party and a score of the well-connected launched lucrative business ventures to plunder Congo’s rich resources: diamonds, cobalt and gold. Plunder of Congo's mineral riches and lucrative deals kept Zimbabwe's army generals fat and happy. Accordingly, the commander of the defense forces, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, warned in February 2002 that the country's military, police and intelligence chiefs would not accept a "Morgan Tsvangirai" as a national leader if he won the March 9 election since he was not a veteran of Zimbabwe's independence struggle.

Mugabe angrily rejected criticism of his government for the economic crisis. He always blamed British colonialists, greedy Western powers, the racist white minority and the IMF, which he denounced as that "monstrous creature." But Zimbabwean voters knew better. When Mugabe asked them in a February 15 2000 referendum for draconian emergency powers to seize white farms for distribution to landless peasants, they resoundingly rejected the constitutional revisions by 55 percent to 45 percent. Paranoid and desperate, Mugabe played his trump card. He sent his "war veterans" to seize white commercial farmland anyway.

To be sure, there is basic inequity in the distribution of land in Zimbabwe. Whites account for only about 1 percent of Zimbabwe's population of 12.5 million, yet 4,500 white farmers continue to own nearly a third of the country's most fertile farmland. But the land issue has become a political tool, ruthlessly exploited by Mugabe at election time to fan racial hatred, solidify his vote among landless rural voters, to maintain his grip on power and to divert attention from his disastrous Marxist-Leninist policies and ill-fated misadventures in the Congo.

Race, however, has little to do with the crisis in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe himself did well in the beginning after independence in 1980 and a handful of African countries, such as Benin, Botswana, Ghana and Mali are doing well. Neither does British colonialism, American imperialism, ethnicity, religion or gender have anything to do with Zimbabwe’s crisis. The most singular cause has been the stubborn refusal of the leadership to relinquish or share power when their people are fed up with them. This has been the gruesome post-colonial African road to implosion that was religiously taken by Liberia (1990), Somalia (1993), Rwanda (1994), Burundi (1995), Zaire (1996), Sierra Leone (1999), Ivory Coast (2000) and Togo (2005). Terrified of their own failed policies and the prospect of rejection at the polls, the leadership always cited some bizarre reason why they would never allow the opposition to win power.

The African Vampire State

The source of Africa’ s perennial crises can be traced to the alien system of governance imposed on Africa by its leaders after independence in the 1960s -- in particular, defective political and economic systems that were blindly copied abroad and imported into Africa: The political system of “one-party state” system with “presidents-for-life” and an economic system of dirigisme or state interventionism. These systems are alien to Africa’s own indigenous institutions. The traditional African system of governance was confederacy and participatory democracy based upon consensus-building under its chiefs. The ancient empires of Africa – Songhai, Ghana, Mali and Great Zimbabwe – were all confederacies, characterized by great devolution of authority and decentralization of power.

The traditional African economic system was free market and free enterprise. In contrast to the West, where the individual was the basic social and economic unit, the extended family was the economic unit in traditional Africa. It acted as a “corporate entity,” owned the land on which food was produced for consumption. The surplus was sold on village markets. There were markets in Africa before the colonialists stepped foot on the continent. Timbuktu, Salaga, Kano, Mombasa and Sofala were all great market towns. Prices on Africa’s traditional markets have always been determined by bargaining. Chiefs do not fix prices and market activity, especially in West Africa, has always been dominated by women.

All these suddenly changed after independence. Markets were suddenly portrayed as “western institutions” to be controlled and even destroyed. And democracy suddenly became a western luxury Africa could not afford. In their places were erected the “one-party state system,” where opposition parties were outlawed and one buffoon ran for president, always won 99.9999 percent of the vote to declare himself “president-for-life.” No such nonsensical system existed in traditional Africa. Chiefs were chose, OK? And if they did not govern according to the will of he people, they were removed. No African chief declared his village to be a “one-party state” and himself “Chief-for-Life.”

The “one-party state” was a political system that concentrated a great deal of power in the hands of the head of state. Any political system that concentrates a lot of power in the hands of one individual ultimately degenerates into tyranny, regardless of the geographical area where it is established. As Lord Acton once said: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Similarly, the economic system of state interventionism, under the guise of socialism, concentrated enormous economic power in the hands of the state.

Very quickly after independence, the head of state and government officials discovered that they could use the enormous power vested in the state to enrich themselves, punish their rivals and perpetuate themselves in office. Gradually in post-colonial Africa, “government,” as we know it, ceased to exist. What came to exist is a “vampire state” – a government hijacked by a phalanx of unrepentant bandits and vagabonds, who use the machinery of the state to enrich themselves, their cronies, tribesmen and exclude everyone else – the politics of exclusion. The richest people in Africa are heads of state and ministers. Quite often, the chief bandit is the head of state himself.

Billions of dollars in personal fortunes have shamelessly been amassed by African leaders while their people wallow in abject poverty. At an African civic groups meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in June 2002, Nigeria’s President, Olusegun Obasanjo, claimed that “corrupt African leaders have stolen at least $140 billion (95 billion) from their people in the decades since independence” (The London Independent, June 14, 2002. Web posted at Robert Mugabe has amassed a personal fortune of more than $100 million in Malaysian banks while his people suffer. But he is not alone. The African Union claimed in an October 2004 report that corruption alone costs Africa $148 billion a year, which is 6 times the foreign aid Africa receives from all sources in a year.

The fortunes of African heads of state were published by French Weekly (May, 1997) and reprinted in the Nigerian newspaper, The News (Aug 17, 1998):
1. General Sani Abacha of Nigeria 120 billion FF (or $20 billion)
2. President H. Boigny of Ivory Coast 35 billion FF (or $6 billion)
3. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria 30 billion FF (or $5 billion)
4. President Mobutu of Zaire 22 billion FF (or $4 billion)
5. President Mousa Traore of Mali 10.8 billion FF (or $ $2 billion)
6. President Henri Bedie of Ivory Coast 2 billion FF (or $300 million)
7. President Denis N'guesso of Congo 1.2 billion FF (or $200 million)
8. President Omar Bongo of Gabon 0.5 billion FF (or $ $80 million)
9. President Paul Biya of Cameroon 450 million FF (or $70 million)
10. President Haile Mariam of Ethiopia 200 million FF (or $30 million)
11. President Hissene Habre of Chad 20 million FF (or $3 million)

Name one traditional African leader who looted his tribal treasury for deposit in Swiss banks. Said Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), former founder of the Black Panther Party in the United States, “[Modern] African leaders are so corrupt that we are certain if we put dogs in uniforms and put guns on their shoulders, we'd be hard put to distinguish between them” (qtd in The Washington Post, April 8, 1998; p.D12.

The vampire state does not care about nor represent the people. It sucks the economic vitality out of the people. Eventually, however, it metastasizes into a coconut republic and implodes. The implosion nearly always begins with a dispute over the electoral process: A refusal to hold elections or the results of outrageously rigged elections. Blockage of the democratic process or the refusal to hold elections plunged Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, and Sudan into civil war. Hard-liner manipulation of the electoral process destroyed Rwanda (1993), Sierra Leone (1992) and Zaire (1990). Subversion of the electoral process in Liberia (1985) eventually set off a civil war in 1989. The same type of subversion instigated civil strife in Cameroon (1991), Congo (1992), Kenya (1992), Togo (1992) and Lesotho (1998). In Congo (Brazzaville), a dispute over the 1997 electoral framework flared into mayhem and civil war. Finally, the military's annulment of electoral results by the military started Algeria's civil war (1992) and plunged Nigeria into political turmoil (1993).

The political crisis starts when public furor, protests and violence erupt over election disputes. A gaggle of politicians and stake-holders scramble to resolve the crisis. They talk endlessly. The country is paralyzed. Frustrations mount. Several scenarios become possible.

Opposition leaders may be bought off and co-opted to join the errant regime. A “government of national unity” may be attempted. But even before the ink on the agreement is dry, squabbles erupt over the distribution of ministerial positions. Neither side is satisfied with what they get and hostilities resume. The regime may resort to brutal repression of the opposition (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe) or even extermination with the macabre logic that if the opposition doesn’t exist, then there would be no one to share power with (Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan).

But sooner or later, the people come to see through the political chicanery and posturing. The public loses faith in the electoral process and the ability of politicians to resolve the crisis. Some group then decides it is no use talking and the only way to remove the tyrant in power is by force. The group then takes “to the bush” and that is how nearly all rebel insurgencies start in Africa. Charles Taylor of Liberia launched his rebel insurgency in 1989 after losing faith in the ability of the then president, General Samuel Doe, and opposition leaders, Gabriel Baccus Matthews and Amos Sawyer to resolve it. Similarly, Laurent Kabila of Zaire (now DRC) in 1996. It only takes a small band of determined rebels to start an insurgency, wreak mayhem and utter destruction. Yoweri Museveni, now president of Uganda, started out with only 27 men. Charles Taylor of Liberia with less than 200 and Laurent Kabila with about 150.

The insurgency, always mounted by politically-marginalized or excluded groups, always starts from the countryside. Rebels don’t set out to redraw artificial colonial boundaries. Nor does ethnicity have anything to do with the insurgency. Somalia is ethnically homogenous; yet it imploded. The insurgency is about capturing POWER, so the rebels head straight towards the capital, where political power resides. Along the way, they pick up recruits and their ranks swell with unemployed youth (child soldiers). Government soldiers, sent to crush the rebels, often defect, bringing along their valuable weapons (Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zaire). Eventually the despot flees into exile (Generals Mobutu Sese Seko, General Siad Barre, General Joseph Momoh of Sierra Leone) or is killed (General Samuel Doe, General Juvenal Habryimana).

Since 1990, one African country after another has imploded with deafening staccato:
• In 1990, Liberia was destroyed by the regime of General Samuel Doe,
• In 1991, Mali by the regime of General Moussa Traore,
• In 1993, the Central African Republic was destroyed by the military regime of General Andre Kolingba,
• In 1993, Somalia was ruined by the regime of General Siad Barre,
• In 1994, Rwanda by the regime of General Juvenal Habryimana,
• In 1995, Burundi by the regime of General Pierre Buyoya,
• In 1996, Zaire by regime of General Mobutu Sese Seko,
• In 1997, Sierra Leone by regime of General Joseph Momoh,
• In 1999, Niger by the regime of General Ibrahim Barre Mainassara,
• In 2000, Ivory Coast by the regime of General Robert Guei.
• In 2005, Togo by the regime of General Gnassingbe Eyadema.

Note the frequency of the title “General”. The paucity of good leadership has left a garish stain on the continent. More distressing, the caliber of leadership has deteriorated over the decades to execrable depths. The likes of Charles Taylor of Liberia and Sani Abacha of Nigeria even make Mobutu Sese Seko of formerly Zaire look like a saint. The slate of post colonial African leaders has been a disgusting assortment of military coconut-heads, quack revolutionaries, crocodile liberators, "Swiss bank" socialists, brief-case bandits, semi-illiterate brutes and vampire elites. Faithful only to their private bank accounts, kamikaze kleptocrats raid and plunder the treasury with little thought of the ramifications on national development.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the final chapter has already been written. The country is finished. It has followed the same post-colonial African road to implosion. Robert Mugabe is no longer in charge. He is just a “hostage president.” A “Joint Operations Command” (JOC) is in charge, after a “military coup” in April 2008. Ominously, JOC is led by these military generals: Constantine Chiwenga, Perence Shiri, and Philip Sibanda.

Reshuffling at the top, however, amounts to reshuffling on the deck of the Titanic. It won’t save nor restore credibility to the dying regime. People have already lost faith in the leadership and the political process. Over 200 Zimbabweans have sought refuge on the compounds of the U.S. Embassy in Harare. Over 4 million Zimbabweans have fled the country. A group of them will return from exile – with bazookas. But that won’t be the end of the Zimbabwe’s or Africa’s saga.

First, there are other African countries that are also standing in line:

• Angola: President Jose Eduardo has been in power since 1979;
• Burkina Faso: President Blaise Compaore since 1987;
• Cameroon: President Paul Biya since 1982
• Chad: President Idriss Derby since 1994;
• Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak since 1981;
• Equatorial Guinea: Teodoro Obiang since 1979;
• Gabon: Omar Bongo since 1967;
• Guinea: President Lansana Conte since 1984;
• Libya, Moammar Ghaddafi since 1969;

Second, Africa’s post-colonial story also shows that rebel leaders who seize power are often no better. They are themselves “crocodile liberators,” exhibiting the same dictatorial tendencies they loudly condemned in the despots they removed: Charles Taylor versus General Samuel Doe and Laurent Kabila versus Mobutu Sese Seko. As Africans often say: “We struggle very hard to remove one cockroach from power and the next rat comes to do the same thing.”

Stay tuned.


The writer, a Ghanaian, is the President of the Free Africa Foundation
and a Distinguished Economist at American University, both in
Washington, DC. He is the author of Africa In Chaos and Africa




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