Africa's tarnished jewel: how four decades of Robert Mugabe left Zimbabwe's economy...

Africa's tarnished jewel: how four decades of Robert Mugabe left Zimbabwe's economy reeling

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As Zimbabweans  head to the polls for the presidential election on Monday July 30, the outcome has never been less certain. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president who came to power by overthrowing his long time boss and ally Robert Mugabe in November, bets that Zimbabweans will back him as the safest pair of hands to repair the country’s ruined economy and usher in an era of national renewal. Nelson Chamisa, the young leader of the Movement of Democratic Change, hopes to pull off an upset by offering a completely fresh start and persuading voters to punish the ruling Zanu PF party – including Mr Mnangagwa – for decades of misrule. But whoever wins next week will inherit a legacy of massive economic mismanagement, profound demographic changes, and a rapidly changing international landscape. Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn in as Zimbabwe's new president Mr Mugabe came to power on a surge of optimism in independence in 1980. With the end of a long and bloody war against the minority white rule in what was until then Rhodesia, there was a sense that the country known as the jewel of Africa had an opportunity to shine.   Blessed with rich natural resources, a diversified economy, and a  literate population, Zimbabwe seemed poised to outperform all of its neighbours. And as a frontline state in the Cold War and the struggle against Apartheid South Africa, Zimbabwe enjoyed considerable diplomatic significance.  Robert Mugabe Credit:  ODD ANDERSEN/AFP Mr Mugabe made early moves to reconcile with the remaining white population, briefly appeared ready to heal rifts in the black liberation movement, and launched  a rapid expansion of education and social programs.  But the massacre of political rivals in the 1980s, eviction of white farmers in the early 2000s, and increasingly flagrant corruption and economic mismanagement undid much of his early achievements.  With the end of the Cold War and the fall of South Africa's apartheid regime in the early 1990s, Harare ceased to command the interest of the world's superpowers.  Nearly 40 years on, reconciliation has been marred by brutal campaigns it has fallen behind its peers in almost all economic indicators, lost hundreds of thousands of people to emigration, and is trying to heal the wounds of years of violent political repression.  Economy In 1980, Mr Mugabe inherited a relatively diversified economy with a considerable manufacturing and agricultural sectors.  Today, the manufacturing sector has more or less vanished and per-capita incomes plunge to 15 percent below 1980 levels. There are a number of reasons for that dramatic transformation. An ill-thought out structural reform program imposed in the 1990s, largely at the behest of international institutions like the World Bank, eroded industry rather than boosting it.  The neglect of Bulawayo, a once booming centre of industry in the country’s southwest that has been almost entirely denuded of its factories, is widely seen as political punishment being an opposition stronghold.  But much of the blame is put down to unsustainable government overspending on social programs, involvement in a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, and Mr Mugabe's increasing reliance on a system of patronage to shore-up his legitimacy.  Zimbabwe’s GDP per capita has barely reached above $1,000 The latest estimate – for 2011 – suggests that as much as 72.3 per cent of Zimbabwe's population live below the national poverty line. This would mean around 10 million people in the country are suffering in poverty. Such levels are reflected in the country's GDP per capita – which stood at $1,080 in 2017. This metric, which measures a country's economic output while accounting for population, compares to a level of $39,720 in the United Kingdom. Neighbouring South Africa had a GDP per capita of $6,160 in 2017. A country without a currency The Zimbabwean dollar was introduced in 1980 to replace the Rhodesian dollar at a rate of 1:1. It was initially worth more than a US dollar. But hyperinflation in the 2000s – fueled by government overspending – reduced it to one of the least valued currencies on the planet. By 2005 one million Zimbabwe dollars were worth just £1. The currency was effectively abandoned in 2009. Today, the country uses US dollars, but a shortage of hard currency means that for practical purposes many people use “telephone money” – mobile phone credit traded on sim cards. Dollarization brought a sense of stability that attracted some new investment – but poor corporate management practices saw the subsequent influx of money and credit contribute to a non-performing loan crisis.  Inflation from hell Although dollarisation in 2009 put a temporary break on the whirlwind inflation that destroyed Zimbabwe’s indigenous currency, there are signs that prices are again rising out of control. Zimstat, the official statistical authority of Zimbabwe, puts inflation at around -0.25 per cent in the year to March 2018, a figure that is being disputed by many economists. Steve Hanke, an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, co-authored a paper that claimed hyperinflation – monthly inflation above 50 percent for at least 30 consecutive days – had returned to Zimbabwe. This assertion was based on comparisons of Old Mutual stock price listings on both the London Stock Exchange and the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. The paper found that, based on this measure, monthly inflation had reached a high of 185 per cent in September 2017. Old Mutual stock price comparisons suggest high inflation in Zimbabwe The exodus Meanwhile, the country's demographics have changed remarkably. Zimbabwe's population has more than tripled, from around five million in 1980 to 16.9 million today. But economic and political dysfunction have also fuelled a massive wave of emigration.   Hundreds of thousands of people have left Zimbabwe in the last three decades – contributing to significant overseas diaspora in countries including South Africa and the United Kingdom. Over one million people had left by 2017 – a number that has increased while Mr Mugabe was in power. An estimated 177,000 people had left by 1990.   The number of people leaving Zimbabwe has steadily increased under Mugabe There is some anecdotal evidence that increasing numbers of diaspora Zimbabweans have begun to spend more time in their home country – though not necessarily moving back – since Mr Mugabe was over thrown.  The vanishing white population The country’s White population, once a significant minority that wielded huge economic and political power, has almost completely vanished. Rhodesia's white population was already dwindling from its 1975 peak of 296,000  before independence, as many fled the violence of the Bush war. The process accelerated after independence. Between 1979 and 1985, the white population of Zimbabwe crashed from an estimated 232,000 to 100,000 – a fall of 56.9 per cent. The systematic violent eviction of white farmers during the "land reforms" of the early 2000s prompted another wave of emigration.  The latest census, from 2012, puts the number of white  people at 28,732 – less than 0.2 percent of the population, and with little of the political or financial clout they once enjoyed.  It is thought that there may now be no more than 2000 economically active whites left in the country. Zimbabwe’s white population plummeted after 1980 A great education system falling into ruin Mr Mugabe’s greatest post-independence achievement – and one of Zimbabwe's great historic assets – was the creation of what was once acclaimed as the best education system on the continent.  Mugabe inherited the most literate population in Africa in 1980 and quickly expanded the numbers attending secondary school and reopened hundreds of rural schools which closed during the war.  But even that achievement has been tarnished. And the degradation of education services and consequent erosion of Zimbabwe's legendary human capital over the past several years has profound implications for hopes of economic recovery.  Mr Mugabe inherited the most literate population in Africa in 1980, and rapidly expanded primary and secondary education with a massive school building and teacher recruitment campaign in the years after independence. In 1982 – two years after Mr Mugabe became Prime Minister – some 77.8 percent of the population were literate, according to data from the World Bank. MDC president Nelson Chamisa hopes voters will punish ZANU PF for Mugabes misrule Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP This compared to an average global rate of 70.9 per cent, and a 76.2 per cent rate in neighbouring South Africa (in 1980). But things began to go wrong at the turn of the millennium.  Thousands of teachers left the profession and hundreds of schools were effectively closed during the economic crisis of the 2000s.   While the rest of the world's literacy rate rose rapidly to 85.8 per cent by 2014, Zimbabwe's progress had slowed, reaching 88.7 per cent. This is far lower than the 94.1 per cent seen in South Africa in the same year. Today Zimbabwe's university degrees are no longer recognized outside the country. Critics say Zimbabwe's literacy rates have not been tested in years, and that the real rates may be considerably lower.  Zimbabwe’s literacy rate has historically been high A fragile health system  In 2016, there were 40 deaths per 1,000 live births in Zimbabwe. There has been a huge improvement in the twenty-first century, with 62.8 deaths seen per 1,000 just ten years ago. But that masks a story of early strides made in Mr Mugabe's first years in power giving way to crisis. In 1980, there 66.5 infant deaths per 1000 live births in Zimbabwe. That had been reduced to 49.6 in 1988, before rates began to climb again.  Average life expectancy dropped from 65 in 1990 to 43 in 2006. The health crisis peaked in 2008, when Zimbabwe suffered the world's second worst cholera outbreak and a currency crisis forced almost every hospital country to close – forcing the country to turn to the UN and international NGOs for relief.  As with education, the slow erosion of health care standards coincided with the emerging pattern of massive overspending and the developing of Mr Mugabe's notorious system of patronage schemes, packaging out chunks of land and the economy to key constituencies like veterans of the independence war.  A recovery in recent years has been put down to massive foreign donor support, especially for infant and maternal health. But Zimbabwe's only teaching hospital is still regularly unable to perform basic surgery due to a shortage of equipment and drugs.  Mugabe's increases in healthcare spending have helped to reduce infant mortality