Last week rumours swirled round Zimbabwe that Robert Mugabe, the 92-year-old president, had either died or been incapacitated. The government banned demonstrations after Mugabe’s-presidential aircraft had been diverted in mid-air to Dubai during a scheduled journey to Singapore. Then the man himself turned up alive (though far from well) at Harare-airport, where he made a reasonably good joke about his ‘resurrection’.
The president, who has ruled his country throughout its 36-year history, is nevertheless mortally wounded. We are entering the last few months of the Mugabe era. His health is not the real problem. Zimbabwe is now-spiralling downwards into an economic-crisis so vicious and acute that it leaves no possibility that the president, for all his famed-political skills and notorious readiness to resort to violence, can save himself. The situation is more serious than the hyperinflation of 2008, which was solved by switching to the dollar. This time there is no way out.
The problem dates back to the election of 2013, when Mugabe’s Zanu PF resorted to fraud to win outright victory over Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change — and ditched the Government for National Unity, which had governed Zimbabwe since 2009.
Peter Oborne asks ‘What’s next for Robert Mugabe?’:
The GNU, a coalition between Zanu PF and the MDC, had done well. The-crucial-figure was Tendai Biti, one of the greatest-ever African finance ministers. He did not just rescue his country from the 2008 economic crisis. Through good sense, honesty and careful financial management he lifted government revenues from US $280 million in 2008 to US $4.3 billion in 2013, an incredible fourteen-fold increase in just five years.
Biti’s Zanu PF successor, Patrick Chinamasa, has wrecked this fine legacy, and in record time. He returned to the old Zanu habit of using public spending as a source of patronage, for instance allowing the near-doubling of the civil service.