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Survey:  Zimbabwean Economy Likely to Worsen - 2004-08-19

A public opinion survey (Afrobarometer in Johannesburg, August 18) reveals that a majority of Zimbabweans believe their living conditions are bad and that the present generation is worse off than their parents.

The survey of 100,200 Zimbabweans during the month of May finds that 54 percent describe their economic situation as bad. Roughly, 52 percent say they are worse off than their parents. And a stunning 80 percent say they were short of food during the past year.

Standbic Bank in Johannesburg expects the Zimbabwe economy will decline another eight and a half percent this year. That follows declines of 13 percent in 2003 and nearly 14 percent in 2002. Unemployment is put at 80 percent while inflation races ahead at over 400 percent (per year).

Chester Crocker, international affairs professor at Georgetown University and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, says the failed policies of Zimbabwe's authoritarian President Robert Mugabe have made Zimbabwe's economy a joke.

"You read the government controlled press and it's a joke because there are statements saying we only are going to export, what is it, 60 million pounds of flue-cured tobacco this year, whatever," he said. "But rest assured we're going to get back to the previous highs of 250 to 300 million pounds next year. Well, there's no way when you've destroyed the commercial agricultural sector. It's not going to happen. And that means devastation for the farm workers of those commercial farms."

Zimbabwe-once a food exporter-has become dependent on food aid and there are significant food shortages. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has stopped lending to Zimbabwe because previous loans were not repaid, says inappropriate economic policies are responsible for the decline in food production. In recent years the government land reform program forced white commercial farmers off their land. Well over one million people have fled Zimbabwe as normal commercial economic activity declined precipitously.

With Zimbabwe facing a parliamentary election in early 2005, Africa specialist Crocker says the United States must work closely with its allies in preparing for the eventual end of Mr. Mugabe's rule.

"We should be recognizing the reality that we have to work closely with other countries both in Africa and in Europe that have concerns and are willing to work with us and create something of a common front here in terms of how the transition must occur and what needs to happen once the transition begins away from the Mugabe dictatorship," he added.

With the HIV-Aids epidemic widespread in Zimbabwe, the World Bank say life expectancy has fallen from 56 years in 1990 to 40 in 2000. Poverty is on the increase and the World Bank says its lending to Zimbabwe has been ineffective. There is no dispute that Zimbabwe is experiencing its most severe economic crisis since independence in 1980. Analysts say there is little chance of early improvement and that the economy is likely to get even worse before it gets better.