Whoever coined the term ‘point of return’ (may their soul rest in eternal peace) must have either fathomed the 1993 American blockbuster, Point of No Return, or Zimbabwe’s dire geopolitical and socio-economic crisis of 2019. It is no doubt that when history is studied decades from now, some years will remain embedded as the hardest times that the beloved natives of this Southern-African, teapot-shaped, plateau nation have had to face. These years-1982 (when the country was hit by a drought with far reaching economic impacts), 1999-2000 (when Mugabe’s autocratic regime orchestrated a systematic crackdown on white commercial farmers), 2007-2008 (when the country’s inflation hit the closest number to infinity known and prices of unavailable goods doubled every 24.7 hours) and obviously 2019, when the memories of all these bad years seemed to stop being just reminiscence, but a sad reality, will undoubtedly form chapters or even volumes of a History Book or the legendary Nhaka Yeupenyu in 2100, a century from now.
But where and when was the genesis of this string of struggle?
It all started on January 12 2019 when the incumbent president and self-proclaimed reformist, E. D. Mnangagwa, announced a threefold increase in the price of fuel, backed up by novice-inspired Economics characteristic of Zimbabwe’s decision making process on bread and butter matters. Apparently, it was an austerity measure, meant to miraculously self-correct the demand and supply of the liquid and lead to equilibria and normalcy soon. Soon, according to them, was mid 2019, or at most late 2019, and by them, I mean the president and his Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube, a Mathematical Finance PhD holder and Cambridge University alumnus. If such failed economic reasoning is the highlight of our PhD holders, then I would self-pity in my prospective bachelor’s degree.
It was all part of the Transitional Stabilization Program (TSP) which was hinged on the fact that the previous government, the first republic they call it, which they were mostly part of, with the exception of a few (like Ncube and Olympian Kirsty Coventry), had led Zimbabwe to ominous economic strains and austerity measures were essential to correct the tattered system. This program of TSP and austerity, was a brainchild of the Finance Minister, possibly borrowed from the United Kingdom’s response to the 2007 financial crisis in 2010. With the TSP came very unpopular policies such as the 2% transactional tax, the establishment of a dysfunctional interbank exchange rate unknown to the real runners of the economy: the black market, and eventual ‘banning’ of the multi-currency basket system. The latter, sadly never happened. Other changes noticed, though not written on paper, was a de facto substitution of police officers with uniformed army officials and members of the historically notorious and partisan intelligence office.
All these changes seemed to almost erase the imaginary progress made in selling Zimbabwe to the world as an incubation for business, with the UK for example, first warming up to Zimbabwe in 2017, then denying Commonwealth status to it after human rights abuse cases. Leading this charm offensive was obviously none other than Mthuli Ncube, a scapegoat regarded by the international community as non-partisan, who went on a mirage of field trips to promote this fallacy. Included, was his late 2018 interview with Richard Quest when he described Zimbabwe in a semi-British accent as the “biggest buy in Africa”. Supporting him was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the official annunciator of the 2017 de facto coup, Sibusiso Moyo who was allegedly beaten by diaspora opposition supporters during a diplomatic visit to the United Kingdom in July.
Fast forward to October 2019, and the situation is worse than ever before. The value of the pseudo currency, the RTGS, which is mostly mobile money single handedly controlled through Ecocash, has plummeted to a parallel market equivalent of 15 RTGS to the US Dollar. Healthcare is in tatters and education is gradually declining, all as a result of a disgruntled civil service who rightfully believe that their skill and contribution is worthy of US Dollar incentive. All the other indicators paint a similarly gloomy picture of the country’s wellbeing. Zimbabwe is at position 162 on the World Life Expectancy ranking, 155 on the Ease of Doing Business Index and 156 on the Human Development Index. Starvation is on the brink and more than 70% of Zimbabweans are regarded as poor in US Dollar terms.
If we were to be optimistic however, then we would comprehend possible solutions and a way forward from this tunnel of despair. Most unemployed youth, who dominate the political landscape in the country, believe that the solution lies in the Movement for Democratic Change, a left-wing progressive party headed by the radical and youthful Nelson Chamisa. The less pessimistic believe in a mass exodus from the country, which has already resulted in about 3 million Zimbabweans leaving the country in the past two decades, most of them going to neighboring yet more economically viable states like South Africa and Botswana and others going to less conventional countries in the Middle East and Europe like Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and even Greenland. In short, the local adage, ‘Zimbabweans are everywhere’ cannot be further from the truth.
But whether Zimbabweans leave or not, Zimbabwe, the country, will remain. The question however is, will it recover? Most had hope in the 2018 election which saw the serving retain power, albeit gross irregularities and various red flags raised by the opposition. Some, like me, even doubt the rigidity of any socio-economic strategy orchestrated possibly by an MDC government. Is the party strong enough as a whole or is it just populism and rhetoric distinctive of most youth driven politics on the continent?
Wikipedia (forgive my poor citing choice) defines a point of no return as “the point beyond which one must continue on one's current course of action because turning back is dangerous, physically impossible or difficult, or prohibitively expensive.” In Zimbabwe’s case normalizing the situation might not necessarily be physically impossible but it definitely is prohibitively expensive, and even dangerous, with the current regime. The title of Alan Paton’s book, Cry, the beloved country, remains as relevant today as it did when he penned it in 1948. Only this time, it refers to Zimbabwe. Cry, my beloved country Zimbabwe.