Yesterday, the Telegraoh reported that Western officials expect a complete collapse of Zimbabwe’s economic and political systems, by Christmas or even sooner. Today, the Los Angeles Times picks up where the Telegraph left off, explaining in detail the disintegration of Africa’s one-time breadbasket. The farms that once sustained the entire region have returned to pre-agricultural times, and manufacturing and retail will soon join them:
A drive across Zimbabwe today reveals a desolate portrait of decline: Aimless mobs of people wait along the rural roads, each with a silent pleading gesture for a lift at every passing vehicle. With fuel almost dried up, unemployment at 80% and transport too expensive for most, movement is almost frozen.
Along the highways, brown grass stands high between the thorny acacias in a stunning vista of what Africa must have looked like before mechanized agriculture made farming Zimbabwe’s main export business. Now, most farms lie dormant.
Meat disappeared after the government shut down private abattoirs, transferring all slaughtering to a quasi-governmental organization that cannot meet demand. Fuel supplies dried up after the National Oil Co. of Zimbabwe was made the sole authorized distributor.
In towns, straggling queues form at any rumor of sugar, maize or bread. Most supermarket shelves are empty of basic staples: no meat, no sugar, no maize, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no milk.
This is the prelude to violent revolution. People will not willing starve themselves en masse to save a government from toppling, especially one run by Robert Mugabe. The dictator’s only hope is that enough people leave to keep the uprising on the kind of small scale his forces can handle. In that, he’s been fortunate; millions have fled already.
That hasn’t kept Mugabe from pressing his luck. He has used violence and intimidation to virtually shut down sector after sector of the private economy. Now he plans on going after what’s left — manufacturing and retail. They employ 27% of what’s left of Zimbabwe’s workforce, and their collapsing under price controls that force them to operate at ever-expanding losses. Those losses got expanded when Mugabe forced enormous wage increases at the same time he imposed price controls. A pair of trousers on the legitimate market now loses over $2400 dollars US; on the black market, the loss is around $7.
Mugabe makes sure that the price and wage controls get enforced. Gangs of police and soldiers raid retail and manufacturing businesses to check on compliance. Even those who comply routinely get arrested, though, and their stores get emptied of goods when the gangs force owners to mark down the prices. The losses have staggered what little remains of Zimbabwean capital, and the arrests have convinced even more to seek their fortunes — or at least their lives — elsewhere.
It’s a perfect illustration of the end game for statist economics. When state-created shortages threaten the economy, dictators attempt to stamp out the symptoms through even heavier state action rather than cure the original disease. Now farms have reverted back to a pre-agricultural state, and Mugabe has destroyed the resources necessary to recover the industrial economy. The last throes of statism will shortly get played out, in which famine and civil war will compete for the highest body counts. Meanwhile, the African nations around Zimbabwe continue to offer plaudits and approbation to the most incompetent and deadly dictator seen since Uganda shed Idi Amin Dada.