Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

The wild guessing game over Zimbabwe’s inflation rate

Posted by CM on August 18, 2007

At the end of July there was a widely publicised report in which Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, director of the IMF’s Africa department said, “If recent monthly trends continue, IMF staff project are that year-on-year inflation could well exceed 100,000 percent by year-end.”

News reports said the official (but un- announced) Zimbabwean year-on-year figure for May “topped 4,500 percent.”

An IRIN news report dated August 16 about the difficulties many Zimbabweans face in South Africa says, “Zimbabwe is suffering its worst recession since independence… inflation has topped 13,000 percent…”

An article dated August 18 in the South African Mail and Guardian said inflation is “well past the 5,000% mark,” which is quite different from saying it “is more than 13,000 percent!”

An Associated Press story in the International Herald Tribune of August 18 says, “Independent estimates put real inflation closer to 20,000 percent on goods still available.”

What I am leading to is that it is quite clear that no one has the slightest clue what Zimbabwe’s rate of inflation is! It should be enough to just say”prices are rising astronomically,” rather than for all these news agencies to make fools of themselves by engaging in the charade of trying to put a number to it. The situation is simply too fluid to be able to do that accurately, as the widely varying figures of these “reputable” news outfits show.

And yes, the situation is serious and causing great hardships. But it is also somewhat predictable that AP and the International Herald Tribune would pick (or make up?) the highest inflation “estimate” (I’m being polite) of anyone. Judging by the particular stories the AP’s Angus Shaw consistently chooses to write about Zimbabwe and his particular spin on many of them, “lets make a difficult situation look even worse” seems to be the mission that Shaw and AP are on in regards to Zimbabwe, and they seem to be enjoying it immensely.

Zimbabwe is such a bad brand at the moment that even going over the top in trying to show how supposedly nothing works there is considered quite fair game. Citing an inflation figure of the magnitude of 20,000% almost requires that the originator of the story cite his source for the number and its basis. By not taking this elementary measure, suspicious cynics like myself may end up thinking that whatever the inflation rate may actually be, those who cite this figure without attribution or explanation would actually wish it to be 20,000%, or some other huge number, to give them more juicy stories of suffering and more “ammunition” against the hated Mugabe.

For all I know it may very well be 20,000% or more. My point is not that this should be hidden or sanitised, but that in the current environment where everybody seems to cite his or her own favourite guess, this is no longer just reporting, but a mixture of speculation, outright falsehood and perhaps crusading. News agencies should make clear distinctions between reporting on the one hand, and opinion and guesswork on the other.

And the IHT certainly isn’t complaining about the opportunity to feature lots of bad news about Zimbabwe, both the sad facts as well as those whose figures may be simply plucked out of the air! Mugabe is not a particularly cuddly fellow, but Angus Shaw, AP and much of the Western media are getting rather hysterical in their reporting of anything to do with him.

So your conclusion if you had done an Internet search with the terms “Zimbabwe, inflation, August 2007?” Of course you would limit your search to the well-known, “prestigious and reputable” news outlets. Well, you would certainly be more confused after the search than you were before it. The best you would be able to say is “the wild guesses range from 4,500 to 20,000 percent!”

What a farce! Mugabe and his clique have been bad news for Zimbabwe, I want a new dispensation. But I am beginning to think that it is also true that there are more factors at play in some of the irrational, unprofessional coverage of the country’s situation than just wanting to tell the world what is going on.

For both the pro and anti-Mugabe forces for whom Zimbabwe’s symbolisms can be used for buttressing or countering their respective ideologies and world views, facts are not as important as the slightest excuse to make their propaganda points. For the pro-side, the racial, historical, ideological and other symbolisms Mugabe represents for them mean he must be supported at all costs, regardless of his words or actions and their effects on Zimbabweans. Likewise for the anti-side, Mugabe’s racial, historical, ideological and other symbolisms for them mean every single negative thing in Zimbabwe must be attributed to Mugabe, and the guessing or embellishment of figures is an acceptable part of the great propaganda battle.

In between the two evilly cynical sides are the ordinary Zimbabweans, caught up in the midst of centuries of thinly-disguised, pent up group hates from all sorts of quarters, pro and con Mugabe, who want “the Zimbabwe crisis” to “prove” the veracity of their particular world view.

Whether it is the cynically Mugabe-applauding SADC leaders or the consistently, suspiciously hysterical and sometimes embellished reports of outfits like AP, the UK Daily Telegraph or the IHT, Zimbabwe’s travails are a fascinating drama for them to feed on while pretending concern for the ordinary Zimbabweans whose ridiculing they so delight in regularly doing. The “Zimbabwe crisis” has become a hot commodity for point scoring by groups of all sorts of viewpoints and agendas.

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