Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for October, 2007

The rage of the African Anglophile who has been scorned

Posted by CM on October 22, 2007

Every chance it gets, the Mugabe regime likes to characterise its main problem as essentially a “bilateral” one between Zimbabwe and Britain over the contentious issue of who promised to do what in regards to land reform, and didn’t.

This, of course, conveniently ignores all the many issues that have no direct relationship to land reform that have led to Mugabe’s government being ostracised by much of the world.

Yet it is also true that there is a special, bitter emotionalism to the disagreements between Mugabe’s and the various British regimes that have reigned since about the time of John Major. This emotionalism has spilled over from the charges flying back and forth between the two countries’ governments to a generalised, unhelpful frenzy in even news reports between the two countries.

The Zimbabwean official media and government see red at the very mention of the name “Britain,” cooking up all sorts of conspiracy theories about virtually everything and anything and laying responsibility for it at that country’s door. Likewise, the British media, and parts of the government, seem to lose all rationality in regards to anything to do with Zimbabwe. It is very much like the particularly messy, acrimonious falling out of a couple that had a once particularly passionate relationship, even if not an always a happy one.

Outrage at Britain seeming to absolve itself of colonial responsibility over land reform issues is sometimes cited as one of the breaking points in Mugabe’s love affair with Britain, and that may well be true. But perhaps an overall sense of rejection by a country/society/culture he so admired may be more of a factor in Mugabe’s bitterness than just ill feelings about land reform differences. That could be more of a factor in his particular soreness with Britain than the high-sounding ideological differences that are often touted.

An article by one William Saunderson-Meyer shows a keener sense of this dynamic than I have seen by most observers trying to decipher “what happened to Mugabe,” changing him from the kind of African leader the British were once very comfortable doing business with, to the raving anti-British demagogue he has become.

The article is about ways the ways he suggests the British government could exert influence over Mugabe, despite its seemingly having no clue at all how to handle the canterkanrous Mugabe for years now. But that main thrust is not what I found so interesting about it, but what I believe to be his spot-on observations about Mugabe’s real feelings towards the British he now attacks every chance he gets.

The link to the article I read no longer seems to lead to the original, so I unfortunately cannot refer a reader to it, and reproducing it whole is not necessary for the point in it that I wish to highlight, which is this single sentence towards the end:

The vitriol that Mugabe directs towards Britain is at least partly because he is deep in his heart an Anglophile who has been scorned.

I believe by this one line, Saunderson-Meyer shows a deeper level of understanding of Mugabe’s attitude and rhetoric towards Britain than many others have done. It is not just about land reform, it is also a deep rage at being spurned by a the government of a society that he had such deep affection and reverence for.

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How business is reading the Zimbabwean situation

Posted by CM on October 12, 2007

There is no shortage of analysis of the Zimbabwean situation by scholars and laymen. Most of that analysis focuses on the political.

But it is also useful to pay attention to the “analysis” provided by the actions that large business players make by their investing decisions. Many companies have given up operating in Zimbabwe over the years, with Heinz being one of the most recent ones to sell off its stake at what many considered a song. Zimbabwe corporate stalwart, Edgars, has just announced that it is closing down many of its branch stores country-wide in the wake of the damaging operating realities that have been imposed by price controls.

But there are also a surprising number of companies who may have pared down their operations to the bare minimum, but who seem to intend to be in for the long haul, seeing Zimbabwe as still a worthwhile future prospect, even if it is a discouraging one now. The Indeginization Bill that is waiting for Mugabe’s signature into law has further thrown a spanner into the works, with its requirement that majority ownership must be in the hands of Zimbabweans. Yet even the reaction to that has been more muted than I would have expected.

In any case, here are excerpts from an Engineering News (South Africa) story:

African investment firm Lonrho has acquired an 80% stake in offshore company Blueberry International Services for $5,45-million in cash. Blueberry controls 60% of Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed telecommunications operator Celsys, and 100% of Zimbabwean industrial chemicals manufacturer and distributor Gardoserve (trading as Millpal).

Lonrho`s acquisition of an interest in Celsys and Millpal represents its first investment in Zimbabwe following the launch of LonZim, which is a separate and specific fund that Lonrho is establishing to build a portfolio of investments in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries.

Lonrho noted that the flotation of LonZim on Aim is planned for late October. The holding in Blueberry, and any other transactions meeting the investment criteria of LonZim already completed by Lonrho, will be offered to LonZim at cost.

“Lonrho believes that there is a significant opportunity to bring foreign direct investment to grow existing businesses in Zimbabwe,” said Chairperson and CEO David Lenigas. “Now is the time to be establishing and supporting businesses that can develop. The economy has suffered from severe underinvestment.”

On the subject of the political and economic turmoil in the country Lenigas said that Lonrho is mandated to operate in difficult business environments, and that, as the economies of the African continent improved, the company wanted to be part of that rebuild. Lenigas said that he believed that the company would experience an “economic recovery,” eventually. He also noted that, given the current situation, businesses were less expensive to purchase.

At the end of September, Zimbabwe’s Parliament passed an indigenisation bill, which gives local owners majority control of foreign-owned companies, including mines and banks. Lenigas said that he did not expect that the bill would have much of an impact on Lonrho’s new acquisitions, but he noted that the company would operate in accordance with the policies of the country if changes were required. He added that the company had a particular interest in investing in local skills, and that it aimed to empower the businesses’ employees to keep growing.

These sorts of decisions are made by hard-headed people who would have examined them from every angle. The companies involved have a lot to lose and hope to gain far more, so the decisions are not made lightly. Lonrho, of course, has long and deep roots in Africa, so it is perhaps not surprising that it ventures where many others fear to tread.

What can be read into these sorts of business decisions about the future may be even more interesting than what is revealed by more conventional political analysis.

Posted in Economy | Leave a Comment »

Long predicted Zimbabwe collapse now postponed to 2008!

Posted by CM on October 10, 2007

Zimbabwe has been said to be “on the brink of collapse” for so long now that the period must rate as yet another dubious record the country holds.

The predictions, usually from “authoritative” media, analysts and diplomats ( almost always Western, by some strange coincidence) have been made regularly for years now, ever since the country’s inflation rate was in the mere hundreds.

Former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell predicted some big crash by the end of this year, so let us see what happens in the next ten weeks.

Now the crystal ball gazers are not quite as confident and willing to be identified, as the following recent (early October, 2007) report by South Africa’s IOL indicates:

Zimbabwe is unlikely to survive another year of the chronic poverty and hyperinflation it has suffered under President Robert Mugabe’s rule, a senior British diplomatic official has said.

Britain has been increasingly severe in its criticisms of Mugabe’s regime. Last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown threatened to boycott a summit of European and African leaders slated for December if Mugabe attends.

Official inflation in Zimbabwe stands at nearly 7 000 percent, the highest in the world. Independent estimates put real inflation closer to 25,000 percent and the International Monetary Fund has forecast it reaching 100 000 percent by the end of the year.

Large swathes of the working population were fleeing every day, and within a year Zimbabwe’s “difficulties will be extreme,” said the British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.

Zimbabwean opposition leader “Morgan Tsvangirai said to me there is no food in the country. That is a slight exaggeration but only a slight exaggeration,” he said.

Obviously it was a slow day, both at IOL and at the British embassy, because there is no story here! There is absolutely nothing new to justify an article, nor the alleged diplomat’s claimed wish for anonymity (I am assuming he actually exists, and that this is not one of those made-up stories.)

On second thoughts, there is a new angle here after all: The Zimbabwe collapse, predicted as being “just around the corner” for many years by the likes of the shy/phantom British diplomat, has now been officially postponed to 2008!

There are some amusing aspects of “the Zimbabwe crisis” after all!

Posted in Economy | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Why is Mr. Mugabe so eager to attend Africa-Europe summit?

Posted by CM on October 8, 2007

Whether President Mugabe would be invited to the December 2007 Africa-Europe summit in Portugal has been a subject of much discussion for months now.

Many European countries are quite uneasy about having Mugabe attend the meeting, with the UK’s Gordon Brown stating if Mugabe was to be there, he wouldn’t. Europe has imposed various ‘targeted sanctions’ against Mugabe and his inner circle, including travel bans. Allowing him and his usually large entourage to attend would inevitably be seen by some as making a mockery of those travel restrictions, for one.

The African nations have come out in strong support of not only Zimbabwe’s right to attend, but to choose its representative. The last part was to counter suggestions that had been doing the rounds; that a representative other than Mugabe would be a good compromise between having the country represented, but not having to deal with the headache of a personal appearance by Mugabe.

Predictably, the issue was cast in the mould of the Europeans trying again to tell the Africans what to do. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa went as far as saying, “If Mugabe isn’t allowed to go, then I won’t go.”

So the whole charade has been reduced to a “who will blink first” contest, with Brown, Mugabe, Mwanawasa unwittingly showing us their favourite game during their childhood days. Trouble is, you are supposed to have developed more mature and sophisticated ways of getting your way when you become a “leader!”

But apart from all this intrigue over whether Mugabe should be allowed to go or not, what on earth does he particularly want to attend the meeting for? What does he have to offer?

Whatever words of senior-Statesman wisdom he hopes to impart from the podium or in private discussions will be neutralised by the daily evidence of how his country is crumbling under his rule. He would probably keep flogging his currently favourite, but now dead horse of, ” Western sanctions are why my country is a mess.” But there would still remain the glaring question, “what are you doing about the mess, Mr. Mugabe, whatever the causes of it? How well are you managing those sanctions?”

And, of course, Mugabe the master rhetoritician, but stunningly incompetent manager, has had no real answer to that question for years, other than flailing his arms about, ineffectually trying this and that.

If all goes well, December will be early rain season in Zimbabwe. Rather than go to Portugal to recycle his standard, now utterly predictable “it is everybody’s fault but mine” speech, he would do much better to be seen to be symbolically leading a new planting season at home. He could read his usual speech from atop a tractor, rather than have to go all the way to Portugal to recycle it for the umpteenth time.

If Mr. Mugabe had any shame, he would not be so desperate to hobnob with world leaders who may not press their suits or read their speeches as well as he does his, but who know the common-sense traits of prudence in running the affairs of a country.

He will make his usual noise in Portugal, but he is ever more a laughing stock; only protected from noticing the world-wide sniggers by his absolute lack of shame.

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