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Friday, 29 May 2009

Robert Mugabe as COMESA’s new poster boy bodes ill for trade in Africa

The 13th Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Summit postponed twice since 2008 due to Zimbabwe’s political instability, is ongoing with preliminary ministerial meetings. The Heads of State summit is set to commence on June 6th where Robert Mugabe will officially take over the helm of the trading bloc from Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

According to COMESA’s vision, the regional union is meant to “be a fully integrated, internationally competitive regional economic communitywith high standards of living for ALL its people”. COMESA’s chosen approach to achieve this is through development integration involving a combination of trade development and investment promotion.

Mugabe: The Right Man For The Right Job?

At a time when Africa has been hit hard by the worst global recession, it is inconceivable that a man who single-handedly crushed his own country’s economy can be placed in a position over the economies of 19 member states with a population of over 400 million.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for the past 29 years. His past actions are in stark contrast to the bloc’s Fundamental Principles as enshrined in the COMESA Treaty which include the recognition, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights; commitment to the principles of liberty, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law; maintenance of peace and stability through the promotion and strengthening of good neighbourliness and promotion and sustenance of an accountable and just democratic system of governance.

However, the Mugabe hegemony has overseen countless lives being lost most recently from cholera which even spread across borders. Torture and extra judicial killings to muzzle opponents have also been widely used with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reporting more than 20,000 human rights violations including 3,000 acts of torture since 2001. Average life expectancy in the country since 1998 has fallen from 55 years to a paltry 35, in essence meaning that a Zimbabwean has a strong chance of not outliving their youth. Unemployment remains rife with over 90% of the working age population being jobless. Maternal and child health has degenerated to the point where nearly half of all Zimbabweans are at risk of malnutrition and starvation, and a child born in Zimbabwe is the most likely to die in the entire African Continent.

All this misery led to over a quarter of Zimbabwe’s populace fleeing the terror and misery. Yet Mugabe remains to this day either unrepentant or maybe unaware of the devastation he has wreaked on his country. He has numerously been quoted pointing fingers blaming his people’s woes on the British, Americans and any country he perceives to be at fault. Individual Zimbabweans who dare to question his policies have been branded as puppets of the West, overlooking the fact that he as well as his coterie of greedy associates have over the years looted the Treasury and in turn messed what was once seen as the breadbasket of Africa.

As a report The Zimbabwe Papers: A Positive Agenda for Zimbabwean Renewal concluded, the crisis situation in Zimbabwe is solely due to "policies adopted, decisions made, and actions taken by the government of Zimbabwe" – the ZANU-PF government of Robert Mugabe.

Nothing except for a fragile unity government has changed since November 2008 when the majority of COMESA heads of state who had been invited to attend the postponed summit, categorically told the Zimbabwe government of the day that they would boycott the summit.

Robert Mugabe does not stand for the promotion of trade. Hyperinflation and excessive government regulations have heavily penalised the country’s entrepreneurs. Hyperinflation reached a mind-boggling 231 million percent. His accomplice in looting state funds, Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono remains in office. Mugabe even had the temerity to declare that his lieutenant Gono would remain in office up until he leaves office come 2013.

On the authority of Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s Central Bank exercised imprudent monetary policies which included flagrant printing of money regardless of the impact on inflation and the ordinary Zimbabwean. Fiscal policies enforced punitive lump taxes on businesses, further hampering the chances of success for enterprises. Criminality and corruption were the order of the day, with embezzlement, kidnappings and all other manner of vile strategies being used in order to retain control.

The country’s standard of living fell by 80% in the last decade. Even the local Zimbabwe dollar has been suspended. Public utilities were progressively canibalised till the water system became contaminated, electricity erratic and fuel became so scarce that it's market value became akin to gold. Workers in industries were similarly punished when even their health became compromised as a result of a health sector that could no longer provide even the most basic essential drugs.

According to the Ease of Doing Business reports from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, it takes 96 days to start a business, 481 days to comply with licences and another 30 days to register a property. Zimbabwe also currently ranks 7th worst on the World Bank’s Trade Restrictiveness Index.

The years of destruction of social goods now means that Zimbabwe needs at least US$5 billion to revive its almost dead economy. Local industry which should be in the forefront of re-energising the economy virtually collapsed under Mugabe’s totalitarian regime. Production costs are hardly competitive within the COMESA region let alone the rest of Africa. The Zimbabwe papers report laments that Zimbabwe has become one of the worst places to start a business. So how can the same person responsible for this degeneracy promote trade? It beats belief.

As the Corporate Foreign Policy blog writes: Mugabe has created a situation so horrible that if he ever got to the Hague, they would need to invent a new charge for the man.

Though Zimbabwe’s economy has slowly revived after Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai formed a coalition government, a lot remains to be done. However, you cannot be part of a problem as well as part of the solution.

Why is it that the donor community is placing conditionalities on loans such as respect for human rights and the rule of law on Zimbabwe, yet COMESA whose basic tenets rest on the same principles cannot insist that Zimbabwe implements such measures? To elect such an individual, calls into question COMESA’s mission and role in improving the living standards of the over 400 million Africans it serves.


Lord said...

Can't the trading block find a suitable replacement rather than settle on Mugabe who has ruined his country?

Africa for Democracy said...

Robert Mugabe has totally ruined his country politically, economically and socially so what ideas is he going to bring to the COMESA to enable it meet the challenges of the current global economic crunch?

If he has anything good to offer the bloc (COMESA) why can't he offer it for his ailing country?

His taken over the leadership of COMESA is waste of time, energy, and tax payers money.

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