By: John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com
In the 32 years of his benighted rule, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Gabriel Mugabe has done more damage to the country than its white-led minority government ever did.
With the exception of the smuggling of “blood diamonds” the country’s economy, once the “breadbasket of Africa,” resembles nothing so much as a slow motion train wreck.
One of the foundations of modern nations’ economic prosperity are reliable sources of power and here too, Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union cronies have managed to screw things up.
While the country has a peak electricity demand of about 2,200 megawatts, it only produces 1,200 megawatts because its installed power generation capacity cannot meet demand, which primarily comes from the Hwange Power Station (HPS) and Kariba Power Station (KPS).
According to Mugabe, it’s because those pesky international sanctions scare away potential investors and are a covert cover for the return of the colonialist British.
So, in the meantime, what to do to meet the energy shortfall?
Why, import electricity from neighboring Mozambique, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Here too the bankruptcy of ZANU-PF policies is evident, as last month Mozambique’s government threatened to shut off electricity exports from its Hydro Cabora Bassa dam if Harare didn’t pay its outstanding $90 million debt.
But, a million here, a million there – at the same time that Maputo was threatening to pull the plug, Zimbabwean Energy and Power Development Minister Elton Mangoma informed the country’s legislature that the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has run up a $1 billion debt in un-serviced loans, imports on unpaid credit and the country’s investment in a joint power project with Zambia, yet to be built. No doubt adding to the politicians’ unease, Mangoma has stated that the troubled power utility has no capacity to extend, much less alleviate, the outstanding debt.
So, what to do to return ZESA to financial health? On 22 February Mangoma told a press conference that some customers have not paid their electricity bills since 2009, noting, “ZESA has offered to customers a facility to propose workable payment plans, regrettably some have chosen either to ignore this facility or not to honor their payment plans, leaving ZESA with no option except to withdraw supplies. Power disconnections are currently being applied ‘wholesomely’ to ensure that all customer categories meet their obligation of paying for service rendered. All customers currently in arrears run the risk of disconnections” before salving the announcement somewhat by stating that all disconnections will be done after a five-day notice.
As for why these multitudinous miscreant scofflaws stopped paying their bills several years ago, it might be noted here that ZANU-PF mismanagement of the economy by July 2008 produced an inflation rate of to 231 MILLION percent, according to Zimbabwe’s Central Statistical Office. Driven by soaring food prices, the government abandoned the nation’s old currency completely the following year. At the time that the Zimbabwean government issued its data, the economy had imploded by nearly 50 percent over the previous decade.
Could those Zimbabwean consumers had issues on their minds marginally more pressing than paying the electricity bills?
Like buying food when bread’s price in July 2008 had risen to over $7,000 a loaf?
But ZESA, showing impartiality, last month also disconnected the services of three government Cabinet ministers. While Magoma declined to provide their names to the press, citing confidentiality concerns, informed sources identified the trio as Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, Manicaland Governor Christopher Mushowe and Energy Permanent Secretary Justin Mupamanga.
Their collective tab?
A mere $378,000.
So, where does Zimbabwe go from here?
Mugabe’s wrecking of the Zimbabwean economy can be squarely laid at his policy for favoring political loyalty over expertise, as he showered political office, land and favors on his ZANU-PF supporters. Crawling through the bush with an AK-47 is one thing, farming another.
Compare Zimbabwe’s travails with neighboring South Africa, whose first black president, Nelson Mandela, pursued instead a conciliatory approach to the country’s white minority despite 27 years in prison at the hands of same.
In 1994 Mugabe was appointed an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II. On 25 June 2008, Queen Elizabeth II cancelled and annulled Mugabe’s honorary knighthood. But Zimbabweans may yet have further traumas and/or a sunnier future in store. Last month Mugabe revealed that his 15-year-old son, Bellarmine Chatunga, harbors presidential ambitions. In a series of interviews in the state-controlled media, the 88 year-old Mugabe told his nation, “Bellarmine always says ‘I want to be president’ and so on, but I say you must pass, you see, the President, your father, how many degrees does he hold? Can you do that?”
No doubt the teenaged Bellarmine has profound ideas on how to salvage the country’s economy.
And turn the lights back on.
And deal with an estimated 50 percent unemployment rate.
And an outbreak of typhoid in the capital Harare.
And if Junior needs help, he can always turn to Dear Old Dad. At his 88th birthday on 21 February Mugabe jokingly told state radio, “I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I am as fit as a fiddle.” The birthday celebrations for the octogenarian were estimated to cost $1 million.
What is the Shona word for “yikes?”
By: John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com