Friday, March 28, 2008

Managerialism and Mugabe

Chris Dillow has written an excellent book on the folly of managerialism - put simply, the idea that 'the right man at the top' is all that is needed for success in either politics or business. I think that I can detect a similar error, or at least over-simplification, in much of the coverage surrounding the Presidential elections in Zimbabwe this weekend.
Received wisdom is that the collapse of Zimbabwe, from bread-basket to basket-case, has been the work of one man, Robert Mugabe. An article in the National Review puts that argument clearly: Zimbabwe's downfall is all the work of one man: Zimbabwe’s leader for the past 28 years, Robert Mugabe. With the possible exception of North Korea, no other place on earth owes such a debt of ingratitude to a single individual. And yet how true is this?
First lets look at the statistics, and pretty damning they are too. In 1980, after 14 years of sanctions, the Rhodesian dollar was worth about $1.50. In 2008 it takes literally millions of Zimbabwe dollars to purchase a greenback. Inflation is at 100,000%, unemployment at 80%, life expectancy is 36, the population has fallen by three million in five years. Zimbabwe is in freefall, there is no economic infrastructure left, no tax base, no government, no education and no health service. There is no petrol, no consumer goods, little food and less cooking oil.
The rot became apparent with the farm invasions of 2000, themselves sparked by the emergence of an opposition, the MDC, and the defeat of the constitutional amendment. Yet the sign of the collapse had been two years earlier, when Mugabe, under political pressure for the first time since the early 1980s, authorised an ex gratia payment of Z$50,000 to 'war veterans' of dubious credentials. To pay for this he ordered an increase in the money supply - and the slide of the currency began.
Many of the visible problems since then, the farm occupations, the harassment of the opposition, the squandering of public money on private mansions, can be laid directly at Mugabe's feet. Yet it is, I think, too simplistic, solely to blame Mugabe for Zimbabwe's collapse. There were difficult legacies of settler rule (colonialism is a slight misnomer here - Britain was the direct colonial power for a period of about six months in 1980, not before) though never as bad as has been claimed. There are inherent difficulties in any developing nation. African nationalism was, almost by its nature, revolutionary and quasi-Marxist in character - overcoming that sort of economic handicap proved too much for a slew of newly-independent African countries.
More worryingly, attempts to pin the blame squarely and solely on Comrade Bob risk allowing others, equally culpable, to slide off the hook. The propsects of Simba Makoni, the former finance minister for ZANU PF turned new challenger, have been boosted by the presence on his team of men like Dumiso Dabengwa, and behind the scenes the equivocal support of Emerson Mnangagwa and Solomon Mujuru. Nothing would suit them better than for Mugabe to take the rap for the last twenty years and have their sordid pasts expunged.
The danger is that, much as happened in Kenya, so much attention is focused on the personal failings of the big man at the top, that fundamental rottenness of the political system as a whole is ignored. Mugabeism without Mugabe would be no improvement.

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