Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe ...

Zimbabwe's octogenarian dictator Robert Mugabe has, apparently , decided that the current smoldering ruins of his nation's economy aren't, er, smoldering or ruined enough. Therefore, in a fit of inspired brilliance, Mugabe has decreed that the small handful of foreign owned companies remaining in Zimbabwe should hand over 51% ownership to "native Zimbabweans", thereby destroying whatever slim chances remained that foreign companies will be bringing any investment whatsoever to the world's most damaged economy. A bill to nationalize the assets in questions has been produced, and there's no doubt whatsoever that Mugabe's rubber stamp parliament will give it the green light as soon as possible. Nationalization is a controversial process anywhere it's practiced, but in Zimbabwe, "nationalization" has simply become a shorthand term for punishing your political enemies with the confiscation of their property, and handing it over to your political cronies as a reward for their continued loyalty. And in Zimbabwe's tough times, buying loyalty is proving harder than ever.

In a country where ordinary citizens no longer drive because of the scarcity of fuel, Mugabe has rewarded the bigwigs in the state security services with brand new Mazda 3's. In the old days, he was fond of rewarding his friends with Mercedes-Benzes, but even dictators have to tighten their belts when the going gets really tough. Mugabe had better hope that a shiny new Japanese economy car satisfies the police and military brass, because the rank and file army - the only institution capable of propping up the tottering regime, are defecting over their low wages - which come to less than $10 month. Mugabe has offered to step down from power if he wins the 2008 presidential elections (curiously, he made no such promise to do so if he lost), but frankly, it's difficult to imagine that he can hold onto power for even that long. It's difficult to see how Zimbabwe can even afford the cost of staging yet another round of nakedly crooked elections when the nation's political and economic institutions have practically ceased to function.

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