Economist Russell Lamberti co-authored a book on the destruction of the economy of Zimbabwe. Here are his thoughts on the departure of Robert Mugabe:
Although Philip Haslam and I expressly did not write our book on Zimbabwe’s devastating hyperinflation as a political polemic, it can double as a jarring chronicle of the sheer tyranny of Robert Mugabe’s regime circa 1997 to 2009.
Hyperinflations are dreadful episodes for people caught in them, but Zimbabweans have also suffered immensely since the death of the ‘Zim dollar’ in February 2009.
The economic destruction of 1997-2009 caused millions of productive Zimbabweans to flee the country – most will never return, having established their lives in South Africa and elsewhere.
Farm evictions and the ensuing hyperinflation caused a decimation of wealth and capital. During that period of economic and legal chaos, state and army thugs – with Mugabe’s blessing and patronage – wantonly looted whatever wealth remained, taking full effective control of the economy.
This battered and bruised country is what Zimbabweans woke up to one morning in early 2009 after the Zimbabwe dollar had burnt out in a ghastly blaze, and the US dollar and SA rand had come flooding into legal circulation.
Goods and services were now priced in relatively stable currencies. People’s wants and needs quickly readjusted. They were no longer scampering after stores of value or trying to spend money indiscriminately to get rid of their worthless paper money.
They could start going back to regular consumption and purchasing patterns. The complex system of barter that had developed during the hyperinflation began to disintegrate, as people could once again use stable mediums of exchange. These dramatic adjustments to a former way of life were hard, but it wasn’t long before products started filling up store shelves once more, and some daily commercial sanity returned.
Economic life immediately after the hyperinflation calmed and entrepreneurs began trying to rebuild wealth again. The problem was that, astonishingly, Robert Gabriel Mugabe and his thugs had not been booted out in shame, but dug in and crafted new ways of plundering what remained of Zimbabwe’s wealth.
And so, after 2009, Zimbabweans enjoyed only a brief recovery until 2013, before being plunged into economic turmoil again.
By 2017, farm production was a tiny fraction of what it was in the 1990s. The monetary system was once more deeply dysfunctional.
State thugs increased repressive control of their pet economic fiefdoms. Average Zimbabweans had to scrape by on bit-work, late and short pay, and remittances from family members of the diaspora.
To top it off, this dictator named Bob presided over a second, albeit brief, hyperinflation in 2017, revealing ‘Bond Notes’ as the obvious scam they always were. Another currency farce and growing political insecurity appeared to be the last straw for Mugabe’s military, which has now eased him out in a dandelion coup that just about no-one saw coming.
It’s unclear where Zimbabwe goes from here, but the outpouring of public joy at the tyrant’s ejection and the yearning for liberty are going to be hard genies for military men to put back in the bottle.
Maybe these thugs sense the party is over and want to salvage some status in the new order. Just about everything that could be looted has been looted. Perhaps they think it’s time for a fresh start.
Time will tell. As it will tell where Dr Bob and his scheming spouse will find a haven to avoid their just desserts.
What we do know is that Rampaging Robert is now Zimbabwe’s ex-president, a man who’ll go down in history as one of the toughest despotic nuts to crack, destroyer of two currencies – the ring-leader in a gang of thieves writ large.
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