On the Causes of Zimbabwe's Ruin

Newsweek’s 31 January interview with Zimbabwe’s central banker, Gideon Gono, is lamentable not only for its factual inaccuracies, but also for giving voice to a Mugabe henchman whose monetary policies have led to the collapse of the economy, shuttering of hospitals, and closing of schools.

As part of PHR's emergency assessment delegation, I traveled throughout Zimbabwe in December 2008 and found that a causal chain runs from Mugabe’s economic policies, to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, food insecurity and malnutrition, and the current outbreaks of cholera, anthrax, and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Reading the Newsweek interview, one incorrectly infers that international sanctions have caused Zimbabwe’s ruin.

NEWSWEEK: A lot of people have blamed you for Zimbabwe's economic collapse.

GONO: The West wants you to think it's because of mismanagement. But sanctions have had a devastating effect on the country. I cannot think of any genocide that is worse than that. By their very nature, sanctions are supposed to induce fear. It's like terrorism. It's callous.

These sanctions, employed by only a handful of countries, restrict access to assets squirreled away in foreign bank accounts of some 160 of Mugabe’s cronies who have looted humanitarian aid over the years to the detriment of starving civilians. I saw cases of pellagra, rare gastrointestinal anthrax (caused by eating infected carrion), and marasmic Kwashiorkor – all resulting from extreme food insecurity, not from Gono’s inability to access his private American bank account.

Interestingly, the Newsweek interviewer queried the central banker on the current cholera epidemic that rages in his country.

NEWSWEEK: Many people have called the government's handling of the cholera epidemic a crime.

GONO: Cholera is under control. Every year there is a cholera outbreak in southern Africa; the epicenter of the disease just happened to be in Zimbabwe this year.

I assure you, vibrio cholerae is not “under control” in Zimbabwe. In fact, the case fatality rate for this easily treatable and entirely preventable disease is more than 20 times the international norm in some areas. Cholera continues to spread in Zimbabwe and across its borders because the Mugabe regime has failed to address the underlying causes of the disease: broken water and sewerage pipes, poor sanitation, and untreated water.

State funds from Gono’s central bank could be used to fix such essential public health services; instead, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe serves more as a personal checking account for Gono and Mugabe than as a means for providing succor to the seven million Zimbabweans who are currently dependent on international food aid.

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