U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell had some more blunt comments for the Harare government on Wednesday when the envoy told an audience in the eastern city of Mutare that “gross mismanagement of the economy and…corrupt rule” brought on the prolonged economic crisis which has intensified over the past year.
“I know of no other example in the world of an economy that, in times of peace, has contracted so precipitously in the course of six years,” the ambassador told an audience at Africa University in the city on Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique.
Mr. Dell in particular targeted the government’s contention that the economy has been besieged by drought and battered by sanctions imposed by unfriendly Western nations, the United States and Britain prominent among them, in response to the land reform program Harare has pursued since 2000 with the eviction of white farmers.
He cited a study from the Cato Institute in Washington which concluded that the drought of 2000-2001 was less severe than 12 other recent dry spells, and that after 1999, unlike earlier periods, the economy no longer recovered with the rains.
Mr. Dell noted that the Center for Global Development, also in Washington, observed that the decline Zimbabwe's production of maize, a staple food throughout Southern Africa, was “dramatically” greater than in neighboring countries in the drought.
The ambassador also rejected the notion that sanctions had seriously undermined the economy, describing those imposed by the U.S., Britain, Europe and other nations as “narrowly tailored financial and travel sanctions on ruling-party and government leaders and their families” with no broad impact on national economic activity.
He told his audience that “Zimbabwean firms that are not connected to regime leaders are free to do business with American firms, and American firms are free to invest in Zimbabwe and trade with any individual except those top-level sanctioned officials.”
“Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe’s decline,” Mr. Dell said. “The Zimbabwean government’s own gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule (have) brought on the crisis.” He charged “manifold and well-documented examples” of “misguided economic decision-making,” including unbudgeted spending and land reform conducted in a “misguided and blatantly selfish way.”
Without "decisive and deep-cutting policy action, the outlook for the next years is bleak," Mr. Dell said, echoing a recent report by the International Monetary Fund. He concluded that Zimbabwe "cannot pull itself out of the hold it has dug by itself. It simply can't do it. The decline has now gone too far." The country needed to "re-engage" with the world community for financial support and debt restructuring, he said.
Mr. Dell said he hoped that his speech, entitled "Plain Talk about the Zimbabwean Economy," would open "a series of discussions on the important issues of peace, stability and prosperity in Zimbabwe" based on facts instead of rhetoric.
Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya, a former ambassador for the country to the United Nations, declined to respond to Mr. Dell’s criticisms. He said the government was concentrating on Operation Live Well, a drive to replace the housing destroyed in the May-July slum-clearance campaign known as Operation Restore Order – which drew the condemnation of the United Nations, among many other observers.
Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with political science lecturer Dr. Joseph Kurebwa of the University of Zimbabwe about Mr. Dell’s outspoken criticism of the government of President Robert Mugabe, and what his diplomatic broadsides signaled as to relations between Washington and Harare.