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What Happened to Zimbabwe, Once Known as The Jewel of Africa?

A woman and her baby walk past bags of tobacco early in the selling season in Harare. Zimbabwe thrived on tobacco and other farm exports until the government-instigated seizures, often violent, of white-owned commercial farms starting in 2000, (File)

As Zimbabwe commemorates its 35th independence anniversary, some economists and local people say there is nothing to celebrate due to the current hardships faced by millions of jobless people and families wallowing in poverty.

The late Tanzanian president Julius Mwalimu Nyerere once said Zimbabwe was the jewel of Africa.

He made these remarks when the country’s economy was one of the strongest in the world soon after independence.

Zimbabwe had vibrant industries, an internationally-acclaimed social security net and abundant natural resources, which are still not being fully explored due many factors, including lack of capital.

Some Zimbabweans now say the country’s economy, which is also controlled by international market forces, has degenerated to unprecedented levels over the years under a black government.

Economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labour and Economic Development Institute of Zimbabwe says while the country attained political independence, there has been no significant economic development over the years.

Chitambara says most, if not all, policies implemented by the government since independence have not resulted in significant investment and economic development.


A retired civil servant, Garikai Moyo, of Avondale in Harare, agrees, noting that the Zanu PF government has not been competent enough over the years to promote strong economic development in the southern African nation.

He says while government did well by investing in health and education in the first 10 years of independence, not much was done to develop other sectors.

Independent economic commentator Masimba Kuchera concurs, saying at 35 there is nothing to celebrate as the nation’s economy is in a sorry state.

Kuchera and Chitambara strongly believe that unbudgeted payment of gratuities to former liberation war fighters in 1997, Zimbabwe’s intervention in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 and the implementation of the Economic Structural Adjustment Program devastated the country’s economy.

Chitambara says to worsen the situation, the country’s land reform program accelerated Zimbabwe’s economic decline.

He says the economic environment in Zimbabwe remains bad and the cost of doing business is now high, making the country a bad investment destination.

The nation abandoned its currency in 2009 due to historic hyperinflation.


Hundreds of companies have shut down since independence from British rule due to lack of capital and other issues. They include Shabanie and Mashaba Mines, Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company and others.

Harare resident, Pertunia Shumba, says given the current state of affairs in the country there won’t be anything to celebrate when Zimbabwe turns 35 on Saturday.

But for 36 year old Harare businessman, Simbarashe Ngarande, there is a lot to celebrate as the government has created business opportunities for local blacks, something they were denied during the colonial era.

He says Zimbabweans are now proud owners of land and businesses, thanks to the independence brought by President Mugabe and his fellow liberation war fighters. But economists say the government must take drastic measures in order to improve the economy, burdened by a debt of almost $9 billion.

They say these must include, among other measures, creating fiscal space to enable additional funding for infrastructure and social services, the crafting of a debt clearance strategy as well as enhancing productivity and competitiveness.

Zimbabwe marks 35 years of independence at a time when even the government is struggling to pay its workers and has just announced that it is suspending payment of bonuses for civil servants.

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