Impasse prolongs Zimbabwe’s pain

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Today Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe blamed the country’s former colonial ruler, Britain, for its economic woes. It was Mugabe’s first major speech since the still-unresolved elections last month. He claimed that his political opposition would like to see the country “go back to white people.”

That opposition and independent economists blame Mugabe’s policies for the collapse of what was once southern Africa’s breadbasket. As Gretchen Wilson reports, the political impasse is delaying recovery and prolonging Zimbabwe’s economic pain.

The country is staggering under this political uncertainty. Zimbabwe’s economy is deteriorating rapidly. Inflation now tops 165,000 percent. Many people now eat only one meal a day.

Independent election monitors have said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the March election. But Mugabe has refused to step aside. Tsvangirai told Marketplace that the key to resurrecting Zimbabwe is reviving its economy. But before that happens, it needs to establish the rule of law.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: The economy can be compared to a post-war situation. And in a post-war situation, there is one thing that you need to do. You need to respect the rule of law. You need to respect property rights.

Mugabe has effectively suspended these rights in the past by fixing prices, seizing property and rewriting business laws. If Tsvangirai does become president, he says he’ll boost production in agriculture and manufacturing. He’ll also rebuild roads and telecommunications.

TSVANGIRAI: And that requires in the medium-term investment. Investment locally, investment internationally.

That investment has dried up in recent years as Mugabe’s government has driven the economy into the ground. African critics say Tsvangirai’s ambitions depend on a vast influx of foreign aid that may come with strings attached.

But on the sidelines there’s a potential outpouring of foreign aid should Mugabe step down. The United States imposed targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2001. These will remain until a civilian government is freely elected and the rule of law is restored.

In Johannesburg, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

All reporting by Gretchen L. Wilson, © 2008

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