How did Zimbabwe get in such bad shape?

I have read the wiki article on the country, I’ve read other basic stories about the country and Mugabe’s disastrous policies and human rights violations etc.

But still it is almost impossible to believe a country of millions that has fairly modern looking cities and apparently at least some economic activity is in such bad shape! I mean there are plenty of tin pot despots who still manage some foreign trade.

It is just Zimbabwe with trillion dollar bills and 200 in the treasury…its almost comical, how is there not widespread famine and death? :dubious: Can they seriously not attract ANY foreign investment or trade? None?

Is there an article that better explains this?

Mugabe claimed that he was helping the poor, and making the rich pay their fair share.

What ended up happening, was that he confiscated stuff from his political opponents, and gave it to his political supporters.

Land was redistributed to people who were not skilled farmers. Agricultural production dropped.

Capital was allocated by political connections, rather than sound business plans. There was no point in investing, since all your work could evaporate on Mugabe’s whim.

“The government finances are in a paralysis state at the moment”.

I think he probably said “a parlous state”. Is this a new eggcorn?

How is anything still working there? Seems that at this point the cities would resemble a African version of Mad Max.

It’s a big problem, being last alphabetically. When potential investors are looking through the Yellow Pages under “Countries to invest in”, they never get all the way to the bottom of the list before they find something that suits them.

Mugabe needs to change the name to “AAAAAA#1 Country”.

Zimbabwe, like many neighboring countries, was a British colony. In 1964, under the rule of Ian Smith, they declared independence from Britain under the banner of “no majority rule.” Rhodesia, at the time, was desperately trying to a sort of white homeland in Africa, and saw zero role for blacks outside of being farm labor. Rhodesia’s new rules wanted it to become a white controlled, massively segregated state and developed a pretty twisted manifest destiny style ideology to go with it. Their vision was so insane that Britain immediately declared them nutty rebels and dropped and embargoed them, and unsurprisingly, the blacks were not particularly taken with this idea either and started both violent and non-violent resistance.

A guerrilla war raged through the 1970s, while Smith, to the defiance of everyone else on the planet except South Africa, resolutely held on to the idea of a color-based state. Through this time, the prospects of black Zimbabweans was purposefully undermined. Skilled jobs were reserved for whites, and education and job skill training was restricted. The goal was to keep them poor and ignorant so that they could not pose a threat. Blacks continued to be unhappy about being second class citizens with minimal rights and no control of land, and the violence got more and more intense on all sides.

Smith held out until literally the last moment that his insane vision could. He made no attempt to look ahead to a transition towards a more equitable state. He made it impossible to build a future black civil service. He fought and fought and fought on the wrong side of history until 1979, when the whole thing kind of gave up the ghost because who can pretend in 1979 that a race-based state makes any sense? In a last ditch effort, Smith signed an agreement with local black leaders, including Mugabe, that would allow for black rule while keeping the whites in charge of several major power structures (security, etc.) and reserving a large chunk of parliamentary seats for the white minority.

Parts of Zimbabwe that did not feel a part of the power-sharing agreement immediately rebelled, and there were insurgencies through the country. Mugabe relentlessly stamped these down, and in the process he was able to seize complete power. Through the 80s and 90s, his rule became increasingly unbalanced and oppressive. This extremism disrupted all of the industry in the country. Land reform tried to address the question of how you bring economic prospects to blacks when the wealth is so concentrated out of their hands, but it went sour and became a political giveaway. In reality, there are no solutions to getting a country that has been unbalanced so long back on track. Bad feelings, violence, decades of denial of education and skilled work, lopsided economic systems and a lack of a civil servant class did it’s work. When the majority of a population has been systematically denied for decades all of the things it takes to run a country, it’s not surprising that when they do start to run the country, a lot of stuff will go wrong.

But while the US loves to complain about him, in reality nobody wanted to deal with what a completely destabilized Zimbabwe looked like.

In the late 1990s, the famous hyperinflation occurred. Hyperinflation happens due to a confluence of economic issues, and while Zimbabwe is probably the most extreme modern example, it’s something that happens from time to time in developing economies. Dollarization brought a lot of stability, at the price of local living standards. It basically made everything too expensive for anyone to buy.

I was in Zimbabwe as a tourist a couple years ago. I can say that of every African country I’ve been to, it was the safest and most overwhelming welcoming one I’ve been in. They used to do pretty good tourist trade, and the infrastructure is largely there, but the tourists left and so those that do come are very much appreciated. I spent nights with white farmers up in the mountains who told me their stories of the “bad years.” I visited a mixed town with a white mayor. I saw the ruined infrastructure of the past, as well as the modern new development, full of African fast food chains and shiny supermarkets, coming in. I spent the day in Great Zimbabwe with a black guy who gave me a ride to my destination showed me around his village, because he had once been picked up hitchhiking by a tourist years ago and wanted to repay the favor. I also got a real feeling for the political oppression. It’s something you don’t even begin to talk about, because it will get the people you are talking to tortured and killed. It’s not a joke at all.

Anyway, interesting place. It’s very poor while also being very developed. I think it’s suffering the long hangover of a very stubborn crazy rule, Cold War machinations, and a dictator whom everyone admits at this point has just plain lost it.

Parlous is a variant form of perilous. Means the same thing, AFAIK.

I always think that the metaphor of the abused child who grows up to become an abuser himself works very well for a country like Zimbabwe.

As to how it continues to go on without descending into chaos and famine, the answer is South Africa. Millions have fled Zimbabwe to South Africa, but continue to send money home. I read that “remittances are relied on to sustain the livelihoods of up two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s remaining population.” (Source here.)

A lot of post-colonial countries have gone through a period where the the first generation of the new regime entered with high aspirations, grew entrenched in power, and eventually went kind of nuts. Zimbabwe came late to this cycle because it came later to independence.

Nice history lesson, even_sven.

So, now that everyone agress that Zimbabwe is in worse shape than ever, that its people are more oppressed than ever, when can we expect to see mass protests around the world of the type we saw in the Seventies? When will we see a divestment movement?

Or is that only for white tyrants (and Israelis)?

Who’s investing in Zimbabwe right now?

I have over $3.342 x 10^17 ZD invested in their stock exchange.

They are 175th in Heritage’s Index of economic freedom

Just to add a little bit to even sven’s excellent summary The civil warin the 60s and 70s was pretty brutal. And Mugabe’s crushing of ZIPLA after the Smith regime gave up was even more brutal. I know a Rhodesian Army veteran, who has some pretty blood-curdling anecdotes. He still believes that militarily the government forces could have won, right up to the end. He’s black, as indeed most of the Rhodesian Army was.

Still Mugabe’s economic mismangement has been catastrophic - neighbouring Mozambique had an even more vicious civil was (right up until 1992) and yet has a GDP per capita of roughly twice Zimbabwe’s.

Smith was able to keep the show on the road and the security situation reasonable stable for as long as Portugal ruled Mozambique. Once that ended they faced a war in several directions and the writing was on the wall. South Africa assisted him for a long time but they had problems of their own.

With the smallest usable unit of currency having umpteen zeroes on it, I wonder how an amount as low as 200 could even exist there. I mean, the smallest single bill or coin, alone, must be vastly more than that.

I tried to purchase Zimbabwean currency for my collection of odd money, and was unable. No bank I could find thought it worth carrying.

Very short version: Nelson Mandela was very serious and very vocal about South Africa being a multi-party, multi-ethnic democracy. Still is, for that matter. Robert Mugabe, not so much.

There are plenty of other factors at play, some of them quite important (and I would always defer to Even Sven’s expertise), but this seems the most important explanation for Zimbabwe to me. Hard for a new state to develop robust democratic traditions and the rule of law when the first (and wildly popular, to start) leader just doesn’t care about these things.

Even Sven, how was the behavior of the Ian Smith regime different from that of apartheid South Africa? As I understand it, they didn’t afford black South Africans much in the way of education or chances for advancement, either.