Africa Today Seminar: Blood from stones: Ali Mugabe and the 40(0)(0) thieves. Elites and the destruction of Zimbabwe’s economy

Seminar date: 
09 June 2009
Speaker(s): Bill Kinsey

Zimbabwe's economy has deteriorated from being one of Africa's strongest to one of the world's worst. It is currently in a condition where it can only be described by a set of stylized but unrivaled negative indicators. It has the world's worst rate of hyperinflation; unemployment and poverty levels are running at more than 90%; life expectancy is the lowest in the world; a cholera pandemic has recently infected some 90,000 people; overt starvation is common and up to 75% of the population require food aid; and it has the lowest real growth rate of GDP of any independent country not at war. This list could be extended indefinitely if the full pathology of a country in deep distress were to be characterized. Practically every gauge of the health of Zimbabwe's economy, which was once so promising, reveals deep decline and points towards continuing deterioration.

This seminar asks how this situation arose. At one time it was said that Zimbabwe's cabinet had a higher proportion of members with PhDs than any other country in the world. How, with all the country had going for it and with such intellectual leadership, could Zimbabwe have sunk as far as it has? The presentation attempts to provide at least some partial answers by examining the expansion and extension of elite groups through both intended and unintended mechanisms and the mutually interactive roles of these different elite groups in seeking sometimes disparate, sometimes similar but always narrow objectives. The vehicle used for this examination is the still-unfolding cholera pandemic. As Thornycroft & Berger (2008) put it: 'Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic is a deadly symptom of the corruption of the country's rulers'.

Bill Kinsey has worked as a development professional for more than 30 years. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Rural Development at the University of Zimbabwe and has an honorary appointment at the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. His major research interests centre on the long-term impact of technical change in African agriculture, land-reform programmes in Southern Africa and the welfare effects of adjustment and other policies on poverty. These interests have been addressed primarily through an ongoing 27-year panel study of 550 farm households in Zimbabwe across three different agro-ecological zones.

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