Zimbawe, Tale of a Failed State

By Kenny Gan

Rhodesia was a British colony in Southern Africa until Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence from Britain in 1965 and ruled as its first Prime Minister heading a white minority government. In 1980 power was handed over to the natives after a bruising civil rebellion which took 30,000 lives. In that year, Robert Mugabe’s party won the elections and he went from rebel leader to its first President. The country was renamed Zimbabwe meaning “great houses of stone” in the Shona language.

The Jewel of Africa

The newly liberated country had many advantages left by its former white masters including excellent infrastructure, transportation and banking systems and the best health care and education system in Africa. The Z$ was stronger than the US dollar. It had the highest literacy rate in Africa which reached 85 percent at its peak.

Zimbabwe also enjoyed bountiful natural resources with rich minerals including platinum, gold and diamonds. It is the home of Victoria Falls, one the seven natural wonders of the world and contain vast game reserves which attracted tourists. With the most fertile farmlands in the continent, agriculture became the mainstay of the economy and the country became the breadbasket of Africa exporting wheat, tobacco, corn, sugarcane and beef to its neighbours and beyond.

Agriculture destroyed

Robert Mugabe acknowledged that he had inherited the “Jewel of Africa” and vowed to keep it that way. However he did not keep his promise and the country went slowly downhill from corruption, misgovernance, a pogrom against the rival Ndebele tribe and a senseless war with Congo which bled the country. But Zimbabwe still held up well until 2000 when Mugabe’s popularity began to slip and he lost an important constitutional vote. In his efforts to cling on to power, the country slide into the gutter.

Mugabe blamed the white farmers for supporting the opposition and immediately undertook fast-track land reform in 2000, which literally meant confiscating the best farms from them and giving them to his cronies, few of whom had any interest in farming. As a result agriculture virtually collapsed in a few short years leaving a trail of economic destruction. From the fastest growing economy in Africa, Zimbabwe became the fastest shrinking economy in the world beating many war torn countries in the process.