Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hire a Thief to Catch a Thief ?

That's always been a popular saying, but the UN appears to be turning it to new use. You may not know where Zimbabwe ("Southern Rhodesia" for those die-hard colonials amongst us) is, but I'm sure that you'd find it curious that a country that has been systematically driving itself into bankruptcy over that last ten to fifteen years has a really serious chance of being the next head of the Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD).

Now this is a very interesting and worthwhile organisation, handling such subjects as
Energy for Sustainable Development; Industrial Development; Air pollution/ Atmosphere; and Climate Change. Basically, this is the part of the UN that's hitting the world which actually affects us rich westerners. I'd say that we would want people to head this department who come from a successful economy - not from a failed one !

Now lets hear what the National Geographic Online has to say about the Zimbabwean economy.

The economy centers on farming, mining (Zimbabwe holds a tenth of the world's chromite), and manufacturing. Until drought struck in the early 1990s, the nation fed itself. Whites still own choice tracts, and land redistribution is a charged issue. Mugabe's government suddenly started seizing all white-owned commercial agricultural land in 2000. African settlers were being dumped on the land without required government support (including seed, water, and fertilizer). This chaotic land reform is causing massive declines in food production, and millions of Zimbabweans are at risk of famine. The economy is in crisis, with high inflation and unemployment rates.

Now that was written a little while ago. Zimbabwe now has massive food shortages and the world's fastest-shrinking economy. The money supply has an unusual problem - they have devalued the currency and want to print larger-denomination notes, because there will be less of them, meaning lower paper costs. However, they can't afford the ink to do it with ! In
2006, inflation passed 1,000%, but early 2007 saw 1,700%. Unemployment ranges from 70% to 80% and according to the World Health Organization Zimbabwe has the world's lowest life expectancy - a Zimbabwean can expect to live less than 40 years if he or she survives infancy.

As a shining example of how to deal with economic problems,
in mid-2005, Zimbabwe demolished its urban slums and shantytowns, leaving 700,000 people homeless in an operation called “Drive Out Trash.” In 2006, the government launched “Operation Roundup,” which drove 10,000 homeless people out of the capital (non giving them anywhere else to live, of course).

Have I painted too bleak a picture of this situation ? Go and visit the BBC news site. The Beeb supported the fight for independence in Zimbabwe fiercely some thirty years ago, but appears to be having seconds thoughts now. It has some pretty accurate items today. Zimbabwe has about 13 million inhabitants. So what happens when Zimbabwe finally implodes ? Most foreigners there consider that more people are not leaving because they believe that they can't, not because they don't want to. Eventually necessity will win out over belief and a large number of people will leave. The question is, where to ?
None of the surrounding countries can be called "wealthy", with the possible exception of South Africa, and one could hardly expect any of them to take in several millions of people !

Is this the government you want to advise the world on anything, least of all economics ?

I really don't think so.

Postscript: A few days after my original post the U.N. duly elected the representatives of the world's least competent government to advise us all on how best to develop our economies.

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