I swear I didn't mean to turn it into a competition, but somehow that's how it was construed by two of the nastiest leaders in the world. My comparison of Stephen Harper to Robert Mugabe at the end of 2008 was meant to be a friendly reminder to Canadians of the dangers of the sheep in wolf's clothing yet both leaders have enthusiastically taken on the challenge to see who can destroy their nation the fastest. Both seem to support torture of enemies while doing nothing to free their citizens from illegal imprisonment, both are intent on ruining their country's international reputation and both use every means at their disposal to cling to power.
Most of the past year has seen Mugabe laying low in an effort to lull the world into a false sense of security that the power sharing agreement struck with Morgan Tsvangirai over a year ago was indeed working. Meanwhile, Harper has been taking bold risks in an effort to wrestle the title and had taken a slight lead in the competition in the past year. Well folks, we should have known better than to underestimate the Zimbabwean zilch as he has struck a decisive blow in his quest for the title of world's worst leader. In case you missed it, Robert Mugabe is celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the start of the destruction of the the agriculture industry through the seizure of white owned farms by implementing a law to do the same thing to the rest of the economy.
Mugabe's latest move goes by the ominous name of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Regulations 2010. By quietly publishing the law last week, which was actually passed in 2008, the government has officially given all businesses worth over $500,000 notice that they will have to be 51% indigenous-owned. An indigenous Zimbabwean is "any person who, before the 18th of April 1980, was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person, and includes any company, association, syndicate or partnership of which indigenous Zimbabweans form the majority of the members or hold the controlling interest". By April 15th, all firms, whether foreign or domestic, must submit completed official forms describing the business and showing its plan for ensuring that, within five years, indigenous Zimbabweans will own at least 51 percent of the shares. Judging by the success of such a strategy in the agriculture sector, Mugabe has essentially guaranteed the completion of the destruction of his nation.
Pity poor Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition MDC and Prime Minister for exactly a year last Thursday. Just a week ago he was in Davos schmoozing with the banking elite, extolling the investment opportunities in the new and improved Zimbabwe. He argued in speeches and interviews there that western nations should be easing sanctions on his country as a reward for the progress made and that they were on an "irreversible path to change". Of Mugabe's latest gambit on his return to Zimbabwe later in the week he stated, "I am in charge of all policy formation in cabinet and neither myself nor the cabinet were shown these regulations before they were gazetted. They were published without due process as detailed in the constitution and are therefore null and void." His words haven't had any effect on the imprisonment and torture of Roy Bennett, his nominee for minister of agriculture, during the past year either.
Even worse, imagine being finance minister Tendai Biti, also of the MDC, trying to convince foreign investors to put money into Zimbabwe. The sales pitch might go something like this: "OK, so although every $100 you put into our country instantly turns into $49, just imagine how many zeroes you'll be able to add to it once you convert into Zimbabwean dollars. Based on our inflation rate you'll be a trillionaire in no time!".
And who will be the winners of Mugabe's latest power grab? The people, as Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere (really, that's his name and title) claimed, "It is in the interest of the people of Zimbabwe to become shareholders"? Ha! Just as in the farm seizures, the benefits will be carefully divvied up amongst Mugabe's cronies, like his cousin here. With a new constitution and election on the horizon next year Mugabe once again needs some carrots to dangle in front of his thugs who he'll need out in force during the polls to guarantee a result that will keep him president.
While the elite gorge themselves on a new source of wealth, the people have to deal with the reality of today's Zimbabwe:
- a 70% fall in agricultural production since 2000
- over 90% unemployment as well as the world’s highest inflation - an unfathomable ninety sextillion percent
- a maternal mortality ratio which quadrupled from 283 per 100,000 in 1994 to 1,100 per 100,000 in 2005
- an infant mortality rate which rose from 52 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 68 per 1,000 in 2006
- an adult mortality rate (the probability that a 15-year-old person will die before reaching 60) which sky-rocketed from 286 per 1,000 in 1990 to 751 per 1,000 in 2006
- life expectancy at birth which fell dramatically from 62 years for both sexes in 1990 to 36 years in 2006