Is Zimbabwe looking for aid for aid's sake?

South African President Jacob Zuma who had been expected to break away from his predecessor Thabo Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" and publicly chastise Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during his two-day visit to Harare which ended on August 28 is reported to have disappointed a lot of people, according to the New York Times.

Zuma instead seemed to be singing from the same hymn book as Mugabe when he called on the West to end sanctions on Zimbabwe, increase aid to speed up the country's recovery programme and urged the two main sides in Zimbabwe politics, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the Movement for Democratic Change, to continue to work together to overcome their differences.

The West has denied for years that Zimbabwe is under sanctions. Mugabe and his cronies, they have argued, are merely banned from travelling to the West mostly on "shopping trips", yet the United States' Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act which became law in 2003 specifically bars any financial assistance to the government of Zimbabwe.

With the commercial sector, mostly the food and grocery, side now in full swing, questions are being asked as to whether Zimbabwe needs aid, and if so what type of aid and for which sector?

Finance Minister Tendai Biti was not very convincing when he presented his budget review in July.

"Around 60 percent of sub-Saharan African countries are extensively dependent on Official Development Assistance (ODA) that ranges from 35-75 percent of their budgets," he said. "Global ODA averaged US$90 billion a year between 2003 and 2006 which amounts to US$24.6 million per day. It is therefore, inevitable and unavoidable for Zimbabwe to request for support through ODA."

What was not clear was whether the minister was saying Zimbabwe should get aid because everyone is getting it or whether the country genuinely needed aid.

It was also not clear why the government continued to pursue this line when it was convinced that it was "still a long way from ODA being channelled as a transformative assistance into our infrastructure, fibre optics, railways, roads, and energy, among others".

The use of aid to develop third world countries is increasingly being questioned because it appears donors are benefiting more than the recipients.

Academic and journalist Joseph Hanlon has just written a book on Mozambique, the country that is being touted as the 21st century's best example on how to utilise aid.

The book's title is very sarcastic and reads: Do bicycles equal development in Mozambique?"

Hanlon and Teresa Smart argue that though Mozambique has recorded average annual growth rates of over 7 percent for the past decade and there are now more bicycles in the country there has not been enough good change. People are still poor.

They also argue that the International Monetary Fund, which opens the door for donors to come in, has taken US$7 million more from Mozambique after the post-war period, than it put into the country.

The IMF has so far not responded to queries from The Insider whether this was true or not and if so, where the money the IMF was getting was coming from?

This seems to be the same predicament Zimbabwe could face if it persists on seeking aid instead of focussing on facilitating loans for the productive sector.

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