Zimbabwe’s economy was shrinking by one percent every month around 2002 that the United States embassy asked whether it would implode.
The embassy said the government of Zimbabwe was obsessed with control- of food, farmland, fuel, currency exchange and most other facets of economic activity.
In the process it had impoverished nearly every Zimbabwean in a case of collective downward mobility rarely experienced in countries not at war.
It said a gardener who earned US$150 a month at independence in 1980 now takes home less than US$15.
Although the Zimbabwe dollar was stronger than the United States dollar at independence, domestic workers were earning between Z$5 and Z$10 as month and this was raised to Z$30 (US$47)by the new government.
The minimum wage for those in industry was raised to Z$85 a month (US$133).
Viewing cable 02HARARE2482, Will the Economy Implode?
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS HARARE 002482
STATE FOR AF/S
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR JFRAZER
USDOC FOR 2037 DIEMOND
PASS USTR ROSA WHITAKER
TREASURY FOR ED BARBER AND C WILKINSON
USAID FOR MARJORIE COPSON
¶E. O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Will the Economy Implode?
¶1. Summary: The Government of Robert Mugabe has
impoverished nearly every Zimbabwean, a case of
collective downward mobility rarely experienced in
countries not at war. A gardener who earned US$
150/month at independence in 1980 now takes home less
than US$ 15. As the economy continues to shrink — by
one percent each month at last count — so do the GoZ’s
options to stave off meltdown. End Summary.
The ultimate interventionist government
¶2. Over the past 5 years, the GoZ has left few internal
markets to self-regulation. It has insisted on an
unsupported and unrealistic official exchange rate;
transferred farmland from productive businesspeople to
government-owned collectives, turning — to cite just one
crop — the planet’s number one tobacco export nation
into a minor player; let squatters live off quality
farmland by poaching, felling trees and panning for gold;
drawn private pension funds’ once formidable savings into
its own coffers by holding interest rates on short-term
treasuries to approximately one-tenth the real inflation
rate; and acted as sole price arbiter for fuel, gold,
grain, maize, milk, bread and other staples.
¶3. These policies have nearly destroyed Zimbabwe’s
formal economy, sent 10-20 percent of the population
packing and put half those remaining at risk of
starvation. Overtly, the GoZ still engages in denial.
An editorialist in the GoZ’s press refuted British
charges of bad policy last week, shooting back: “There
are, in Britain today, and standing outside the doors of
Westminster and Windsor Castle right now, thousands of
people with neither food nor shelter, sleeping rough, and
all driven by want and poverty.” Despite this
feistiness, even the architects of Zimbabwe’s
“unconventional” economic policy entertain private
¶4. The GoZ’s interventionist approach has been about
control — of food, farmland, fuel, currency exchange and
most other facets of economic activity. In the end, this
control may prove lethal, even though foreign food
assistance and a burgeoning informal economy may sustain
the country for a while. Still, almost every discussion
with Zimbabwe’s top-flight economists (there are still
dozens) comes around to the chances of total implosion.
Many believe a prolonged lack of fuel could be the
trigger, though there are other scenarios. Undoubtedly,
intervention is strangling the economy, and
liberalization without International Monetary Fund or
other support is very tricky. The CEO of a large bank
told us 80 percent of his borrowers would default if he
were allowed to raise interest rates to their natural
level. Similarly, ordinary Zimbabweans cannot endure the
inflationary jolt of a 7-to-10-fold increase in fuel
(i.e., international pricing) when the GoZ stops
¶5. Can things just muddle along? Economists point out
the GoZ still has a few hard-currency assets left to
expropriate, sell or barter, such as the foreign currency
accounts of Zimbabweans who worked abroad from 1991-97
(permitted by an old law) or equity in Air Zimbabwe’s
Boeing fleet of 2 767s and 3 737s. The GoZ has
reportedly already passed several national assets to the
Libyans for fuel. However, this may only slow but not
halt an inexorable “meltdown clock.”