Counting the Cost

Robert Mugabe’s economic legacy

As Zimbabwe’s president turns 90, we examine the years of economic decline under Africa’s longest-serving leader.

Africa’s oldest incumbent leader, Robert Mugabe, turned 90 on Friday. Having spent 34 of those years as president of Zimbabwe, he is also the longest-serving leader of an African nation.

But under Mugabe’s rule, Zimbabwe has suffered from sanctions, massive inflation, and extreme poverty. Land reforms and black empowerment have failed to deliver economic benefits.

Compared with neighbouring South Africa’s recent economic decline, Zimbabwe’s economic fall has been more dramatic; but none of it has been sudden.

President Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. In 2000, he ordered the takeover of white-owned farms, leading to an economic collapse and hyper-inflation at 250 million percent by 2008.

Unemployment hit 90 percent, while more than 80 percent of the population was living on just $2 per day. Conditions translated to long breadlines where supply was scarce. Supermarket shelves were empty, and the population was desperate for the basics.

Black tobacco farmers, who have benefited from Mugabe’s land reform programme, are doing well and are growing and exporting more. But growing more tobacco also means cutting down on the staple food, maize – one reason why Zimbabwe has resorted to importing food and why millions need food aid.

So, just how has Zimbabwe reached this dire position, and what has Mugabe achieved after decades of power?

On this week’s Counting the Cost, we look at Zimbabwe’s long-time economic disaster, presided over for more than three decades by a man who has outlived his own population, on average, by 40 years. We speak to Blessing-Miles Tendi, a lecturer in African history and politics at the University of Oxford and the author of Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Pakistan’s coal industry

Next, we take a look at Pakistan, where an energy crisis and the Taliban insurgency are stifling the economy.

Peace talks with the Taliban have been put on hold after 23 soldiers were killed. But Pakistan’s government is pushing ahead with plans to privatise state-owned enterprises, including energy companies.

Pakistan spends $4.8bn, about a quarter of its total income, on running inefficient, over-staffed state companies, while at the same time seeking assistance at the door of the International Monetary Fund.

Last September it loaned $6.7bn from the IMF to bolster its finances, on the condition of reducing fuel subsidies on oil and gas that is imported from overseas, while planning to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity from coal-based power plants.

Although Pakistan is blessed with huge coal reserves, a lack of investment and fleeing manpower due to security threats, pose a challenge for further exploration. The coal rich mountains of Balochistan, for example, have hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal, but 70 percent of it remains untapped.

The coal industry is struggling with decades-old methods of extraction, limited investment and poor infrastructure. And those digging out this natural resource do not have any support for the risks they face.

But the biggest hurdle in exploring further coal reserves is the deteriorating law and order situation. Out of an estimated 60,000 miners, one third have left the province of Balochistan. Attacks by separatists continue, hundreds of people have had to pay ransoms, and dozens have been killed by kidnappers. 

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid reports from a remote mine in Balochistan, where the conditions for the remaining coal miners there are far from perfect.

Bangladesh in cartoons

Finally, we discover how a funny business is expanding to Bangladesh.

The United States has dominated the animation industry with hit series like The Simpsons, Ben 10 and South Park, but today 90 percent of US production is being sent overseas mostly to Asia. While India and China are popular destinations for US production houses, many other countries are trying to get in on the act. One such country is Bangladesh.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds has been meeting some of the rising animation entrepreneurs in Dhaka.


Watch each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2230; Saturday: 0930; Sunday: 0330; Monday: 1630.  Click here  for more  Counting the Cost .

Follow Kamahl Santamaria  @KamahlAJE  and business editor Abid Ali @abidoliverali