Zimbabwe economy needs foreign help

A woman walks past the poster of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in Harare.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: The political situation in Zimbabwe i's no more clear today than it was at the end of last week. We still don't know who won the presidential elections of 10 days ago. After initially saying it would rule today, the country's highest court has put off until tomorrow, a decision on whether election results will actually have to be published. Militant members of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party have raided the few remaining white-owned farms in that country. Meanwhile, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is in South Africa meeting with politicians there. He's trying to build support for his claim that he won the election. If he did, he's got a heck of a job in front of him: convincing Zimbabweans that he can turn their shattered economy around, and convincing other countries and foreign investors he's worth their time and money. We've reached economist Tony Hawkins in Harare. He teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. Mr. Hawkins, hello.

TONY HAWKINS: Good evening.

RYSSDAL: What's your sense about Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader. Do people perceive him to be up to this challenge?

HAWKINS: It really depends on where you stand. I think a lot of his critics believe he's not up to it because he's not a highly educated person, but the test of the pudding really comes in the eating. The guys with the PhDs have been ruling the country for 28 years, and they brought it to its knees. They've destroyed the economy and they've created a highly corrupt society.

RYSSDAL: No matter what happens with this election there are some economic issues that obviously have to be dealt with. Do you think fixing the Zimbabwe economy can happen without foreign aid?

HAWKINS: No, certainly not, and I think this is why Mugabe has to go, because at the end of the day, there's no way that the international community is going to come to his assistance or his aid, but they will come to Mr. Tsvangirai's assistance.

RYSSDAL: How are they going to take car of inflation?

HAWKINS: That, it is going to be a very, very tough challenge to tackle inflation, and it'll mean really radical surgery, like perhaps pegging the Zimbabwe dollar to a neighboring exchange like the South African rand. And, you know, we are expecting the Western governments, particularly the United States, Britain and the EU, to throw money on the table quite quickly.

RYSSDAL: Assuming you get international assistance, what about private investment from overseas? Are they waiting now?

HAWKINS: I think the answer to that is probably yes and no. Some of the, sort of what you might call, "vulture-investors" are there. You can be sure of that, people who think you can come in and make a quick killing. I think the serious investment will sort of sit on the sidelines for awhile and see what happens.

RYSSDAL: By all appearances the people of Zimbabwe have been remarkably acquiescent, I guess, as the economy has been battered down there. How much more pain do you think they're ready for in an attempt to fix it?

HAWKINS: I think that's a very real problem because I think we will get the best short-term, I think, crisis of expectations. People are going to expect to see prices come down quickly. They're going to expect to see food back on the supermarket shelves. They're going to expect to see jobs being created in a very short time, and in the real world I'm afraid that's just not going to be possible. So it's going to have to be, the sort of change is going to have to be very well-managed. They're going to need good public relations to sell the programs.

RYSSDAL: Do you imagine it's going to be a number of years yet before anything gets fixed?

HAWKINS: I think the economy can turn around and start growing again quite quickly, but I think that to get back to where we were in the early or mid-1990s, it's going to take eight, 10, 12 years, something like that, so there's no quick-fix from this sort of situation, but it's got to get better compared to what is has been. That I think is the critical point.

RYSSDAL: Tony Hawkins is a professor at the graduate school of management at the University of Zimbabwe. We reached him in Harare. Professor Hawkins, thank you for your time sir.

HAWKINS: Thank you very much.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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