Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.
Showing posts with label Robert Mugabe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert Mugabe. Show all posts

Monday, March 16, 2020

Zimbabweans still await their development moment

Robert Mugabe airport.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
In Harare, Zimbabwe, my host (whose identity I am protecting) brought me up to speed on national politics and the present fuel shortage. I had been under the impression that the exit from nearly 30-year rule of President Robert Mugabe, with subsequent electoral fanfare, marked a turning point for the southern African nation. Alas, my host reported that the new regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is same story, different day.

Zimbabwe imports its oil, but there is no ready explanation, such as a natural disaster or embargo, to explain the latest (nor the prior) bottleneck and long gas lines. My host blames politics as usual, which means control of the country's oil market awarded to cartels in exchange for lucrative kickbacks to politicians. A business owner dependent on vehicles to move assets, my host explained the strategies he employs to keep his fleet in service, including foreign currency purchases, which can bypass gas lines; fuel storage for a rainy day; the occasional financial inducement to a fuel seller; and, when all else fails, waiting in the interminable lines.

A gas line runs along the road.

A Total station is closed except for its 'Bonjour' shop.
The high ratio of pedestrians to vehicles on the streets of Harare is like none I've seen elsewhere in a major city, as even minibuses are in short supply for want of fuel. There are taxi stands, but the cabs are decidedly parked and not cruising for customers. My host said that the aforementioned politicians never seem to be wanting for fuel, though. Indeed, around Parliament and the executive administration building, I saw many official vehicles, and early in the morning, I saw workers filling their gas tanks from fuel cans. Entrepreneurial roving street merchants, who might be selling bananas, nuts, or newspapers in another city, hawk fuel cans and funnels in Harare.

Customers wait for the grocery store to open in the morning.
Another curiosity that struck me in Harare was crowds of people around and in the grocery stores. Outside a CBD branch of the popular market chain OK were a score of peddlers bearing cardboard signs showing numbers. My host explained that, in tandem with Zimbabwe's economic woes, and also a function of corruption, he asserted, runs the country's currency shortage. Indeed, I paid always with U.S. dollars, received change in same, and never saw other than inflationary Zim notes being sold as touristic novelties. In part because of the currency shortage, and to prevent a run on banks, people are restricted in bank withdrawals. That means one must go more often to the grocery store. But people have adapted, and they do have access to their money through electronic devices. The peddlers outside the stores are brokers, or internet-age money changers, who, for a competitive cut, convert electronic bank balance into hard currency to spend on groceries that don't directly accept debit or public assistance payments.

My host lamented: Zimbabwe is a country rich in natural resources and natural beauty to rival regional neighbors such as Tanzania and South Africa. Yet in 55 years since independence from the UK, the country inexcusably has failed to mature domestic productivity or the touristic sector. Sadly, coup d'etat and the long-anticipated exit of Mugabe seem not to have precipitated meaningful change.

Just wait, my host said: if the people don't see improvements, they'll change leadership again; and again, until someone gets it right.

Zimbabwe Parliament building sits on Africa Unity Square.