Zimbabwe Sliding Into Chaos, Observers Warn

July 7, 2008 - 8:09 PM

Nairobi (CNSNews.com) - Once described as a shining example of economic success and political stability in Africa, Zimbabwe is slowly but steadily sliding toward ruin and irreversible anarchy, analysts have warned.

Government-sanctioned thugs have in recent months been attacking institutions and individuals perceived as being enemies of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, and driving opposition politicians underground.

Many of those involved - including the gangs who last year launched a campaign of occupying white-owned farms and spearheaded violence ahead of parliamentary elections that left 31 people dead - call themselves veterans of the guerilla war against white minority rule that ended in independence in 1980.

Some firms and institutions been forced to close because of the intimidation.

"The consistent and intolerable harassment meted out on embassies, the opposition, government critics, foreigners, the white community and other international organizations by the so called war veterans has not only ruined the economy but have totally damaged the country's image internationally," warned Dr. Chris Ondicho of the University of Nairobi's Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies.

African and Western diplomats have warned that the Zimbabwe government's hostility to critics could lead to the complete isolation of the landlocked southern African nation.

"Attacks by war veterans on nongovernmental organizations, embassies and the government's political opponents ahead of presidential elections scheduled for next year do not augur well for Zimbabwe," said one European diplomat here. "It will make investors and other donors shun the country."

"There is no question of resumption of [financial] support under the present circumstances," a leading private economist, Eric Bloch, said.

Britain, South Africa, and Germany are among countries that have officially protested against attacks on their nationals.

Western aid donors, including the United States, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have remained critical of Zimbabwe after Mugabe's controversial land grab prompted concern over the rule of law in the former British colony.

In continuing incidents of lawlessness, "war veterans" on Wednesday briefly abducted more than 60 workers of one of the country's largest security firms, demanding that management pay workers who were sacked last year.

About 30 militants forced staff from Fawcett Security to leave the firm's offices and march to the ZANU-PF officers where they were compelled to chant party slogans, general manager David de Burgh-Thomas said.

The attack came despite a government statement saying that such attacks were illegal.

Up to now the government has tolerated violence against business and critics. Opponents fear the campaign will be stepped up ahead of next year's presidential elections, in which Mugabe will seek to extend his 21-year tenure by another six years.

Earlier this week, a Danish-owned manufacturing firm was forced to shut down after a similar raid on its premises. The Danish Embassy protested.

Last week Canada announced it was stopping development aid and export credits after its ambassador to Harare was harassed by "veterans" when he tried to stop them from abducting the Canadian director of a leading relief agency, CARE International. The director was held for several hours.

A German educational agency was also raided, and the British Council - a UK government educational agency - has indefinitely closed its Harare offices, library and cultural center amid threats.

On Monday, Syracuse University, suspended its 2001-2002 study program in Zimbabwe because of the increased political instability.

"We hope to reinstate the program as soon as the political situation allows," Nirelle Galson of the university's International Programs Abroad, was quoted as saying.

Galson said Syracuse had made arrangements for students already accepted for next fall's Zimbabwe program to participate instead in Brown University's program at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa.
Economic price

Observers have warned that the continuing company invasions would further damage investor confidence.

A recent survey by the Johannesburg-based investment research group BusinessMap placed Zimbabwe at the bottom of eight southern African countries in terms of its attractiveness as an investment destination.

Mugabe's "land reform" program and his deployment of troops in a costly war in the Democratic Republic of Congo prompted the International Monetary Fund to suspend new aid as early as 1999.

Last week, the IMF said Zimbabwe had run up debts of just under $25 million since February.

Zimbabwe has halted all foreign debt repayments, including those to the IMF, to preserve scant foreign currency reserves for fuel and electricity imports.

Analysts say it will take at least four years to reverse the negative growth figures Zimbabwe has recorded since 1997.