In Zimbabwe, Things Fall Apart

Aoife Kavanagh in Le Monde Diplomatique:

When President Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980 the country was thriving. Its health and education services were the envy of the region and, thanks to a first-class infrastructure and a healthy economy, the future looked bright. It doesn’t look like that now.

Last Friday the ritual queuing began at first light in the centre of the capital, Harare. As dawn broke, two separate lines intertwined on the corner of Lake Takawira Street. The longest was motivated by a rumour that circulated around the city overnight that there was bread in town. Up and down the line people were on mobile phones, texting and calling friends to give them the latest information. Yet many people walked away empty-handed. When bread and flour do come on the market, they are often bought up in bulk and sold on at inflated prices on the black market, which is the real market.

It’s not just bread. Those who have the purchasing power buy what they can maize, cooking oil or beans often at government-subsidised prices. Instead of supplying the domestic market, they export the goods to neighbouring Mozambique or Botswana to earn precious foreign currency, although the poorest in Zimbabwe can barely afford one meal a day.

“If I don’t get the bread today, who knows, maybe I won’t be able to afford it tomorrow,” a woman in the bread queue told me. She was probably right. Within a month inflation, which already stood at 7,900%, the highest in the world, was widely reported to have jumped to 14,000%.