x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

$217 worth of credibility

Zimbabwe's problem is not that poverty is stopping elections, it's rather the other way around.

Zimbabwe met payroll last week, but only barely: after civil servants' salaries were paid, Finance Minister Tendai Biti announced, the government had exactly $217 (Dh798) left in the bank.

The nation of 12.7 million has grown poorer each year, almost, since the former independence hero (and now kleptocrat) Robert Mugabe, 88, became prime minister in 1980. As president since 1987, he has dominated the country with equal brutality and ineptitude, until sharing some power in 2009.

The story of the $217 made headlines and drew laughter around the world, even though the government took in $30 million (Dh110 million) in revenue the next day. In any case, at least Zimbabwe was in the black: the US is $16.4 trillion in the red, and nobody laughs at them.

There is, however, a sadly serious point here. Mr Biti was pleading poverty as the excuse for delaying scheduled elections and a planned constitutional referendum, which he said would cost $200 million.

He has, of course, put the cart before the horse: Zimbabwe's problem is not that poverty is stopping elections, it's that decades of rigged elections and incompetent tyranny have led to widespread poverty.