New People African Featur Service - Issue n. 81 - December 1998



Zimbabweans are furious over their country involvement in the DR Congo war which cost US $1 million a day. The prices of basic food stuffs, including that of fuel, have shot up between 42% and 100%. Meanwhile Human Rights organisations accuse Mugabe to sacrifice Zimbabwean lives to serve a non elected regime with a dreadful human rights record.

By Never Gadaga/New People fs 1,207 words.

The virtues Zimbabweans are know for - patience, hard work and their ability to withstand hard times - are thinning in the face of deepening poverty on the back of a terminally weak Zimbabwean dollar, dizzy price increases and the contentious issue of Zimbabwe s military involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The prices of basic food stuffs, including that of fuel, have shot up between 42% and 100% in the past two months, driven by a weak exchange rate which has pushed up production costs.

Zimbabweans are now working four days a week on average as they have heeded a passionate call by the labour umbrella body, the ZCTU, to observe a one day national job stay-away every Wednesday to force government to reduce a 67 percent hike in the prices of diesel and petrol three weeks ago.

In the recent budget statement by Finance Minister Murerwa, the government scrapped a five-year old Development Levy that was meant as a financing mechanism for drought relief. Minister Murerwa announced a host of other token tax reforms, like removing minimum tax thresholds and introducing new income tax bands.

Economic analysts have accused Murerwa of substituting policy reform measures with cosmetic touch-ups at a time when the knock of general price increases had already hurt consumers.

DR Congo s war

In this light, these policy pundits say that Zimbabwe s military commitment in the DR Congo had worsened economic indicators that were already on the skids due to structural weaknesses in its economy. The dormitory town of Chitungwiza, scene of on-and-off violent clashes between rampaging youths and security operatives over unsustainable price hikes, has been nicknamed DR Congo.

Some of the youths, who called for a reduction in passenger and commuter fare between 100 percent and 150 percent, following the recent fuel price hike, waved banners calling for a troops pullout from the DR Congo.

According to an independent estimate, at least 75% of public opinion among the 2.5 million workers in the formal and informal sectors, link their economic woes with the intervention war in the DR Congo, which they perceive as drying up state coffers.

Annual inflation is hovering at 34.7% as of last month. The plight of the mainly unemployed youths can be easily understood in this southern African country of 13 million people (current statistical estimates) with a GNP per capita income estimate of US $475 in real terms.

There is a growing sense of political discontent in civil society and in the opposition movement over Zimbabwe s military presence in the DR Congo.

Zimbabwe is widely believed by military and political commentators to have committed between 3,000 and 10,000 troops to fight rebels who seek to overthrow the Kabila government.

Civil society s position is that Zimbabwe cannot afford to spend about US $1 million a day on the DR Congo war on a GNP of US $6.4 billion (Z$ 131 billion) at constant prices.

The Zimbabwe Independent weekly reports that Zim Rights - the largest Human Rights organisation in the country - had admonished Mugabe not to commit Zimbabwean troops in the DR Congo without approval from the people.

The other human rights organisations - Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Legal Resources Foundation and Amani Trust - said in a press statement: It is improper to sacrifice Zimbabwean lives to serve a non elected regime with a dreadful human rights record.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stan Mudenge was quick to deny on state television that Zimbabwe s interventionist war in the DR Congo would have a significant impact on the budget.

Zimbabwe s social services - education,health and other public infrastructure - are in a state of limbo, because the budget dominated by recurrent expenditure cannot deliver.

A Zimbabwe Inter-Africa News Agency (ZIANA) story published in the weekly Mirror quotes an IMF representative in Zimbabwe as saying that there is a very high possibility for Zimbabwe to explain how Zimbabwe s involvement in the DR Congo is impacting on the budget.

Debt owed

The IMF could make the DR Congo issue a condition for releasing the second and third funds of US $18m and US $37m, respectively, in standby financing, widely expected by economists to stabilise the sickly Zimbabwean dollar.

The release of this money could go a long way in partially resolving the serious foreign currency shortage in the country which has seen the Zimbabwean dollar phenomenally pushing up prices of goods and services in exchange terms, hurting the poor severely.

The DR Congo conflict is an African problem and, hence, needs an African solution. We cannot import solutions to our conflicts from the US and its allies, the Minister shouted.

The Minister s remarks carry Pan-Africanist connotations. To the contrary, there is no common fund to finance this war. Moreover, other SADC members have defied the call by Kabila to help in his war effort.

Hence, the entire sub-region has become a theatre of conflict between Pan Africanism and the OAU s doctrine of non-intervention. African states involved in the DR Congo war perceive their military intervention as a strategy to counter US Africa policy, which they believe seeks to promote its neo-imperialist overtures to prop up pro-US black governments in the sub-region.

To add to this cocktail of vying strategic interests in the region, Mugabe has adopted a humanitarian tone in the DR Congo conflict. He has oft-stated that his interventionist strategy could stem the refugee flow to other southern African countries.

Mugabe maintains that with the loss of the 1964 free trade agreement between Zimbabwe and South Africa, the DR Congo would provide an alternative market for Zimbabwean goods.

The DR Congo issue has severely strained relations between Mugabe and Nelson Mandela, with political analysts saying that Mugabe is irritated by Mandela s big brother status in the SADC body. Mugabe has since accused Mandela of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares.

Angola s involvement

An authoritative source has said the possibilities are that Angola will ask Zimbabwean troops to help the Dos Santos government fight Unita in the Angolan civil war, once the DR Congo war is over. Otherwise the Angolans could have pulled out of that war, had there not been that possibility, the source said.

A political analyst at the Institute of Development Studies has stated, The government must pull out Zimbabwean troops from the DR Congo as a matter of urgency. Our military expenditure in the DR Congo does not make sense, considering the fact that Zimbabwe is struggling under an external debt burden of 75 percent of GNP.

According to a local weekly newspaper, a ruling Zanu-PF parliamentarian, Dzikamai Mavhaire, has questioned the government s dispatch of troops to the DR Congo to bolster the unelected Laurent Kabila regime.

Mavhaire is a parliamentary back-bencher who was recently suspended from Zanu-PF party s chairmanship of Masvingo province for calling on President Mugabe to resign for bad governance. Speaking in parliament,Mavhaire told the hushed house that Zimbabwe s military involvement in the DR Congo is unconstitutional.

He said the constitution maintains that the President must inform and seek approval from parliament before declaring war. ZCTU leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is co-ordinating a national stay away , has described the DR Congo war as stupid, unwinnable and unjustified.

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