Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Zimbabwe: Robert's Dark, Dreary Place

Barely a week after Gideon Gono's doom predicting monetary policy review statement, life is markedly worse in Zimbabwe. Since late last week, urban Zimbabweans have endured long electricity blackouts.

Some neighborhoods of the capital went days without power last week. In Mabelreign, a medium density suburb on the near north-west of the city, many homes had to resort to alternative energy forms for cooking after days long blackouts. For most people this meant cooking over an open fires, or using paraffin fueled "primer" stove. The problem with both of these is that in addition to being inefficient, they both produce unpleasant fumes which wreak havoc on suburban properties. Ironically, cooking with both the primer stove and over the open fire in the urban setting conjure up memories of the unpleasant lifestyle Africans endured in the colonial high density townships designated for them by the racist imperialists.

Reports from Budiriro a low income township on Harare's westside aren't any better. Our friend Susan(not her real name) had this to say,
"Power has been going every morning around 6:30. Sometimes there is no power in the evenings either. Last night we lost power around 7 p.m. for about 45 minutes. When came it back the lights went dim after after just ten minutes and stayed that way for the rest of the night. It is loadshedding, there just isnt' enough electricity to go around. Yet they deny this truth in the press as usual. The power outages are everywhere across Harare there's not denying that."
Just what or who is the source of Zimbabwe's stifling electricity shortages? Long story short: it is Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF led government. Let me explain. As with many other products which had potential to return high profits, Mugabe's cronies muscled government into the electricity supply market setting up the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA)as a monopoly. Predictably, this idea floundered as ZESA was frought first with corruption, and most importantly a lack of creative thinking around the supply of electricity. In a sense, it comes with little surprise that Zimbabwe's sole electricity provider does not have the creative capacity to think around the prevailing crisis.

News flash: the genius of the free market is that it unleashes the full creative potential of the human mind towards addressing the shortages and other supply side problems. If they had trusted this basic principle, Mugabe & Co. would be laughing all the way to the bank as tax revenues would have their purses bursting. But they elected not to wait, they choose not to trust a system that has been proved time and time again around the world. Not only have they forfeited billions in lost tax revenue, Zimbabwe's government must mollify the increasingly agitated public.

Sadly, this scenario is playing out in several other markets; telecommunications (Zimpost,Telone, Netone), retirement products (NSSA), radio & TV (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings). The government is the main impediment to economic freedom and prosperity in Zimbabwe. There is a place for reasonable regulation of commerce in any economy, but for government to be the main player, for them to selfishly secure all economic activity behind a wall of government involvement, that's just unacceptable. It's a deathwish.

So, in the words of Ronald Reagan,"Mr. Mugabe, tear dear down this wall now."

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