Reuters, June 29, 2006
Harare, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe on Thursday rejected international mediation in Zimbabwe’s political crisis, saying the southern African state was not on the verge of collapse although its economy was in trouble.
Critics accuse Mugabe of running down one of Africa’s most promising countries, abusing human rights and hanging onto power by rigging votes in the face of a deepening economic crisis.
Speaking at the funeral of one of his ministers, Mugabe — under pressure from domestic and Western critics to accept U.N. mediation in a crisis largely blamed on his government — said Zimbabweans were ready to die fighting for their political rights and would never accept subjugation.
Mugabe, 82, Zimbabwe’s sole ruler since independence in 1980, accused former colonial power Britain and the United States of mobilizing “illegal” Western economic sanctions against his government over its seizures of white-owned commercial farms for landless blacks.
Zimbabwe is struggling with the world’s highest inflation rate of nearly 1,200 percent and the World Bank says the country has the fastest shrinking economy outside a war zone.
In an apparent reply to suggestions that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan must step in to help, the combative Zimbabwean leader said on Thursday there was no political crisis in the country requiring foreign mediation.
“Lately, we have heard about so-called ‘initiatives’ to rescue Zimbabwe. We don’t need rescuing because we are not about to die,” he said.
“What Zimbabwe needs is a just and lawful treatment by the Western world, a recognition that it is a full, sovereign country which has the right to own and control its resources, the right to chart its own destiny unhindered,” he said.
Johannesburg — A furore has erupted over a UN committee’s recommendation to rank Zimbabwe as a least-developed country (LDC).
Zimbabwean officials were furious at the UN Committee for Development Policy’s findings that Zimbabwe, along with Papua New Guinea, was eligible for inclusion in the list of 50 LDCs. The committee said Zimbabwe had not only remained a low-income country for a protracted period, but had also become more economically vulnerable.
In assessing a country’s economic vulnerability, the committee among other factors considers food security, instability of exports of good and services and share of agriculture in the country’s income.
Government spokesman George Charamba was quoted in the Sunday edition of the Daily Chronicle as dismissing the committee’s findings. “They want to create [an impression] that the country has failed. Our position remains the same that we are not beggars. We are not a poor country and we want to be rated accordingly. We need the correct position that we deserve”.
He maintained the country’s problems were a result of “illegal sanctions” imposed by western nations. The government’s rejection of the findings means the country cannot be included in the official table of LDCs.
According to some UN officials, the issue of Zimbabwe’s classification has become “highly politicised”, with the government on the one hand alleging a plot to denigrate the country, and humanitarian workers arguing the authorities should face the reality of the unfolding crisis.
Zimbabwean economist Professor Tony Hawkins said the UN committee had taken “objective criteria” into consideration. He pointed out that over the past two decades, Zimbabwe had slipped from a middle-income country to a low-income one as a result of government policies. “And now to be put in the LDC category is embarrassing for the government”.
According to Diana Games, a researcher with the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), Zimbabwe has experienced a more than 30 percent drop in its Gross Domestic Product in the past four years.
“It has gone from being one of the most successful economies on the continent to a country plagued by food shortages, reduced industrial capacity, declining exports and massive unemployment … Factory output has fallen [by] 45.6 percent since 1998, and manufacturing levels are at their lowest since 1971”.
Besides economic vulnerability, the UN committee also assesses health, nutrition, poverty levels and education, while drawing up its list of LDCs.