If one were to pick out a country in the world right now where economic conditions cannot get any worse, that country would have to be Zimbabwe. Every time I see a story about the country, I am overwhelmed. I can’t say I have ever heard of a country failing as miserably as Zimbabwe is now. And still it’s sad that such a terrible calamity doesn’t get more press in the Western world. Here’s some of their stats:

Zimbabwe is a country of 13.3 million people. It’s GDP is currently estimated at $1.6 billion. That’s about $120 per person at current exchange rates. In the last 5 years their annual GDP growth rates were -10.4%, -3.8%, -6.5%, -4.6% and -2.8% respectively.

The unemployment rate in now around 80%. Yes, that’s right! … only one in 5 people are working. (In comparison, when the US economy reached the depth of its Great Depression in the 1930s, unemployment was around 25%) According to a BBC news story, Zimbabweans are fleeing the country looking for work elsewhere and most of the economy is surviving on remittances from abroad.

The inflation rate is hard to pin down. A quick look around the internet finds inflation estimates anywhere from 50,000% to 100,000% per year (This is NOT a typo!) It means that something that costs 100 zimbabwean dollars today may cost 275 Z$ tomorrow and 760 Z$ the next day.

The government budget deficit is actually respectable (in comparison) at 8.6% of GDP. However, its national debt is 220% of its annual income. It’s international debt stands at 300% of its GDP. (Data courtesy of the Economic Intelligence Unit)

Oh and to add insult to economic injury, Zimbabwean’s life expectancy at birth is 39.5 years and at least 25% of its population is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. (data from the US CIA world factbook) Clearly things can’t get much worse than this for a country.

However, luckily Zimbabwe is a democracy and they plan to hold elections on March 29. But, will elections be free and fair? This question strains credulity.

Imagine yourself a citizen of Zimbabwe. Could you imagine anyone living in these conditions voting for the current leader, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1987? Mugabe has presided over one of the worst economic collapses in recent times. Second, could you imagine a leader in a free and fair democracy believing he even has a chance to win reelection with these kinds of economic conditions? Wouldn’t a leader in such a democracy have resigned in shame and perhaps even fled the country long ago? But, not Robert Mugabe! He intends to stand for reelection and believes he has a chance to win! This time he has a serious and credible opponent in Finance Minister Simba Makoni so maybe Mugabe will be ousted.

One last thought, wouldn’t it be irrefutable evidence that elections were NOT free and fair on March 29 simply if Robert Mugabe actually wins?

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