Tony Hawkins is a leading, pro-opposition, rightwing, Zimbabwean economist who doesn't count President Mugabe among his friends. But when you stretch the truth too thin on the ground to be trampled upon, even rightwing, anti-Mugabe economists do flinch. And that was exactly what Tony Hawkins did on 29 June this year when interviewed by the UK-based anti-Mugabe SW Africa Radio on the goings-on in Zimbabwe.
First, Hawkins would not buy the former US ambassador in Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell's forecast that the Zimbabwean economy would collapse by the end of the year. "How long can the country continue to run on inflation levels said to be between 4,500 and 9,000%" Violet Gonda, the interviewer, a Zimbabwean herself, and also no friend of Mugabe's, asked Hawkins.
The economist in Hawkins took over, even though his political side was sorely tempted. Hawkins was in Harare and Violet was in the UK, and he told her over the phone: "There are countries that have gone on for a long time with hyperinflation on these sorts of levels. I think it is impossible for anybody to stand up and say it's going to be three weeks or three months or three years or whatever figure you would like to say. I think that the people who are making these kinds of statements--and we have had the [former] US ambassador, [Christopher Dell]; we have had various aid agencies and NGOs talking about six months and so on. Why six months and not two months? Who knows?
"But you have to ask the question: How do you define collapse? When does the economy collapse? What examples do we have of a collapsed economy? Did the DRCongo economy collapse? Did the economy of Somalia ever collapse? The answer is that African economies tend to grind on at very low levels of activity--subsistence levels of activity for long periods of time.
"It is only when you get civil unrest or some kind of move of that kind, or the government itself decides to change either because the president or the cabinet or whatever loses the support of their followers, or because there is some kind of radical shift in policy, it is only when those things happen that you get a change in the situation, otherwise it can drag on."
Violet next asked Hawkins if there was such a thing as "an ultimately collapsed economy because so much is not functioning?"
"Well, there may well be, [but] I have never encountered one," said Hawkins. "I draw parallels between Zimbabwe today and, say, Mozambique in the early 1990s. At that time, when you were in Maputo [capital of Mozambique, when Renamo's rebel war was on], you could hear artillery, the guns, from not too far away, and the taxi that picked you up from the airport stopped halfway from town because it had run out of petrol.
"But we haven't got to those stages yet [in Zimbabwe], and the Mozambican economy never collapsed. It continued, and I tend to use that as a parallel to...