Gideon Gono: 'it is a miracle how we survived' ... Zimbabwe's ex-central bank governor tells all.

Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Position:Zimbabwe - Cover story

Dr Gideon Gono (pictured left), who retired in December 2013, after a 10-year tenure as governor of the country's central bank, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, was at the forefront of the country's fight to survive crippling economic sanctions, the most punitive ever imposed on any African country by Western governments and institutions. Meant as a tool for "regime change" in reaction to Zimbabwe's land reform programme, the sanctions led to the implosion of Zimbabwe's economy, and it was left to the efforts of President Robert Mugabe, Dr Gono and the Zimbabwean leadership to stem the tide. How Zimbabwe survived the sanctions is the story told here in graphic detail, and exclusively to our editor, Baffour Ankomah, by the man who was at the eye of the storm. This is Dr Gono's first interview since his retirement as he has adamantly refused to speak to the media.

Q: You were in office for 10 years as governor of Zimbabwe's central bank. Did you enjoy your time as governor and how would you like to be remembered in respect of that time?

When the story of Zimbabwe's survival between 2000 and 2008 is finally told, and told accurately, not by people who want to claim public credit for Zanu-PF's 2013 electoral victory as if they are, or they were the only factor in that victory, the ending will probably read something like: "When it was easier to give up than continue: when some people who today bask in the glory of the country's survival were throwing stones at it; when the country faced its greatest danger and economic onslaught post the liberation struggle; and when dark nights seemed to last forever with no dawn appearing in sight; when spring, summer and autumn seemed to have permanently disappeared from Zimbabwe's seasonal calendars leaving unending the chills of winter for its people, he was there.

"He was there to defend the country, to stand by its people, by its economy and stood by all its legislature, executive and judiciary. He stood by its industry, its miners, farmers, security, defence and law enforcement machinery, and sustained them all in defence of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. He was bashed left, right and centre but he and his team, under the wise leadership and guidance of President Robert Mugabe, remained standing, until a political solution was found which later brought in five years of sustained economic stability and growth."

That is how, in its sober moments, I think Zimbabwe itself sees my tour of duty over the last 10 years. I am sure that even my worst enemies will agree that Zimbabwe could have by now been turned into an Afghanistan or Somalia, with refugees all over and millions having died in what might have been the worst "human, not monetary inflation" in terms of the number of deaths that had ever been recorded in a post independent African country, if we had not done what we did. Some would be criticising me from their graves -that is, if the dead people were in a position to tell their tales!

Now, did I enjoy it? Of course there was no choice but to execute my duties with an outward passion that depicted equanimity and to suppress the internal misery, anger and hurt.

Q: You must have had high and low moments during your tenure, let's begin with you telling us some of the low points?

Well, I believe that the essence of leadership is to avoid sinking when the tide is low or being swept off your course when the tide is high. In both cases, the courage to remain in the water, the creativity to navigate out of the high or low tides, and conviction and common sense are what the ship's captain requires.

President Mugabe has all these qualities and some of us who worked closely with him literally every day, during all the economic challenges of my governorship, were cushioned from the worst effects of that traumatic period by his sheer wisdom and dexterity in motivating troops under attack.

There were, however, some incidents that the president could not do anything about so I got really affected. One such was when my three children, Passion, Pride, and Praise were chased out of Australian universities as sacrificial lambs to feed the ego of the MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who was on a visit to that country. In order to appease him, the Australians took revenge on innocent children whose parents were being accused of standing in the way of Tsvangirai's failed regime change agenda.

My three children were at various universities in Australia and they were deported together with five other students belonging to Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramai, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, Commissioner General of Police Augustine Chihuri, and Legislator David Chapfika.

It was a very sad moment for us to go and receive these innocent children from the airport. Up to today, we and the children reflect upon that dreadful act, considering that it is a long-held tradition in any conflict situation that women and children should not be deliberately targeted.

An eight-day visit by Tsvangirai led to eight children's academic lives being sacrificed. Thankfully, President Mugabe asked me to try to financially assist the children to find alternative universities, and today, the kids have found their feet again. But minus any apology from my homeboy, Tsvangirai, whose village ironically now falls under my political leadership as the Buhera Senator-designate, in Manicaland Province.

Q: That was the first low point?

Yes, the second low moment in my tour of duty was when I woke up one day in July 2008 to find my name among a so-called "criminal cabal who now make up the Mugabe regime" (in the words of the then British prime minister, Gordon Brown), splashed all over the internet, especially on the Daily Telegraph website in Britain. Brown, and the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had drafted a UN Security Council resolution seeking to prevent me and 13 other Zimbabwean officials from travelling anywhere outside Zimbabwe or risk being arrested for non-existent crimes other than serving our country faithfully.

The other members of the so-called "cabal" were: President Robert Mugabe, General Constantine Chiwenga, Comrades Emmerson Mnangagwa, Augustine Chihuri, Perence Shiri, Happison Bonyongwe, Paradzai Zimondi, David Parirenyatwa, George Charamba, among others.

The third low point came in February 2012 when I discovered, to my great surprise, that my former personal assistant and policy advisor had for eight years been conspiring and working against me. I wasted no time in firing him. But in what I thought was an amicable separation, after being paid, the next day he was all over the place making all manner of allegations against me that the courts are still to decide on. To say I felt severely betrayed by his untruthful utterances and absurd claims against me is a serious understatement. Obviously I can't say much beyond this because the matter is due to come for trial in September 2014, after which the real truth and motives behind the betrayal shall be exposed.

Q: You single out three low points, what of the high points?

Sure, sure you cannot talk of hell without heaven. The high points were in fact many more than the low points. I will single out just one or two.

In 2005, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) publicised to the world that they were going to expel Zimbabwe from the IMF membership over I our arrears, which amounted to $120m. Because of the catastrophic effect of such an eventuality on Zimbabwe and the SADC region as a whole, incredible diplomatic efforts were made and pressure applied to Zimbabwe through regional power blocs to get Zimbabwe to accept help from certain quarters on condition that President Mugabe would publicly announce when he would step down from office and also, dismiss certain ministers in his cabinet.

Of course the president rejected such conditionality and together we calculated how we were going to rescue the country using our own resources. This we succeeded in doing and with less than 24 hours of the deadline, the world woke up to the news that Zimbabwe had settled its arrears, to the great chagrin of its detractors.

The pleasure of walking in the IMF corridors of power and addressing the IMF Board, who, instead of being happy that we had settled our arrears, were now criticising us for "wasting scarce foreign currency resources on debt clearance instead of buying food and medicines for the people", simply threw me into a state of uncontrolled positive shock over what I regarded as a hypocritical concern for the welfare of our people, yet inside their folders the same Board was carrying papers to close us down for non-payment of our arrears.

Another high point was when we had run out of foreign currency to buy anything and everything we wanted, including fuel, medicines, fertilisers and seeds, food and critical spare parts for our intelligence, defence, and military machinery among other needs.

We decided to convert our Zimbabwe dollars into foreign currency in a legal and transparent way without violating any international laws. You would therefore read reports predicting that Zimbabwe would close shop in so many days time, yet come the appointed time, the country was booming. It is these and many other mind games which are responsible for our continued survival during those...

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