My Take

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe recognised for all the wrong reasons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 October, 2015, 1:54am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2017, 7:13pm

Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize may parcel out their awards with one eye on Beijing. It's doubtful they will ever hand the prize to anyone not to its liking.

On the other hand, they could have saved China much international embarrassment if they exercised a bit more critical thinking.

The latest winner is Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. At 91, he is the longest-serving political leader in Africa, having ruled his impoverished country since independence in 1980. With 3-1/2 decades, that's plenty of time to pull his country out of extreme poverty and turn it into a middle-income country, if not a Singapore in Africa.

But instead, under Mugabe's rule, life expectancy dropped from 62 years in 1990 to 36 in 2006.

From 2000, when he ordered the confiscation of farms owned by whites, the economy took a nosedive. Agricultural production dropped by 73 per cent, unemployment hit more than 90 per cent, inflation soared to 250 million per cent and the population was reduced to earning an average of just US$2 per day by 2008. At the same time, Zimbabwe's gross domestic product contracted by half between 2000 and 2008.

Today, 83 per cent of the official US$4 billion annual budget is spent on 550,000 government workers, out of the total 800,000 formal jobs. Most Zimbabweans, however, make a living in the informal economy or the black market.

It strikes me that Mugabe is the exact opposite of the type of authoritarian rulers in Southeast Asia whose relative competence in economic management has propelled one country after another to economic success in the last half century.

If the Chinese communist rulers have any legitimacy, it is that they have pulled more than half a billion Chinese out of poverty and are on course to repeat the feat with another half billion over the next decade.

If the prize's organisers really want to pick an African leader who has achieved economic success while remaining authoritarian, I suggest an obvious choice: Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

That would be a choice that even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund would find hard to dispute.