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How the Hell Did Zimbabwe End Up with Just $217 in the Bank?

I once found $200 on the floor of a gas station. If I'd known that made me richer than a country, I wouldn't have been so bummed about having to spend it all on tax debts.

Left to right: Tendai Biti, Morgan Tsvangirai, Joice Mujuru, Robert Mugabe

Last week, the Zimbabwean government announced that after paying public workers’ salaries, its bank balance is sitting at a pitiful $217. TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN DOLLARS. I once found $200 on the floor of a gas station. If I'd known that made me richer than a country, I wouldn't have been so bummed about having to spend it all on tax debts.


The information came from Finance Minister Tendai Biti who—as far as politicians in Zimbabwe go—is about as honest as it gets. Biti is the secretary general of the MDC party—the good guys who’ve spent their entire existence being hurled off the edges of cliffs and dangled from helicopters by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Back in 2008, their party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, made a deal with the devil and agreed to share power with Mugabe. As Zimbabwe's new finance minister, poor Biti was dropped right in the steaming pile of shit that continues to double as the country's bank vault.

I bet he’s wishing now that they still had Zimbabwe dollars, because that pathetic balance would look a whole lot more impressive with a thousand pointless zeros hanging off the end. Plus, it would be increasing by the hour. The haters said that Zimbabwe’s 231 million percent inflation rate and hundred trillion dollar notes were turning the country into a laughing stock. And they were right, but it's probably better to have everyone laughing at you than to realize your government couldn't afford to take you out on a date to an expensive restaurant.

Here’s a little list of all the crazy wastage and embezzlement that’s catapulted Mugabe’s darling nation into the realm of how-the-fuck-did-this-even-happen.

A few years ago, diamonds were discovered in the Marange area of Zimbabwe. Obviously, a big possession-war broke out, and there were scandals and slaves and tortures and murders, but what’s in the past has passed. The important thing is that last year Zim’s diamond trade topped $680 million. This was despite trade sanctions that were imposed on Zimbabwe by just about every country in the world.


However, of the $600 million the government expected from the diamond trade, less that $40 million actually found its way to the central purse. No one can say for sure exactly where the rest of it disappeared to, but somehow Zimbabwe’s bank balance currently sits at a value of about one single 0.25-carat diamond.

While the Zimbabwean people drown in poverty, their president lives like Gatsby. Mugabe’s motorcade alone is compiled of about ten outrider motorbikes, ambulances, police cars, and armed military vehicles, and they're all bursting with the bloodthirsty North Korean-trained Red Berets. Behind them hides Mugabe, his luxury limo protected by a diamond of bomb-proof, bullet-proof, everything-proof black cars. And you best pull off the road when you hear it coming, because Thou Shalt Not Drive on The Same Road as His Excellency, or you're liable to find yourself arrested or smashed straight through and burned to death.

Sometimes even the people in Mugabe's motorcade aren't safe—one of the motorbike riders from his escort died last year after colliding with a homeless man.

One of the motorbike riders in Mugabe's motorcade died last year

The first thing Mugabe did when he started his transformation from weary freedom fighter to industrious cunt was kick all the capable farmers off their land. His strategy was to take the land back from the British (white farmers) and redistribute it to the Zimbabwean peasants. By peasants, he clearly meant friends, family, other corrupt ministers, and, of course, their friends and family. Mugabe himself owns 39 of these farms.


The problem with this, other than the obvious, is that the people who now own the farms don’t actually know how to farm. So the land that once flourished with tobacco, maize, and livestock has lain barren for years. The "bread basket of Africa" is essentially empty, which means it cannot even feed its own people, let alone fuel exports. Now Zimbabwe has to pay for the food it once picked from its own gardens, and obviously it can’t afford to do that.

Zimbabwe is due to have elections at the end of March, but this new predicament means it can’t actually fund them. Ironically, it's begging the international community for the $192 million it’s going to cost to hold them. Mugabe hates the "colonial West" (especially you, America!), but now he’s more than happy to hold out his hands and beg.

It’s hard to know whether this determination to eventually hold “free and fair harmonious elections” is a good or bad thing. The people of Zimbabwe are desperate for elections—regardless of how much blood will be spilt this time—because they are literally dying to get Mugabe out.

Although, having said that, Mugabe has just adjusted the constitution to further suit his selfishness. This means that if he wins the elections (and let’s be honest, he has years of vote rigging in his favor) then he will be able to smother Zimbabwe for another decade. In which case, he better have big plans for that $217.

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