The flurry of weird reports out of Zimbabwe this week would be funny if they weren't so sad.
Loopy exhibit #1: the return of pointless price controls. On Tuesday, the government announced that shop-owners were being greedy so all retail prices would have to revert back to prices from 6 days earlier. Of course the real reason for the spike was the issuance of a new Z$100 million bill (or what would have been a Z$1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bill back in July before they cut off 10 zeros). The new note was worth US$50 on the street last Wednesday, but crumpled to under $4 in less than a week. (What else to expect from 231,000,000% inflation driven by printing money?)
Exhibit #2 (and by far the most hilarious) is the central bank governor's launch of his memoirs. Gideon Gono, certainly the worst central banker in the world, not only crows about his adept handling of the economy, but adds:
Just as I was being dragged to the UN Security Council to be put on the sanctions list, I was offered a job by the World Bank as senior vice president," Dr. Gono told guests who attended the official launch of the book. “This was with the full blessings of none other than George W. Bush himself and the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.” In response to the offer, Dr. Gono said he wrote a letter to the World Bank, asking how the bank, controlled by the U.S. and its European allies, would offer him a job when he was on its targeted sanctions list. Dr Gono said the WB promised it would remove him from the list and "see what to do with his friends already on the sanctions list.
Indeed. And Obama wants Mugabe as his new secretary for Health and Human Services.
Health actually brings us to Exhibit #3, the saddest and most alarming. Just as the cholera death toll rose to 783 and the South African government declared a state of emergency along the border, Mugabe yesterday announced "there is no cholera." Denial of humanitarian emergencies is standard stuff for tyrants. But is is also a very worrying signal that not only does the government not care whit about its own people (that has been clear for a while), but that it is growing more desperate and erratic.
The international community needs to keep the pressure on, quickly prepare contingency plans for a collapse of public order, and think about post-transition recovery.