February 6th, 2013
11:35 AM ET

Did you have more cash than Zimbabwe's government last week?

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By Global Public Square staff

Zimbabwe's finance minister made a remarkably honest disclosure last week. Tendai Biti told reporters that his government had very little money left in its public account, $217 U.S. to be exact; no, not $217 million or billion, $217.

Zimbabwe has made these kinds of headlines before. At one point in 2008, annual inflation hit an estimated 96 sextillion percent. This the number 9 followed by 22 zeros. The Central Bank was forced to print a $100 trillion note which now sells on EBay for a few U.S. dollars.

But once Zimbabweans adopted American currency as legal tender, hyperinflation stopped and the economy stabilized. According to the International Monetary Fund, GDP grew by more 6 percent in 2009 and then nearly 10 percent for each of the next two years.
It is now projected to grow around 5 percent per year through 2014. So, despite the seemingly robust growth, why does this nation of 13 million people have $217 in its state coffers? What in the world is going on?

We should add that Zimbabwe’s finance minister later clarified that $30 million had been added to the government’s account since he last spoke. But even that amount is a pittance for a modern state.

It is, however, a telling symbol of Zimbabwe's status. Imagine asking a multinational company to invest in Zimbabwe. Transparency International puts this country at 163 in the world in its latest corruption rankings. The World Bank ranks it 172 for ease of doing business. Zimbabwe has gone from being Africa's breadbasket to its basket case. The country’s basic problem is not economic, but political.

Zimbabwe has known only one real leader in all its existence – Robert Mugabe, the man who helped the country gain independence in 1980. Mugabe will be 89 this February and he’s made clear he wants to contest elections once again this year. The man who could challenge him, opposition leader, Moran Tsvangirai, is currently the prime minister, a post that was created in the last election in a power-sharing deal. But Tsvangirai’s power and influence is severely limited.

Mugabe and his ZANU PF party control many of the most important ministries as well as the police and military. As with the last election, many observers expect violence, threats and bribery to influence how people to vote.

Meanwhile, the ruling party continues to steal this poor country blind. In November, a Canadian watchdog alleged that more than $2 billion worth of diamonds have gone missing in Zimbabwe since 2008.

And it's not just diamonds. Tendai Biti, the same guy who raised the alarm about the state’s finances, told a newspaper last year that the mining sector produced exports totaling $2.5 billion in 2011.

But only $150 million of that went to the government's official coffers. That’s 94 percent of revenue missing, and even the country's finance minister doesn't know what happened. Where does this money go? Average Zimbabweans hear reports of how $1 million was spent on President Mugabe's lavish 88th birthday last year. Meanwhile, the national per capita income is barely more than a dollar a day.

If elections this year were truly free and fair, we could expect big changes. But don't expect fair elections this year, unless the world polices it very carefully. Zimbabwe has disappeared from the front pages, but the tragedy in that country continues.

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Topics: Africa • What in the World?

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Changu

    Off course i did if that was true. But to be honest i think i had more than the USA with all its debt........

    February 6, 2013 at 11:57 am | Reply
    • BobPitt

      Where do you live Changu? Do you know how big the US economy is? Even with the debt they still are richer than a bunch of countries together.. I can tell you did not know that..

      February 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Reply
      • Aaron

        Actually, he's right. The United States is so heavily in debt that we may never recover from it. Don't sit on the American throne and look down on these third world countries when the floor underneath us is hollow.

        February 10, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Me

      Out of that 16 Trillion debt 10 Trillion we owe ourselves. of the 6 trillion remaining we have 89 cents on the dollar in foreign reserves and assets. Check Wekipedia.

      February 10, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Reply
      • Tomk777

        16 trillion in debt? Try almost 100 trillion when you factor in the unfunded liability of Medicare, and Social Security. As for owing ourselves, that's a line of bull, borrowing from future generations that aren't even born yet is STILL debt.

        February 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  2. john wambua

    I would like to personally congratulate mugabe for leading zimbabwe to independence;however,his overstay in power has bled so many ills:corruption,impunity etc just but to mention.Eventually $237 in its coffers.I think it is high time internationals communities interviened to save poor zimbabweans.

    February 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I agree john, as long as it's not the U.S., Great Britain or France doing it. These countries just want to extend their control and exploit other countries' resources.

      February 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Reply
      • the REAL George S. Patton

        It's pretty clear you hate all western countries. Go live in North Waziristan with all your friends.

        February 8, 2013 at 11:30 am |
      • SCBAMA

        Then who?

        February 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • Frank

        I couldn't agree more. It's high time we stopped sending hundreds of millions dollars into the vast cesspool known as Africa.

        February 8, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
      • Joe Smith

        Good. I don't want the US, Britan or France to do it. Let's let China!! Just wait until they bleed the country and leave with nothing... or better yet, why don't you look across one of the other pathetically unsuccessful countries in your disease ridden continent. Let's keep our money in the US

        February 9, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
      • luke

        who would you prefer,russia, china or maybe north korea

        February 11, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • BobPitt

      Rhodesia under Ian Smith was the bread basket of Africa, how can you say Mugabe the most corrupt individual in the world is good for Zimbabwe? I bet you Mugabe has a few billions on his Swiss account.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Reply
    • Hasai

      Why bother? Mugabe and his cronies would just siphon it all off into their own bank accounts.

      February 9, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Reply
    • Paleotech1

      Long live Ian Smith!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 10, 2013 at 10:03 am | Reply
  3. Tyler Bell

    I imight be niave, but how much does the US have in its coffers? http://www.usdebtclock.org/?

    February 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • BobPitt

      For starters think of Fort Knox.

      February 8, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • think about it this way


      February 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Reply
    • Sane Person

      You're right, you are naive. The US not only has incredible yearly income of ~$13.5 trillion, but owns $190 trillion in assets. Sort of puts 16 trillion "debt" into perspective. If you owned $2 million in assets, with another 135k yearly income, you really wouldnt be too worried about $150k worth of debt.

      February 9, 2013 at 7:49 am | Reply
      • Tomk777

        Yes I would but that's just me, I don't believe there is such a thing as good debt.

        February 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • geeworker

      judging by your smug statement that also included a link to the debt the only answer you will accept is a negative remark so do us all a favor a give us the answer you want and quit wasting our time

      February 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  4. Simbarashe Dziruni

    Every political or economic problems we have in Zimbabwe was caused by Mugabe and his corrupt party.The simple things are ignored. Get rid of Mugabe and ZANU Pf ,and watch Zimbabwe flourish. I am not economist or an expect , but please, release the money from the diamonds. I am sure that is enough to sustain Zimbabwe. Please release the money and use it for the nation not for individuals.
    Where is the hope? I miss you Zimbabwe. Think of you every day.

    February 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  5. zedan

    The most powerful games full and free

    February 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Reply
    • Joel

      Could someone point out the 'report' button?

      February 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  6. Carl

    Hi Fareed,

    I'm a vreat admirer of your program. My kids even say I like you more than my wife. Your take provides guidance on world affairs and I often qoute you in discussions.

    I however happen to know the politics of Zimbabwe very well. Your article lacks insight and is outdated, feeding a generated international perception on zimbabwe that has been detrimental to its past and will conrinue hamper the possibilities of a peaceful future. Mugabe might well win a free and fair election, if we allow such to go ahead, because people in Zim, like in most countries, prefer this to the option of being run by the West. With your influence, you should try help policy makers to make the right desicions on Zim, not keep feeding a populist agenda.

    A disapointed follower.

    February 7, 2013 at 2:26 am | Reply
    • Erick

      And how much did diaperbag mugabe pay you to write that nonesense on this post

      February 8, 2013 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • Lauren R

      Mugabe needs to go! The poor people of Zim can do better. No one wants them to be ruled by the West – Just fairly
      Did Mugabe give u a stolen diamond for ur post?

      February 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Reply
      • shanghaikat

        Be nice..Fareed is just an outsider looking in (dare I say reposting what has already been covered on the net?)

        And yes Mugabe needs to go, but that's easier said than done, believe me we have been trying.

        February 11, 2013 at 2:25 am |
    • Crystal

      But how is it right he's been in power for 30 years? Something is clearly not right here.

      February 8, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Reply
    • zeDuck

      with all due respect Carl, im Zimbabwean and I know very well that if a free and fair election was held, Mugabe would not win. I have seen first hand the intimidation that the media talks about. it has happened to my family members and now i wonder what Zimbabwe you are talking about in which Mugabe will win a free and fair election.

      February 9, 2013 at 3:00 am | Reply
  7. rightospeak

    Zimbabwe and Haiti are similar. In case of Haiti all ruling Whites were killed and they have been a mess ever since. In Zimbabwe called Rhodesia before, there was order and a stable economy. The Globalists wanted to rip off the natural resources so they forced a change and now they are in worse economic slavery than before. Draw your own conclusions.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:54 am | Reply
    • USAPeasant

      Lol, you think Mugabe is a globalist? Lol!!!!! Mugabe nationalized much of his country's resources and business. As a result of lack or trade and rampant internal corruption Zimbabwe's economy has been in the crapper for decades. A little bit of globalism would actually help Zimbabwe. The only problem is that due to the corruption and uncertainty with the Zimbabwean government no international business wants to invest in Zimbabwe.

      February 9, 2013 at 3:04 am | Reply
    • mapuwei chiutsi

      You are lie.lf elections are done today Mugabe will win big time.Its only the prt in Zimbabwe.l love Zimbabwe as is

      February 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Hasai

      I don't know what you're smoking, but it's really messing up your head. Have you the faintest idea who Robert Mugabe is, or his history? Are you in love with Charles Taylor as well?

      February 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Reply
    • Wil Majaji

      Oh cut that crap! A people fought for independence from the same tyranny that the American people fought. Is it an wonder that the British are a dying empire. So you come here and spill your trash about Ian Smith! I pity you. Meanwhile, as much as you may criticize Zimbabwe, the country is removing from a decade old sanctions regime. Fareed just got excited for nothing. You criticize a country in black whilst whist praising those in red. This is the hight of lunacy! I have followed Fareed for a long time and I certainly expect better than this rumor mongering

      February 12, 2013 at 7:24 am | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Yes Zimbabwe's public account is nearly empty, but Mugabe's entourage and his officials have stolen cash in foreign currencies tucked away in their sprawling villas. Mugabe epitomises an inglorious end of a once revolutionary hero, fighting for the freedom of his people. Today he's nothing but just a thief!

    February 7, 2013 at 10:41 am | Reply
  9. bola

    Looking For a Job?

    February 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  10. Jon

    That is still quite a bit more than the US has stashed away, which is somewhere on the order of -$16T.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • Satan

      The U.S. does not have -$16T. Do you really not understand the difference between revenues and debt? Debt is a liability...meaning it is UNREALIZED...meaning it is to be paid over time with a liquidation date sometime in the future. Funds borrowed go into the Treasury. The reason the debt is such a problem is because the U.S. government BOTH spends too much and doesn't collect enough TAX REVENUE. If they simply raise taxes AND cut spending, the debt stops being such a serious issue. The United States' problem is 100% self-correctable...no one wants to do what needs to be done. So if the American people and their leaders are unwilling to make difficult decisions to benefit the greater good, then I will enjoy watching the country flush itself down the toilet. It's really, REALLY difficult to feel sorry for a country that has ability and power to solve it's own problem but refuses to do so.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply
  11. Satan

    Interesting. At least they're back in the black. LOL

    U.S. currency saves the day.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
  12. iceload9

    Surprised they had that much. Someone must have miscalculated their withdrawal before exiting the country.

    February 8, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply
  13. mrwhatwhatwhatyo

    how much is hidden?

    February 8, 2013 at 11:50 am | Reply
  14. Mr.Knowitall

    @rightospeak – Except you forgot to mention the US and Europe put up a trade embargo against Haiti in the 1800s, the world's oldest black republic which crippled their economic development from the start. And as far as Zimbabwe goes the West was not concerned with this African dictator running the show during the cold war as long as he was on our side. We could have acted a long time ago but now that the Cold War is long gone we call him out for being a dictator. Kinda like how Saddam was our buddy for a long time until he invaded our oil-rich little buddy Kuwait.

    February 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Reply
    • Been there, done that

      for Mr. Knowitall:

      Mugabe was never on "our side" during the Cold War – he was educated in Russia, propped up by various international communist governments, and lied to the world about the face of the "new" Rhodesia – composed of black, white, south asian and 'colored' (a southern African term for mixed race). Once the handover agreements worked out with the international community expired (after about 10 years), he began 'nationalizing' land (i.e., stealing from white farmers and giving it to his cronies) and raping the economy.

      His wife was caught in the late 80's in the Athens airport with millions in US dollars in her suitcase. Mugabe was also the 2nd place bidder for the Dorchester hotel in London – pretty good for a former "man-of-the-people" freedom fighter... who actually didn't do any fighting. Read history.

      I was there.

      February 8, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Small correction , Mr.Knowitall. Saddam was sert up.You are right , he was our buddy. Unfortunately , U.S. ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam that the US would not mind if he invaded Kuwait , which was skewed drilling into his oil fields. Bush wanted his war and the oil to get his friends rich. The rest is history.

      February 9, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Reply
    • JW Booth

      Our trade embargo destroyed Haiti? Are you nuts? What destroyed Haiti's economy is that the then-reed ex-slaves didn't want to work in the cane fields with a 6-7 year life expectancy, so they stopped producing the cash crop that had made St. Domaingue famous. It wasn't any embargo – besides we Americans were famous for trading with the guy being embargoed – the poor Haitians didn't want to die in the cane fields anymore and I don't blame them.

      February 11, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  15. Kobe Bryant

    Good. Let them go bankrupt. That's what you get for killing white farmers. I hope all zims enjoy eating bug sandwiches. Well, I gotta run. Gonna go fire up a steak. I win !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • BobPitt

      Is that a wildebeest, or gnu steak?

      February 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • unaware

      You do not win. I can bet on that. You wouldn't think you had won this "game" nor claim any false "winnings" if you had any talent to "win" anything else. I can bet you are a loser

      February 8, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Reply
    • mapuwei chiutsi

      lm a happy Zimbabwe and l know where l come from.Do listern news from the West they are full of bull sh****t.We have have everything we need.

      February 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  16. unaware

    um. Our country have NEGATIVE 16 trillion....thats the number 16 followed by 12 zeros.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Reply
    • CJ in Cali

      No, we don't. That's debt... what the article is talking about is cash currently on hand. Zimbabwe, I would guess, has debt as well.

      To put it in perspective... do you have enough cash in your checking account to pay off all your debts RIGHT NOW? 99.9% of people with debts don't, so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that a government doesn't either. But having less cash on hand than what the average American might spend at the grocery store, is definitely news for a national government....

      February 10, 2013 at 11:43 am | Reply
      • Wil Majaji

        You are more gullible than I thought. If you think for one moment that the gvt of Zimbabwe had 217 then I don't know what to think of you. What Fareed failed to mention was that in the next sentence finance minister Biti was using 217 as a metaphor. In essence the next elections will cost Zimbabwe $300 million. So you can be a fool and cheer up Fareed if you choose so

        February 12, 2013 at 7:33 am |
  17. TruthSeeker

    I bet the real value of the goods exported was much more than the $2.5 billion that is being reported, and which now cannot be traced. The US/EU probably agreed not to freeze the offshore bank accounts of Zimbabwean leaders if they (Zimbabwe) deliberately undersold their products.

    How the US/EU benefits through such back end deals:

    1) Paying a lot less for commodities that are worth a lot more
    2) Turning a blind eye to the billions of $$$ of Zimbabwean black money that is deposited in NON-
    INTEREST bearing (no interest accruing to Zimbabwe) off shore bank accounts (owned by the West)
    3) #2 keeps domestic interest rates down and the West also has easy access to the funds-at a later time Mugabe et al
    can be disposed off ala Saddam and all that money would just belong to the US/EU
    4) Because local economy is messed up, demand for $ or Euro increases, again benefiting the countries that print these

    Mugabe is just a puppet. The puppets that fall out of line or the brave few that dare to take a stand are disposed off. It takes two hands to clap.

    February 9, 2013 at 12:16 am | Reply
  18. USAPeasant

    Excellent article! Don't even really need any further commentary as everything is pretty much laid out in the article.

    February 9, 2013 at 2:55 am | Reply
  19. smitvict

    Anyone who researches the racist history of the current government in Zimbabwe will have a hard time feeling sorry for them. Zimbabwe used to be the bread basket of Africa, then they nationalized the white owned farms and gave plots of land to the blacks. They went from efficient farming that more than fed the people of Zimbabwe to starvation. So stupid.

    February 9, 2013 at 8:57 am | Reply
  20. BigC

    They need US to fix their problem, cuz obviously they can't do it themselves.

    February 9, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  21. Joe

    I'd rather have $217 than negative $16,514,539,000,000. Looks like Zimbabwe is doing pretty well compared to the US.

    February 9, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Reply
    • CJ in Cali

      Two different things. The article is talking about cash-on-hand, not debt. I'm sure the US has more cash than that – they would have to, simply to cover payments that haven't gone through yet and things like that.

      February 10, 2013 at 11:45 am | Reply
  22. floridasboy

    This is how they handle their money in africa... and guess who is in the white house... So the economy is going to in the toilet for 4 more years and maybe even more time will be needed to reverse the afro-engineering that has been thrust on this nation. Thank a democrap.

    February 9, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  23. Partyforever

    My father went to Harare in 2012, the blacks have driven millions of whites from Zimbabwe. Specifically Mugabe did it. Took everything they owned. The whites left with absolutely nothing. Their money in the banks was even frozen and seized by Mugabe.

    February 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Reply
  24. CPT obvious

    Wait doesn't the U.S.A. have a negative balance in its bank account with creditors asking for cash too.. i thought this was a positive story of an African country being fiscally responsible and after all of last years payments and costs were ahead $200 bucks.. that's what a few trillion better then the USA.

    February 9, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Reply
    • CJ in Cali

      And you call yourself Captain Obvious?

      The article is discussing cash-on-hand, NOT debt. The difference? One is your checking account, the other is your house and car payments. Does your bank bounce checks because you haven't paid your whole home loan off yet? Didn't think so....

      February 10, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply
  25. David Koni

    Dearest Mr. Mugabe

    It is my great pleasure to write to you and present my business proposal for your consideration and possible acceptance which you will find mutually beneficial to both parties.

    I am Engr. David Koni, the Chairman of the Contract Award Committee,Cotonou Republic Du Benin W.Africa, We need a trust-worthy partner to assist us in the transfer of (US$11,5M) ELEVEN MILLION, FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND UNITED STATES DOLLARS.for further investment in your country,

    You will be required to:
    (1) Assist us in the transfer of this sum to your bank account in your Country.

    (2) Advise on areas for potential future investment in your country

    (3) Assist us in carrying out the feasibility study before actual investment. If you decide to render your service to us in this regard,you will be paid 20% of the total funds for assistnce.Reply back this email if you are willing to work with us.

    Engr. David Koni.
    Chairman Contract Award Committee {BCAC}

    February 10, 2013 at 12:38 am | Reply
  26. Milagros

    The plundering of the cesspool called Zimbabwe pales in comparison to the mismanagement and outright theft that occurs in the USA. It starts with the various 'taxing authorities' who confiscate our earnings and use the proceeds to solidify their power over us. We are forced under threat of imprisonment to enrich our oppressors. Who cares about Zimbabwe? We have plenty of problems here.

    February 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  27. Matt

    Ruled by Whites and Western Blacks and it is one of the richest nations in Africa, Ruled by liberal Black Nationalists and it collapsed. Same thing is happening in good ole USA with the liberals.

    It isn't skin-color though, it is mentality. Everywhere these anti-Western Black liberals took over, there has been chaos.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Reply
  28. Jerry

    $217? Nope, they still had more than I do on the day after my Disability check arrives.

    February 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  29. Is it for Sale?

    Hmm I wonder how much I could buy Zimbabwe for? Heck I would buy it and probably do an better job of running it as many times I have beat Sim City and Civilizations, lol.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:09 am | Reply

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