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  • Writer's picturerutendo matinyarare

Zimbabwe’s 133 Year Debt Trap.


Debt has become one of the biggest weapons or instruments of exploitation (usury) upon the Zimbabwean people and most of that debt has its roots in colonialism or the neo-colonial machinations that followed to keep the nation under western hegemony.

To start with, most debt that we have, not only in Zimbabwe but Africa in general, was created through the contravention of UN resolution 2625 (XXV): The 1970 Declaration of the Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States In Accordance with the Charter Of The United Nations, which advocates equality, sovereignty, non-interference and non-coercion by nations (particularly western powers upon their former colonies, after Resolution 1815 enjoined the end of colonialism) in the affairs of sovereign nations.

As a result, since independence, Zimbabwe has been pressured by colonial underdevelopment, 17 years of liberation war, 13 years of UN sanctions deindustrializing Rhodesia which was to become Zimbabwe, colonial debt and western destabilization, into borrowing a total of US$8 billion from western countries and institutions, to rebuild a country destroyed by imperialism but denied reparations.

Of that debt, the nation has repaid over $12.6 billion and is still said to owe western nations and the Paris Club in excess of $10.5 billion and rising, due to interest that keeps escalating according to Bloomberg.

What is concerning is Zimbabwe is repaying debts to countries and institutions unjustly enriched by colonizing Zimbabwe but the country was never paid anything for the 90 years in which these colonial powers unjustly enriched themselves by stealing Zimbabwean wealth and exploiting its resources and labor.

And even though Zimbabwe has been independent for forty one years, western powers continue to use the coercion of illegal sanctions, to pressure the Zimbabwean government into taking more debt to compensate white settler farmers in an effort to ensure that the nation remains firmly under the western orbit through debt.

This is called the colonial debt trap, that was intentionally engineered by western countries -well before Zimbabwe became independent- as a means to maintain their suzerainty over former colonies. It’s a means of continuing colonialism by the same coercion [by economic coercive measures] denounced by UN agreements that include 18/15, 26/25 (XXV), 44/215, HRC/RES/2721, HRC/34/13 and many others.

The debt trap is an ongoing sanction and form of economic war upon most African countries, which continues to perpetuate western hegemony through poverty, inequality, underdevelopment and dependency.

Unless Africans study and understand this pattern of economic warfare (sanctions/coercion/restriction/hurdles) that has been orchestrated to deprive African countries of their sovereignty, it will be difficult to counter the illegal coercion used by western countries upon Africa and its cost on our development as a continent.

This essay is a rough case study of Zimbabwe, outlining the use of coercive economic measures and the debts that have emanated from the time the country first encountered Anglo Saxons.

The outline is deduced into a chronology to illustrate the correlation between these coercive measures, debt, the effects of compound interest and the position it has left Zimbabwe, as we seek remedy for this injustice.

1890-1980 Colonial Legacy.

For 90 years Zimbabweans have gone through a crime against humanity [called colonialism] that robbed them of essentially everything from their past (history, heritage, legacy), present, future, ideas, thoughts, memories, dreams, labor, property, culture, wealth and capacity.

However, as we fight to understand colonialism and its present manifestation, neo-colonialism, we are driven to make an effort to quantify just how much of our wealth was lost and how much is still being lost to imperialism, rendering our resource rich nations vassals of the west who continue to control our resources centuries later.

By so doing, we can begin to understand just how much we have lost and continue to lose to this crime against humanity.

Understanding this will then enable us to organize ourselves to pursue reparations and restitution from those who consigned us to a life of servitude by dispossessing us of our property while unjustly enriching themselves.

From the 1860s when the first Anglo Saxon explorers like Adam Renders, Willy Posselts and Karl Mauch reached Great Zimbabwe, our country began to lose its values, wealth and systems to deception and primitive accumulation.

The dispossession came in the form of:

1. The desecration of our sacred shrines in Mabweadziva, the Great Zimbabwe, Leopard Plateau (Khami) and Ingombe ilede in Zambia where various priceless artifacts such as the eleven and some say thirteen Zimbabwe birds, were stolen alongside countless ceremonial gold ornaments, gold coins, bowls, knives, vessels (pfuko yaNevanji) and many other treasures.

2. Over 2 million cattle were lost to theft, expropriation, confiscation, forced destocking, meddling and biological warfare by the BSAC (British South Africa Company), the Rhodesian government and pioneer column mercenaries like Frank Johnson, Wilboughys, Meickles and many others who built listed companies from the proceeds of stealing these cattle between 1890 and 1980.

At today's market value, in a functional and unhindered economy like South Africa, pedigree African cattle breeds range from $1500 to $7000, which puts the value of lost cattle at between $3 billion and $14 billion in today’s value.

This calculation does not include the impact of this theft on the growth of our national herd today, which we can estimate by comparing two similar countries: Zimbabwe and Chad which:

a) is disadvantaged by being an arid country,

b) had the same population as Zimbabwe during colonization and has more or less the same today,

c) in 1900 it also had more or less the same number of cattle as Zimbabwe (between 1.5 million and 3 million),

d) its tradition was cattle herding as cattle were a store of wealth and barter as they were in traditional Zimbabwean culture,

e) the major difference between the two countries comes in that the French colonizer did not systematically interfere with Chadian traditional agricultural systems or dilute the genetics and adaptability of local Chadian livestock breeds, as the British did in Rhodesia where they introduced their own breeds and diseases, which destroyed the hardiness of the national herd of Zimbabwe to make it weaker and susceptible to climate change and diseases.

Subsequently, Chad has grown its herd from less that 2 million in 1900, to 29 million cattle (1.9 cattle per person), 37 million sheep, 31 million goats and 8 million camels.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean cattle herd is up to only 5.5million, 6 million goats and 700 00 sheep, illustrating just how much value Zimbabwe (the falsely aclaimed breadbasket of Africa) could have lost to the British mixing of breeds, stealing livestock, destocking and denying blacks land to raise their livestock.

This comparative parity shows a potential loss to Zimbabwe of nothing less than 24 million cattle and over 50 million goats and sheep or nothing less than $45 billion in wealth.

The same was done to our traditional heirloom seeds and farming practices, which were destroyed and in turn affected our ecosystem, climate, food production, diet and health at a huge cost. Now traditional farming practices like permaculture, Pfumbvudza and zero tillage are making a come back to remedy the destruction brought by western farming practices.

3. Over the 90 year period of colonialism, more than $3 billion in today’s value was paid by black Zimbabweans in hut, pole, wife, head, grain, meat, bicycle and other manner of black taxes that were used to develop the infrastructure that was used to export our national wealth.

Hut taxes were recorded to be as high as £1 (£129 today) per hut from 1900 when there were an average of 70 000 huts which expanded to over 700 000 by 1980.

4. Over and above that, 19.8 million square hectares of prime farming land were taken by whites and western companies through the 1930 Land Apportionment Act and Native Land Husbundry Act of 1951.

Such land was primitively accumulated after extensive displacement, destruction of property, loss of livestock, desecration of ancestral burial grounds, the murder of our forefathers and the trafficking of their remains to western Museums.

Meanwhile, another 10 million square hectares were set aside as forestries, plantations and nature reserves controlled by private white companies and the Rhodesian government for the benefit of whites.

At an average rental of $10 per square hectare per month, the rentals lost to Zimbabweans over 90 years are in excess of $313 billion dollars.

Additionally, urban land constitutes over 2941 square kilometers and at an average purchase price of $80 per square meter, the Rhodesian government benefited in excess of $237,4 billion in today’s money and this is without looking at rates earned by their councils over the period.

5. In terms of stolen mineral resources, we had Rhodesian and foreign mining companies extracting estimates of:

a) 1530 tons ($88 billion) of gold over the past 90 years.

b) over 9 500 000 tons of chrome ($1.3 billion),

c) in the region of 90 million tons of coal ($13 billion),

d) 30 million tons of iron ore from 1942 ($3,63 billion),

e) 2000 tons of lithium per year for 90 years.

f) 50 000 tons of nickel per year for 90 years.

6. In terms of wildlife, millions of purebred buffalo, elephant, black and white rhino, sable, pangolin, giant crocodile, python, lion, leopard and other sought after game were culled, trophy hunted, poached, exploited and died of habitat destruction due to white settler practices. Now, with Buffalo going for as much as $20 million in modern auctions, trillions of dollars of Zimbabwe’s wildlife was lost to western greed.

7. Then we have the Master and Servant Act and 1930 Industrial Conciliation Act that legislated the exploitation of black labor and excluded blacks from bargaining for their labor, in a country where workers constituted 12% of the population or about 780 000 people.

a) Over 90% of that workforce was exploited black labor being paid as little as 10% of market rate for 90 years to a point where their wages could not cater for workers upkeep, hence they had to live separated from their families.

b) Black labor remuneration did not include pensions or medical expenses, as a result black workers had to depend on rural subsistence to supplement themselves and their families.

c) According to Dr G Bittison of the Rhodesia-Livingstone institute, over 80% of workers in Rhodesia lived below the poverty datum line. A poverty datum line that was so austere that it did not factor in necessary costs of maintaining the family, education for dependents, healthcare, recreation or personal upkeep when it came to black workers.

d) As a consequence, Rhodesian labor costs were generally 10% of total costs of production which was way below the global benchmark of between 20 and 35%.

In actual fact, black labor in Rhodesia was a form of slave labor in which the slaves were paid just enough to eat and sleep to have enough strength to work the next day. On retirement the same worker would have to go back to their village to subsist off infertile land for the rest of their lives because no pensions were put aside for them.

8. All these costs do not include opportunity cost, lost human lives, lost trees, lost forrests, lost rivers, lost wetlands, lost history, lost culture, lost traditions, environmental degradation, pollution, inherited illnesses and other hidden costs which leave the value lost to Zimbabwe through colonialism at well over $1 trillion.


9. After 90 years of this type of exploitation, Zimbabwe never got any reparations for those nine decades of colonialism, enslavement, theft, genocide, degradation, plunder and unjust enrichment of the settler. This left the nation with a huge loss of value and deficit that is still holding back our progress today.

10. Mines from which over $100 bil of resources and labor had been extracted, were left without reinvestment, many were decapitalized by UN sanctions and 98% of [black] Zimbabweans were not remunerated enough to have savings to invest, handicapping future mining of now hard to reach minerals and industrialization.

Unfulfilled Western Grants.

11. In March 1981, the government of Zimbabwe held the Zimbabwe Conference on Reconstruction and Development (ZIMCORD) to implement its Transitional National Development plan over the first three years of independence.

This was in line with the Lancaster House Agreement which acknowledged that Rhodesia had left inadequate resources to rebuild the nation, thus this donor conference was held and the British, US and EEC pledged US$2.2bil [US$4.7bil in today’s money] in development grants to develop and reconstruct Zimbabwe from the war and colonialism.

Another important part of the pledge was availing funds to buy land from white farmers to advance land reform.

They also promised debt cancellation and preferential trade in exchange for Zimbabwe taking on Rhodesian debt and not to seek reparations from Britain.

Zimbabwe Forced To Borrow.

12. Less than 20% of that donor conference pledge was paid by 1984, thus the government was forced to borrow money from private lenders to close the gap.

13. Additionally, no colonial debt was ever cancelled 41 years later due to the 2001 ZDERA (Zimbabwe Democracy Economic Recovery Act) sanctions prohibiting US, UK and EU directors in multilateral institutions and the Paris Club from voting for debt cancelation for Zimbabwe.

Borrowing From Private Institutions.

14. As indicated above, Zimbabwe inherited US$700mil [$2.7bil in today’s money] high interest Rhodesian colonial debt that needed to be repaid by 1987 at interests of between 11-15% per annum.

As a middle income economy, it means the country had to start borrowing at high interest from private banks, multilateral lending institutions and the Paris Club to repay these colonial debts.

Accordingly, these lenders gave strict conditions for their loans, which included the need to devalue the Zimbabwe dollar to reduce the local production cost base, reducing public spending by freezing government wages, cutting social development projects (building of schools, hospitals and social services), restricting infrastructure development and cutting government subsidies to strategic parastatals like ZISCO, IDC and others, even though these industries had been built and sustained by government subsidies in Rhodesia.

The irony is the conditions the lenders (in particular multilateral lenders) gave were basically a reversal of ZIMCORD objectives, which many of the same lenders’ governments had agreed to.


15. Between 1981 and 1983, the IMF lent Zimbabwe over $300 million which was repaid as $500 million by the end of 1990. That is an interest of over 66% over the 8 years.

As a condition for this loan, the Zimbabwe dollar was devalued, which caused US dollar debt repayments for the colonial debt to escalate by as much as 60%, from the original principle and interest cost. This left the government with no choice but to take new loans from private lenders like Standard Chartered and Barclays to repay these former colonial loans.

With the reduction of government subsidies, the holding of government salaries, reduction in government investment in parastatals and infrastructure; the Zimbabwean economy stagnated and stopped growing until the government departed from the prescripts of lenders’ austerity conditions.


16. More telling, Zimbabwe was denied loans to retool productive strategic industries such as Feruka oil refinery, which needed $2 billion reinvestment to retool after UN sanctions had starved the refinery of maintenance and technology upgrades.

Such a reinvestment would have developed jobs and allowed Zimbabwe to refine fuel and produce other petrol chemical byproducts such as lubricants, fertilizers, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, at a cheaper cost to significantly reduce the fuel, lubricant and chemical import bill, thus eliminating the need for fuel subsidies.


17. That same year there was a global recession which depressed commodity prices and cooled off Zimbabwe’s economy alongside the rest of the world.


18. This recession was accompanied by one of the worst droughts Zimbabwe had seen since 1963. The two events hampered food production, reduced tax revenue, choked the agriculture driven industry and affected foreign debt repayments.

To mitigate this drought, the Zimbabwean government had to take interest bearing loans [instead of being offered grants] from the IMF, to save Zimbabwean lives.


19. By the time we get to 1985, Zimbabwe had borrowed over $1.2 billion in long term loans for the construction of schools, roads, hospitals, resettling 150 000 previously displaced refugees and buying back land from settler farmers.

Civil War And Apartheid Destabilization.

20. From the first day of Zimbabwean independence, the apartheid government began to destabilize that country by sponsoring an uprising in Matebeleland, supporting Mozambican RENAMO rebels (who originated in Rhodesia) to sabotage the Zimbabwean fuel pipeline and freight routes, while imposing sanctions on industry.

Both these insurgencies were funded by the South African apartheid government, the CIA and former colonial governments to destabilize Zimbabwe, destroy infrastructure, break the economy and to cause a civil war to stop the country from being the anchor of the region in its fight against apartheid.

As follows, the Zimbabwean government was forced to call for a state of emergency and to deploy over 12000 soldiers to Matabeleland and Mozambique for 4 years and 9 years respectively, at a cost of over $600 million a day.

Over the period, in excess of $2.6 billion [$4.8 billion today] was lost in the western sponsored apartheid government destabilization of Zimbabwe, deviating funds from infrastructure development; the building of schools, hospitals and national reconstruction. Sources such as the Zimeuro report on Zimbabwean debt and books like Beggar Your Neighbor, suggest that over £2.4 billion ( about $4.4 billion today) was borrowed by Zimbabwe to fund this fight for South African freedom.

National Railways.

21. In infrastructure terms, $400 million [$780 million] was borrowed for National Railways to buy locomotives after South Africa withdrew 25 of its locomotives which it had lent to the Rhodesian government, as a form of sanctions to kick off the destabilization campaign.

By the year 2000, debts, tax revenue and donor funds had been used wisely to build 9000km of tarred roads in addition to the 10 000km of tarred road left by Smith; 5709 schools to compliment the 1660 schools that were there before, 1260 new health facilities (an addition of over 19000 hospital beds) augmented the 567 (11000 hospital beds) that were there before, Mazowe satellite station, 13 teacher training colleges and over 30 research centers.

Western Debt To Advance Western Industry.

22. As part of Zimbabwe’s relationship building and reintegration process into the common wealth, the British government through the CDC (Common Wealth Development Corporation) and the Overseas Development Ministry (now called Dfid), gave Zimbabwe a $160mil loan to buy British made Landrovers, communication equipment and other British products to support their industry.

CDC loans were often higher than 10% per annum and with IMF conditions asking for the constant devaluation of the local currency, foreign currency repayment costs went above what was budgeted for by the Zimbabwean government. Nevertheless, this was the price Zimbabwe was willing to pay for the reciprocal opening of British, Common Wealth and western markets for Zimbabwean exports.

Hwange Power Station.

23. Throughout the 80s, $360 million [1.1 billion today] was lent to Zimbabwe: 105 million from the World Bank and $250 million from British CDC, Italian financiers and private lenders, to fund the construction of Hwange Power Station phases 1 to 6.

By the end of the project, Hwange did not perform optimally as the loans were given on condition that British companies (General Electric Company, Babcock and Mother & Platt) and Italian Ansaldo got the project without competitive bids because they had ties with the lenders.

Wherefore, when the plant was launched it underperformed by 25%, while the continuing devaluation of the dollar saw the project coming in at 65% more than budgeted by the government. As usual, the CDC and the World Bank charged over 11.5% interest per annum on this non-bidded project.

The World Bank would later claim that the project would have a 13% return to the economy, but this was a gross over exaggeration that ignored the impact of local currency devaluation on repaying foreign currency debt from local government coffers.


24. On the land question, the government spent $120 million [$320 million today] on Willing-Buyer-Willing-Seller Land purchases to acquire 3 million hectares of land on which 71000 families were resettled by 1990.

1990 Brettenwoods Debt And ESAP.

25. By 1990, the World Bank had lent Zimbabwe over $500 million through the IBRD (International Bank of Reconstruction), which the country had repaid in full by the end of that decade.

With debt repayments reaching up to 15% of exports, Zimbabwe’s credit rating was downgraded for levels of high debt and not following the restrictive prescripts of the multilateral lending institutions in the 1980s.

Second Severe Drought.

26. Between 1992 and 1995, 2 million Zimbabweans were facing starvation as the country faced two serious droughts, thus the government approached the World Bank for loans.

The IMF and World Bank then proposed restructuring of debts owned by Zimbabwe to private financial institutions and reforms (such programs are known as ESAP: Economic Structural Adjustment Programs or debt restructuring), for them to release future loans.

The government of Zimbabwe agreed to the terms and later in 1992, the World Bank released an interest bearing loan of $140 million [$370 million] for drought relief.

Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, as a middle income country that allegedly had manageable debt, it was not allegible for lower interest loans from institutions like the International Development Association [which lends to poor countries], so all it’s debts would continue to come from institutions with higher interest rates.


27. ESAP is introduced in 1992 (after two years of negotiations) with the release of the drought loan and with immediate effect Zimbabwe had to start implementing reforms.

As part of the reforms, the Zimbabwean government had to:

a) devalue the dollar once again, drastically increasing foreign currency debt repayments,

b) liberalize financial markets, which led to capital flight as investors were permitted to repatriate up to 100% of profits made in Zimbabwe.

c) control inflation, by the reserve bank increasing interest rates to reduce borrowing.

d) open local markets to foreign goods, resulting in an influx of cheap imports and dumping of second hand goods from foreign markets, which killed the textile, shoe, electronics and car industries in the country.

e) stop subsidizing parastatals and small scale farmers to support commercial farmers who grew export crops that would earn foreign currency to repay debts of the same multilateral lending institutions.

Consequences Of ESAP.

28. With less small scale farmers producing local staples, the rising foreign currency exchange and high interest rates prohibiting the purchase of inputs; supply reduced, demand increased, food prices rocketed and inflation began to rise.

Reduction in local borrowing reduced investment in production, increasing demand for manufactured goods, which hiked prices, importation, speculation and gambling on the local money market. As a result local companies and industries folded to aggravate the cycle of inflation, importation, deindustrialization, job losses, currency devaluation and the resultant hyper inflation.

The relaxation of labor laws saw the suppression of wages, higher profits for capital, worker exploitation, increased inequality, an entrenchment of colonial patterns of property ownership and capital flight.

The same labor laws resulted in retrenchments, higher unemployment, higher cost of living, less taxes, more importation over local manufacturing, collapse of local industry and an increase in protests.

Throughout the period of ESAP, Zimbabwe received over $750 million [$1.3 billion to day] of loans from the same multilateral lending institutions that had downgraded Zimbabwe’s credit rating for over indebtedness. Today, as much as $150 million of drought relief debt is believed to be still owing.

Zimeuro Networks’ report: “Uncovering Zimbabwe’s Debt”, suggests that the African Development Bank could have also lent as much as $500 million to Zimbabwe for ESAP support and $240 million was still outstanding by 2014.

In short, the debt given by multilateral financial institutions to the Southern African country over this period, was essentially loans to transfer the country’s debt from private western lenders to multilateral organizations.

Accompanying these loans, the World Bank also gave the government of Zimbabwe $25 million for children and woman's health.

$50 million was given for HIV and $38 million to improve small scale farmer production of cash crops to facilitate the generation of exports that would facilitate the repayment of loans to the multilateral institutions.

All these loans came with interest even though they were not all invested in productive projects. In so doing, most of their principle amounts are still outstanding today, despite payment of interest and contributions to principle over the years.

In 1994, the IBRD went on to release another $89 million to fix the glitches left by contractors at Hwange Power Station. This loan was meant to start being repaid in 1999 and if it is still outstanding it’s now almost about $120 million today.

1997 Defense Of Africa And Colonial Obligations.

29. As standards of living dropped in Zimbabwe, rapid divestment took place, deindustrialization ensued and unemployment rose. Thusly, poverty stricken war veterans began to pressure government to pay their outstanding gratuities for their participation in the liberation war.

To avert an uprising by those who had fought for the liberation of the country, government was forced to print local currency to pay the vets their long overdue Z$50 000 (US$4000) gratuities and a monthly pension equivalent to US125 per month going forward, for their contribution and sacrifice to liberate the country.

In turn, many war vets invested the funds into housing, starting businesses, farming projects and other such investments to sustain their futures.

The benefit was stability in a nation under the threat of civil unrest from destitute and disgruntled, battle hardened war vets, after similar disgruntlement had led to the Matebeleland unrest just a decade.

Under normal conditions, this should have stimulated the economy in the same way the GI Bill did for America after the Second World War.

But, instead of stimulating the economy, $1.8 billion of speculative foreign investment left Zimbabwean financial markets on black Friday 14 November 1997, to punish the country for bringing national stability by compensating war vets who were ready to make the country ungovernable for this issue and land.

What is interesting however, is the same punishment was never meted out on government for taking unbudgeted loans to buy back land from colonial settlers or repaying high interest Rhodesian debt in foreign currency over the preceding 17 years after independence, in the name of reconciliation.

The bottomline is despite the compensation having averted unrest in the country, the government was sabotaged for eventually honoring black Zimbabwean liberation fighters (after sidelining these stakeholders of our freedom for 17 years while honoring the oppressor) for sacrificing a great portion of their lives to liberate Zimbabweans from British colonialism.

1998 Congo War.

30. In August 1998, western backed Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian rebels invaded Congo to overthrow the President who had refused to allow continued western control of Congolese resources. In desperation, Laurent Kabila appealed for assistance from the SADC ORGAN, which was chaired by Zimbabwe.

A SADC ORGAN conference was held in Harare that September and soon after Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia deployed their troops as part of the SADC ORGAN to stop the balkanization of Congo. They were joined by Libya, Sudan and Chad from the north and this led to a ceasefire and the Sun City Accord in 2001.

The war is said to have cost Zimbabwe $360mil [$480mil] per year for three years and some claims suggest that this cost was recovered through commercial agreements between the two governments.

1999 Economic Sanctions.

After repaying almost $11.6 billion in debt repayments of the $8 billion of debt taken by 1998, Zimbabwe debt repayments were still rising and now hitting $900 million to $1 billion annually (now way over 15% of GDP), up from $600 million per year earlier in the 90s, and still the country was owing almost 7 billion.

In accordance to the ZIMCORD donor conference, the government asked for debt cancellation from donors who never delivered on their pledges. In turn, the donors said the country did not qualify as a HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country) thus it could not get debt cancellation through existing mechanisms.

Another issue they raised was the government was not following any structural adjustment programs of any of the multilateral institutions to be allegeable for debt cancellation by multilateral institutions or The Paris Club who were all in cahoots.

At this point, the government realized tha