Friday, May 11, 2007

Here We Go Again

[posted by Callimachus]

The U.N., once again, scans the globe to find the nation that least exemplifies some worthy ideal and puts it in charge of that committee. At least it seems tha's how they work up there.

UNITED NATIONS - Zimbabwe won approval on Friday to head a key U.N. body charged with promoting economic progress and environmental protection despite protests from the U.S., European nations and human rights organizations.

The 53-member Commission on Sustainable Development voted 26-21 with three abstentions on the new chair, said Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado, vice chair of the commission.

The only thing "sustainable" in modern Zimbabwe is the ego of its totalitarian ruler, Robert Mugabe (from the long list of Third World totalitarian rulers who were lauded as liberators and the vanguard of the future by the Western left). As one State Department guy put it, Zimbabwe is the country that "used to be the breadbasket of Africa and can't now feed itself."

U.S. officials said the commission deals with rural development and sustainable agriculture and Zimbabwe is no role model on those themes.

Mugabe's government disrupted the agriculture-based economy in 2000 with violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms, part of a program to redistribute land to poor blacks.

The newly elected chairman dismissed questions Friday night about his country's international standing and the appropriateness of Zimbabwe holding such a position in a global body.

"I think it's not time to point fingers," said Nhema. "There is never a perfect method, it's always a method which is appropriate to each country. So it's important not only to look at Zimbabwe but to look at each other and see what we can learn."

No, let's look at Zimbabwe for a minute, and learn that your country is to "rural development and sustainable agriculture" what a clogged and overflowing toilet is to a decent hotel room experience.

Properly managed, Zimbabwe's wide range of resources should enable it to support sustained economic growth. ... Zimbabwe inherited one of the strongest and most complete industrial infrastructures in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as rich mineral resources and a strong agricultural base.

... The Government of Zimbabwe's chaotic land reform program, recurrent interference with the judiciary, and maintenance of unrealistic price controls and exchange rates have led to a sharp drop in investor confidence. Since 2000, the national economy has contracted by as much as 35%; inflation vaulted over 1200% (YOY) in August 2006; and there have been persistent shortages of foreign exchange, local currency, fuel, and food. Direct foreign investment has all but evaporated.

Agriculture is no longer the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy. Large scale commercial farming has been effectively destroyed over the course of the last five years under the government's controversial land reform efforts starting in 2000. Corn is the largest food crop and tobacco had traditionally been the largest export crop, followed by cotton. Tobacco production in 2006, however, slumped to its lowest level -- about 50 million kg -- since independence, off from a peak in 2000 of 237 million kg. Cotton has now surpassed tobacco in export earnings. Gold production, another former key foreign currency source, slid by about one third in the first seven months of 2006 compared to the comparable period in 2005. Poor government management has exacerbated meager corn harvests caused by drought and floods, resulting in significant food shortfalls beginning in 2001. Although the government forecast harvests in 2005-06 sufficient to meet the country’s food needs, most independent exports agreed there would be considerable shortfalls that would require imports or aid to make up the difference.

Paved roads link the major urban and industrial centers, but the condition of urban roads and the unpaved rural road network has deteriorated significantly since 1995. Rail lines connect with an extensive central African railroad network, although railway track condition has also worsened in recent years, along with locomotive availability and utilization. The electric power supply has become erratic and blackouts are common due to low generator availability at the Kariba hydroelectric power plant and unreliable or nonexistent coal supplies to the country’s large thermal plants. Telephone service is problematic, and new lines are difficult of obtain.

The largest industries are metal products, food processing, chemicals, textiles, clothing, furniture and plastic goods. Most manufacturers have sharply scaled back operations. Zimbabwe is not a member of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and a number of textile businesses have migrated to other African countries. Zimbabwean producers still export lumber products, certain textiles, chrome alloys and automobile windscreens to the U.S.

But I guess you always can argue that "abject failure" is eminently sustainable.