YOU don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that it costs significant taxpayer resources to fund multilateral organizations. Just do the math! So, how does Mugabe hope to fund that organization in his head if he cannot even pay his government’s employees on time, let alone account for stolen diamonds money?
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. This was an observation by one Henry Ford. By all accounts, Ford was an extremely successful industrialist who pioneered and transformed the automotive industry as we know it. I got thinking about this quote following reports of threats to pull out of the United Nations (UN) by President Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwean media reported that on his return from a rather pointless trip to the recent UN General Assembly (UNGA), Mugabe addressed his supporters telling them that he and other African countries are demanding permanent seats on the UN Security Council (UNSC) or they will pull out and form a splinter organization. Either this was Mugabe playing to the gallery, or was just being foolish, or was just not thinking. If he wasn’t thinking, it’s because he is wont to make emotional decisions – given that Mugabe is a serious narcissist. Here are the four reasons his threat will not happen.
A lone voice
Mugabe wants to be recognized as a man with a cause, but an esoteric cause unfortunately. He wants to play the role of that swashbuckling pan-Africanist – the only remaining one carrying the torch of a bygone generation. Which is why he is always ridiculing younger leaders of having lost the ideals of yesteryear leaders. He seems bewildered that a younger generation of African leaders have a very different vision from his. This is why he is reported to have labeled them cowards. He mistakes this for cowardice, and fails to see than the younger generation of African leaders have a more transformational vision anchored on the view that in a globalized world, taking the podium at the UN General Assembly is not an opportunity to pontificate, but a chance to play your cards right on the global chessboard. That is realpolitik (for the unfamiliar – this means politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations). I have written about this before here (http://bit.ly/2cNclD7).Advertisement
Reform of the UNSC is a legitimate debate. In fact he has just in the last few years discovered that it’s something that can make his voice ring above others. The UN was largely structured by the victors of the Second World War, including the ones Mugabe hopes will be supportive of his breakaway expedition. Mugabe is not the first person to talk about reform of the UNSC – yet he is the first to make threats of breaking off from the UN. Mugabe must however be mistaking that forming a splinter organization is as easy as how he unilaterally and single-handedly pulled out Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth grouping! In fact, as of more than 20 years ago, Japan and Germany had become the second and third largest contributors of funding to the UN so much so that they both started pushing for permanent seats. They have been pushing, and they are still pushing – but none of them have made threats to form a splinter organization even though they would have the means to finance any such efforts. These, and other countries are mindful of realpolitik, and the fact that the UN was a creature of victors of the last world war.
A pull-out will ruin Zimbabwe
Any splinter, were it to happen (which it won’t) would ruin Zimbabwe and worsen Mugabe’s trouble at home. Zimbabwe is technically insolvent. The books cannot balance and Mugabe’s government is living from hand to mouth – which is why his presence at the UNGA just to make a mere speech is inconsistent with that of a man whose country’s dire financial circumstances requires radical and extreme level of financial prudence. His attendance wasn’t the wisest use of Zimbabwean resources – in contrast, Tanzania President John Magufuli skipped the UNGA to focus on the recent Kagera earthquake disaster. Zimbabwe is running a frightening budget deficit by its standards, which now exceeds a billion dollars. It can rarely pay government employees on time. As a desperate measure, it now first pays soldiers, then the police, doctors and the rest are paid more than a month later.
But guess what, many of the deficits and financial shortcomings of Mugabe’s government are actually covered by the UN agencies –surprise, surprise! A former heard of Unicef in Zimbabwe once said to me “… most of these government ministers, all they have is political power, but I have more resources. My budget is bigger than that of the Ministry of Finance.”
The education sector which had all but collapsed in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s watch was resuscitated by Unicef through what they termed the Education Transition Fund through which they printed and distributed over 22 million textbooks across schools in Zimbabwe. Among several other programs, Unicef funds and runs several other child welfare programs supporting thousands of children whose circumstances would be extremely desperate because under Mugabe’s watch, the welfare system has collapsed.
Hunger is stalking over a third of the population in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe government in February appealed for $1,5 billion food aid from well-wishers. Much of the food aid being distributed today in Zimbabwe is coming from or through the World Food Program – a UN agency. In short, the UN agency is feeding a third of Zimbabweans – a staggering chunk of the population.
And here is another kicker! The Ministry of Health and Child Care is now largely funded by donors, mainly the United States, Global Fund and UN agencies such as World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Unicef and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). To understand the gravity of the issue – Zimbabwe allocated $330 million to the Health ministry in its 2016 national budget. That represents 8,3% of the total budget (well below the 15% Abuja target and the Sub Saharan Africa average of 11,3%).
Yet, a measly $200 000 has been reportedly disbursed to the same Ministry – that means the Health Ministry has as of eight months into the year 2016 received only 6% of what it was allocated in the budget – rendering the budgeting exercise merely academic. On a pro rata basis, the ministry has received a mere 9% of what it must receive to date. This means the rest of the burden is carried by donors including the same UN and its agencies, which Mugabe in his moments of excitement is threatening to pull out from. Nonetheless he will not miss a moment to fly to Asia to have his ‘eyes’ checked for cataracts.
It’s a resources game
When I was young, you would always find within our boys group, that one guy who could never throw punches when the mud hits the fan. It was often such a guy who would have a loud mouth, and would create trouble, banking on others to back him up. When you threaten to split from a global organization, you better have the resources to back it up. The current top 17 funders of the UN provide over 80% of the UN regular budget. These are: United State of America (22%), Japan (9,6%), China (7,9%), Germany (6,3%), France (4,8%), Britain (4,4%), Brazil (3,8%), Italy (3,7%), Russia (3%), Canada (2,9%), Spain (2,4%), Australia (2,3%), South Korea (2,0), Netherlands (1,4%), Mexico (1,4%), Saudi Arabia (1,1%), Switzerland (1,1%). Just 17 countries! The rest of the world provides just about 19% of the global body’s budget – that includes Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.
In 2015, the US contributed $621, 9 million to the UN regular budget. At the same time – 35 countries contributing the least paid just about $28,269 each (this includes Zimbabwe, if at all it paid its dues). The US also paid about $2,4 billion towards a separate peacekeeping budget – whereas the 20 countries contributing the least amount paid about $8,470 each (which again includes Zimbabwe if at all it paid up).
So you don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that it costs significant taxpayer resources to fund these multilateral organizations. Just do the math! So how does Mugabe hope to fund that organization in his head if he cannot even pay his government’s employees on time, let alone account for stolen diamonds money? But here is the juicy part. Mugabe says that Zimbabwe and Africa will pull out of the UN (I am not sure who else in Africa he speaks for). Yet currently, 70% of the African Union (AU) Commission is funded by donors –a staggering number. At an AU Foundation event in South Africa last year, Mugabe pledged 300 cows to the organization. It’s ridiculous, but he did it. Only that the cows did not exist at the time of making the donation – so he has had to hassle the cows up by hook or crook from Zimbabweans. Reports say that cows prices are as low as $50 a herd in Zimbabwe. This means that worst case, Mugabe’s funding through this route is $15 000.
Lack of Leverage
Realpolitik and national interests drive power games on the global political chessboard. As noted above, the current UN structure was crafted by victors of the last world war. The countries that Mugabe seems to be counting on in supporting his splinter group are China and Russia which are in fact permanent members of the UN, and as such haven’t got an interest in Mugabe’s pursuit. If you are making demands of Mugabe’s kind, you have got to have a bargaining chip. In other words, you must have leverage. When you say: give us two permanent seats or else – the other part will say or else what? The leverage must be of serious consequences. And the threat you make, must not only be real, but exercisable with drastic consequences. But Mugabe hasn’t got that, neither does Africa as a block. There is no leverage at all. Even Japan, the third largest economy in the world hasn’t got such leverage.
So Mugabe’s threat is just one of those empty threats. There is no strategy to it. Russia and China have no strategic incentive to splinter with Mugabe and whoever is on his side. Interestingly – a contact in the top echelons of the Chinese government advised me that nobody really takes Mugabe seriously at the UN with his rambling speeches. He says that they now refer to him as “that mad man from the tropics”.
Do the math and get real
Mugabe must get real and wake up. It is not clear from the top 17 funders of the UN shown above which ones Mugabe intends to convince to pull out of the UN. But if you do the math – it’s just an empty threat. If he has the stupidity to do it, he would find himself on a lonely journey, and such a journey would precipitate the collapse of his government sooner than he could dream of. Why?
Because much of what is happening today in Zimbabwe is in fact funded by the UN and its agencies, including health, education and social welfare. So, true to form, Mugabe’s rants are all form and no beer; all sizzle and no steak!
Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently between Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Email your views to firstname.lastname@example.org