Just before I went on vacation, Bill Quick posted a note on Zimbabwe that created a mild ruckus in his comments section. I’d planned on posting about something about this before we left, but didn’t get time to. I’d forgotten about it until I saw his link to this story on Zimbabwe’s famine yesterday. I went back and read through the comments log for the original post again, where I found this quote.
“Ian Smith promised the whites who elected him Prime Minister of Rhodesia in 1982 that he would keep Rhodesia white, at any cost. To stop the black guerrilla fighters trying to overthrow his regime, Smith rationed food for Africans whom he believed were feeding the guerrillas. This cruel measure only served to starve the already undernourished black population. Studies found that over 90% of Rhodesia’s black children were malnourished and nutritional deficiencies were the major cause of infant death.”
The story is just plain wrong, as Ian Smith left office in 1979 and Robert Mugabe was elected to power in 1980. There’s only one other site on the web that even mentions the story, and it places it in 1962, when the Prime Minister of Rhodesia was not Ian Smith, but Winston Field. If Ian did do such a thing, then he’s got balls of solid steel, because he lived in Zimbabwe until Mugabe stripped his citizenship from him in March. You’d think the originator of such a policy would have felt a little retribution before then.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s true.
That makes Ian Smith a bastard, and we know Robert Mugabe is a bastard, right? But which is worse? Can a comparison be made? The last available data for Rhodesia comes from 1974. I’ve posted it with comparative Zimbabwean data from the last two years.
Infant mortality rate
Rhodesia – 1974 – 33.5 per 1000 births
Zimbabwe – 2001 – 62.6 per 1000 births
Rhodesia – 1974 – 14.4 deaths/1,000 population
Zimbabwe – 2001 – 23.22 deaths/1,000 population
Rhodesia – 1974 – 47.9 births/1,000 population
Zimbabwe- 2001 – 24.68 births/1,000 population
Male Life Expectancy
Rhodesia – 1974 – 50
Zimbabwe – 2001 – 41
Female Life Expectancy
Rhodesia – 1974 – 53
Zimbabwe – 2001 – 39
Population growth rate
Rhodesia – 1974 – 3.35%
Zimbabwe – 2001 – 0.9%
Now these numbers are obviously affected by the AIDS epidemic raging throughout Southern Africa, but an economic comparison may also be made. And the richer a country is, the less AIDS affects it at present, as there is more money to spend on treatment of the disease.
GDP is slightly harder to compare than health statistics, as the Rhodesian numbers from 1974 must be adjusted. The world almanac lists the GDP in Rhodesia for 1974 as $3.15 billion. I converted that amount to what it would be worth in the year 2000 using the inflation calculator found here. I did the same for the per capita GDP, which was listed at $502.
Rhodesia – 1974 – 11.79 billion
Zimbabwe – 2000 – 7.19 billion
Adjusted GDP per capita
Rhodesia – 1974 – $1879.39
Zimbabwe – 2000 – $536
You’ll see much higher numbers on many sites for the 2000 GDP numbers, if you bother to look. That’s because many sites use number that have been adjusted according to Purchasing Power Parity. Click on the link and you can read all about it. I used the unadjusted numbers for 2000.
So, let’s assume that in 1974 Ian Smith had been deliberately starving the black civilian portion of Rhodesia’s population for 12 years. They were still better off under his racist, colonialist oppression than they are under Robert Mugabe. They were richer and lived longer.
Ah, you say, “But they weren’t free!”
Umm. They’re not free now.
Update: But they do have an air force!
Update: Cornfield Commentary informs me that Mugabe has rejected a shipment of corn intended for his starving citizens on the grounds that some of it was genetically modified. It’ll make him more popular in Berkeley, at least.