Zimbabwe: Baptism of fire for finance minister.

Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Position:Around Africa: Zimbabwe - Finance minister Mthuli Ncube

Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance has learnt the hard way that academic knowledge and practical politics don't always mix. In an effort to solve the country's huge debt burden, he inadvertently plunged the nation into an economic tailspin. Baffour Ankomah reports from Harare.

Zimbabwe's new Finance Minister, Prof. Mthuli Ncube, 55, has had a baptism of fire so chastening that it will live with him for the rest of his life.

Three weeks after he was appointed by President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, Prof. Ncube announced a set of fiscal policies that sent his nation into a tailspin which reminded them of 2008, their annus horribilis, when hyper-inflation hit a 79.6 billion per cent rate in November 2008 and caused the death of the local currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, and the introduction of a multi-currency regime with the US dollar at the centre of it.

And the fault is entirely Prof. Ncube's. In fact he is lucky to be still in office. Anywhere else in the world, he would be out by now. But this is Second Republic Zimbabwe where things are done differently by a President who, though his middle name is "Trouble" (Dambudzo), yet says he is "as soft as wool".

Maybe, despite all the chaos Prof. Ncube has caused in his first month in office, it would have reflected more badly on the President than the Finance Minister if he had sacked him after only three weeks.

So, for the sake of decorum, the President is holding his nose and soldiering on with Prof. Ncube even though the nation will take some time to live down the huge damage he has caused.

Remarkably, Prof. Ncube is a man with all the economic credentials any president would want in his cabinet. But what he has done to his country within three weeks of taking office is eloquent testimony to how book knowledge does not automatically translate to practical sagacity.

A man of letters--economic letters--Prof. Ncube has vast experience in academia and even some practical economics, having been a successful entrepreneur in an earlier life. He worked as chief economist and vice president of the African Development Bank and was a lecturer in economics at Oxford University (where he taught economic development, public policy and doing business in Africa) and at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

A one-time lecturer at the London School of Economics, Prof. Mthuli holds a PhD in Mathematical Finance from Cambridge University. His four books to date are all on finance and economics...

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