By the time the country found itself in the new millennium, most Zimbabweans had decidedly mixed feelings about their lot in life.
On the one hand, they were all billionaires.
But on the other, they were all, equally and despairingly, broke.
The author of the terrible script that was Zimbabwe’s lot died last week in an expensive medical ward in Singapore, far from the streets of Harare.
His nephew told a news agency over the weekend that he died “a bitter man” and “afraid for his legacy.”
It may have been fitting that he felt that way.
Because if Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 95, expected his legacy to be anything other than despot clueless about economic management, he would have died an embittered man.
He did win independence for his nation by fighting white minority rule and he did expand education and medical benefits for much of the citizenry. Indeed, if he’d stepped down in the 1990s, he might have gotten away with a fairly intact reputation.
In truth, Mr Mugabe’s tenure reads like a cautionary tale of overstaying one’s welcome. His overstay was marred by ‘death’ squads, a disastrous war in the Congo and economic mismanagement of a scale that makes Venezuela’s current predicament look almost laughable.
Standout statistic: the country’s peak inflation in mid-2009 was almost 80 billion per cent a month. Three years after Mr Mugabe’s ouster, it’s still struggling to level off: in mid-July inflation had climbed back to 175%.
In fact, the country once made history of a dubious sort: it was the only one that “boasted” a 100 trillion note in its currency.
“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of its currency,” wrote Ernest Hemingway. “The second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. And both are the refuge of political opportunists.”
You can see where that placed the rating agencies when it came to actually assessing the country’s economic chances.
In 2011, Moody’s actually tried. It went around the country shaking its head and getting more despondent each time it asked the central bank questions that it received no answers for.
Finally, it grimly downgraded the country to a D Minus rating with a newly created “You’ve Got To Be Kidding” outlook. According to the World Bank, the country’s last known rating was a H Double Minus rating with a “I’m Outta Here” outlook.
The fact that the crafty Mr Mugabe paid the agency in worthless Zim dollars might have a lot to do with said agency’s aggrieved state.
On Wednesday, Mr Mugabe’s body was flown back to Harare where the current government, more for themselves than the people, declared him a “hero” and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast.
But all the people remembered from that time was being too poor to afford their electricity bills. Yes, you might say it was a dark time.
Malaysia, under Dr Mahathir in his first incarnation, was close to Mugabe for reasons best known only to the good doctor.
When my daughter was in boarding school – Kolej Tuanku Jaafar in Negri Sembilan – she informed me that two of Mr Mugabe’s possible nieces – “Uncle Bob” to them – were enrolled there. And, apparently, the man even had a house in Ampang.
For all Dr Mahathir’s apparent closeness to Mr Mugabe, it seems pointedly ironic that he did not pen any sort of tribute or say something nice about his old friend when he finally passed last week. What ensued, instead, was a deafening silence.
Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?