20 September 2006

Zimbabwe: Just Resign, Please!


Harare — A THIRTY-TWO-member cabinet in the troubled Cote d'Ivoire last week resigned en masse over a toxic waste dumping scandal which left six people dead.

Although most of the ministers were later reappointed, the Minister of Transport, who had issued permits to refuse collectors and the Minister of Environment lost their jobs. This is alien to local politics where those in government are known for their ever-shrinking accountability.

What exactly do I mean? I will explain. In Zimbabwe, agriculture, the backbone of the economy has gone to the dogs, raising the spectre of hunger and famine and no minister has resigned, billions of dollars of the taxpayers' money silted up the pockets of a corrupt few under the War Victims Compensation Fund and no minister resigned, the VIP Housing Scheme was abused and the minister retained his job, no less than 300 influential politicians flagrantly violated a government policy of one-man-one-farm but no minister resigned.

Not only that but everyone except the ruling ZANU PF, which has always had a problem with seeing the obvious, can see that Zimbabwe has plunged into an unprecedented crisis. Things are falling apart, to borrow from Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. That is incontrovertibly evident. The extreme poverty is there for all to see.

The accelerating economic meltdown characterised by stagflation -- where rising inflation (1 200 percent) is accompanied by falling industrial production and joblessness (70 percent) -- is now in its seventh year. An estimated 75 percent of the population of what was once a regional breadbasket is living below the breadline. All this points to a country in great difficulty and uncertainty. And that is what is called a crisis. Yet no minister has resigned and if anything ZANU PF officials continue to deny there is a crisis in Zimbabwe. Barely logical. But that is a fact.

Let me in this context but in passing refer to the unbelievable antics of former Industry and International Trade Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi who is now the Minister of Indigenisation, if only to illustrate repeated official denials of the very obvious.

Attending the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) congress in Victoria Falls in August 2004, Mumbengegwi, who should have been a symbol of Zimbabwean economic pre-eminence by virtue of his portfolio, stunned a business community that had observed that Zimbabwe had suffered breathtaking losses because of the continued international isolation.

Clearly incapable of being serious, Mumbengegwi insulted the business community by saying that they had an obscure notion of what constituted the international community. In other words Zimbabwe was doing just fine even without the West (read in isolation). Mumbengegwi even waxed enthusiastic and lyrical about how he had been able to bust the targeted sanctions to attend meetings in Brussels, the seat of the European Union.

Mumbengegwi's tragi-comic posturing fitted in well with the political thinking in the ruling ZANU PF government at the time. Initially, in what can only be described as a mad, defiant act of bravado, the ZANU PF line of argument was that the sanctions imposed on senior government officials by the West over what it called the country's democratic deficit were inconsequential. They were not effective. That was until it was convenient, for the ruling party, which has always blamed everyone and everything except itself for the economic mess, to blame the sanctions.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the sanctions have not played to a certain extent their role in weighing down the economy. No. Admittedly they have. But not to the same extent as ZANU PF would like to make us believe. Otherwise how does it happen that the EU, which as a bloc has imposed targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe, accounts for 30 percent of Zimbabwe's exports and the country had a trade surplus of 261 million Euros with the EU member states in 2004 when the sanctions were already in place? Why does the EU even up to this day remain Zimbabwe's biggest humanitarian donor, funding health and education to combat poverty and diseases?

I digress. The point I am trying to make is simple. That the majority of the people are living in abject poverty is a telling comment on the competencies of those that make up the government of Zimbabwe. Period! The grinding poverty in what should be a land of plenty is a damning indictment of the ruling ZANU PF government.

True, our sages say that everyone can find fault but few can do better. But the mismanagement of public resources, waste, fraud, abuse, criminality and so forth in the public sector, which have impoverished the whole nation, is proof enough that most government ministers with a few honourable exceptions are incompetent.

Who are these incompetent ministers? Joseph Made, whose estimates (read guesstimates) on agriculture are not only legendary but have also been costly to the country, quickly comes to mind. So does Webster Shamu, the voluble Minister of Policy Implementation in the Office of the President, who alongside Chen Chimutengwende of Interactive Affairs, holds probably the most useless office in the land. You may recall that in 2005 Shamu suggested that only ZANU PF loyalists -- the very people who have destroyed, through mismanagement, what used to be state-owned businesses in fine fettle -- should run parastatals. Others are the lucky-in-politics Sithembiso Nyoni for whom a job is always available in government, Stan Mudenge, Aeneas Chigwedere, Herbert Murerwa, Amos Midzi, Obert Mpofu, Chris Mushowe, Kembo Mohadi and Brigadier Ambrose Mutinhiri, the Minister of Employment Creation in a sea of joblessness.

Yes, I have mentioned only a few. But readers who have been with this column for even longer may recall that I have said it before that if a cost-benefit analysis of having most of the ministers in Cabinet were carried out whereby their performances are measured by results against specific targets, very few if any would come out smelling of roses. Even President Robert Mugabe, known for his unwillingness to drop probably some of the most incompetent government ministers and belief that one does not fire on friendly troops, has admitted as much.

In the current Cabinet, there are no spark plugs or impact players in the mould of the late former minister Christopher Ushewokunze who, when he died, there was a genuine feeling of irreparable loss. It would be next to impossible to find one minister in government today who would be missed if they were dropped from Cabinet. Instead such a move would engender a feeling of it being good riddance to you-know-what among the poverty-stricken Zimbabweans who know only too well that these ministers' continued stay in government is ruinous for the country.

Which brings me to my next question, which question should be uppermost in the minds of the long suffering Zimbabweans: Why don't the incompetent ministers do the honourable thing and resign?

Of course, deep down I know that I am, from a ZANU PF point of view, thinking the unthinkable. There is absolutely no chance of a Zimbabwean government minister giving us a pleasant surprise by calling it quits of his own volition.

We are talking of hard-boiled people who do not have enough conscience to prick them regardless of the extensive damage they have inflicted on the economy, which is why even as Zimbabweans are having a hellish time, they sleep a sleep of the just as if everything is perfectly normal. The deadwood in President Mugabe's Cabinet, some of whom are not in jail simply because the country's criminal justice system has unofficially been twisted to protect the politically influential and powerful, will not leave voluntarily. They would have to be carried out feet first. A terrible tragedy if ever there was one.

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