columnBy Mavis Makuni
Harare — ERIC Schmidt, chief executive officer of Google, the world's most popular Internet search engine, has predicted the advent in five years' time of revolutionary new computer software that will -- hopefully -- make politicians think twice about what they say.
Schmidt said during a visit to Britain a week ago that within half a decade from now "truth predictor" software would "hold politicians to account." Once in place, the system would make it possible for the public "to check seemingly factual statements against historical data to see if they were correct", said Schmidt, who met British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and interacted with more people in the category targeted by the new software, when he addressed the annual conference of the Conservative Party.
"One of my messages to them (politicians) is to think about having everyone of your voters online all the time, then inputting 'is this true or false.' We at Google are not in charge of the truth but we might be able to give a probability", said the computer tycoon. The existence of the online world had given ordinary people the power to challenge governments, the media and business.
My first reaction upon reading about this development was to feel deprived because Zimbabwe has neither the infrastructure nor the requisite levels of computer literacy to make it feasible for voters in all parts of the country to go online.
But then again, I soon realised that this new software was redundant in this country. Zimbabwean politicians have become so brazen about telling what legendary British statesman and orator, Winston Churchill, termed "terminological inexactitudes" that what the people in this country need is a device that would help them to recognise the rare occasions, if there are still any, when they are not being taken for a ride.
The nation has been sold dummies so many times that it is no wonder that those in authority no longer care whether what they say is credible or not. The culture of impunity and lack of accountability is now so deeply rooted that it is considered politically incorrect and treasonous, not to mention dangerous, to doubt the tall tales churned out by our politicians. They are in public life solely to feather their own nests and they do not give a damn about the aspirations and welfare of ordinary people.
As a consequence of politicians speaking with forked tongues, the people have been led down the garden path with respect to populist policies such as "health for all by the year 2000" on which the government has disastrously failed to deliver. The collapse of the health delivery system means what we now have is every man and woman for himself and unnecessary and early death for all. The only exceptions not condemned to this untenable reality are the ruling elites who can afford medical care in other countries!
When the land reform programme was originally mooted, all right thinking Zimbabweans lapped up the rhetoric about decongesting the rural areas. Who would have questioned the nobility of an initiative designed to rescue peasants from the dust bowls formerly known as the tribal trust lands to prime land occupied by white commercial farmers. Who knew at that time that the main beneficiaries of the resettlement programme would be government ministers, civil servants, judges, magistrates, top police and army brass and well connected business people? Zimbabweans do not need Schmidt's Google to establish that peasants were never the priority group as the nation was originally made to believe.
It would be understandable if a sprinkling of privileged people had benefited from the land reform programme. It is preposterous that almost every minister, deputy minister, top civil servant and anyone in the ruling party's extensive political patronage network was allocated a farm or farms ahead of peasants. It is doubtful that any new computer software would prick any consciences within the establishment. The findings of a number of commissions that have confirmed that the land redistribution programme has been massively abused, have been ignored.
A few weeks ago, Industry and International Trade Minister, Obert Mpofu made a statement that was so patently dishonest that the envisaged "truth predictor" would crash if it tried synthesise it. I refer to his "Icala kaliboli" (literally; 'a criminal case will not decay') declaration about official unwillingness to bring to book political bigwigs accused of plunder at ZISCO.
Mpofu implied that these culprits, whom he described as "influential people" would not be prosecuted for the time being because it was more important to "bring in" investment. Court cases would attract negative publicity, Mpofu claimed.
Subsequent developments such as the mysterious disappearance of the report on the pillaging that went on at the iron and steel company, however, prove that the minister was deliberately speaking with a forked tongue. Instead of saying icala kaliboli, he should have told the nation truthfully that the law was being applied selectively to protect ruling party bigwigs implicated in the racket.
The point is that in those countries where government officials still accept that the electorate has the right to scrutinise, question and challenge their utterances and actions, a minister would not have the cheek to invoke a previously unknown legal dispensation to justify sweeping such a serious matter under the carpet. If Mpofu belonged to a government that still cared about the rights of the people, he would have known he would be challenged to say why the icala kaliboli concept cannot apply to all Zimbabweans suspected of breaking the law.
An example that comes to mind immediately, is the case of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) officials who sustained serious injuries while in police custody. They were arrested for planning a protest march in the Harare city centre, that was nevertheless forestalled by the police. They did not harm anybody and did not plunder any national wealth as the ZISCO racketeers did but they are to be prosecuted under the Criminal Law (Codification) Reform Act. Why can't the icala kaliboli dispensation apply to them?
Government officials in this country have become so used to riding roughshod over the suffering masses that they can lie with the straightest of faces. Even when caught peddling the most outlandish falsehoods they remain perfectly easy in their own minds. They do not seem to appreciate the inconsistency of this position with their over-touted image as members of a revolutionary government fighting to improve the lot of the ordinary man and woman.
Google, as far as our politicians are concerned, your anticipated "truth predictor" is old hat even before it comes on stream. They are already taunting the electorate with the most incredible falsehoods and deceptions.