28 April 2016

Zimbabwe: Zim@36 - Jewel of Africa Left to Rot

Photo: Innocent Mukawa/The Herald
Zimbabwe and China representatives signing the agreement (file photo).

"YOU have inherited a jewel," former Tanzanian President, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, is said to have told then prime minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, at Independence in 1980.

"Keep it that way!" Nyerere added.

This year, Zimbabwe hosted a gathering of dignitaries that converged in Harare where Nyerere's life was celebrated with the publication of a book entitled Julius Nyerere, Asante Sana, Thank you Mwalimu. The event highlighted the late Tanzanian leader's selfless dedication to the liberation of Africa from colonial rule.

Not unexpectedly, no mention was ever made by the leaders of the host country of how much they had done to show in a practical way their respect for Nyerere by ensuring that his wish to keep Zimbabwe prosperous had not been honoured.

If anything, this is a topic that should rather be kept under the carpet.

Exactly 36 years after Nyerere implored the country's leadership to make sure Zimbabwe remained one of the most developed countries on the African continent, the opposite has become a reality as the country has careered off course to become one of the worst places on the continent as everything that should never happen to a country has happened to the former jewel of Africa.

Despite their oft-violent political differences, if there is one thing that all Zimbabweans agree on, it is the hard reality that things are really bad in the country.

It is only when it comes to the causes of the malaise that the citizens disagree as one side puts the blame squarely on "the illegal sanctions imposed by the West" while the other side blames the rot on what it sees as mis-rule-writ-large.

But at the end of the clear-eyed -- but barren -- debate, both sides still agree that in its current state, the country is a real sorry apology for the jewel of Africa that Nyerere saw 36 years ago.

Writing in The New York Reviews of Books in 2003, just 23 years after the country's Independence, the late Zimbabwean writer, Doris Lessing, summed up the situation thus: "Southern Rhodesia had fine and functioning railways, good roads; its towns were policed and clean. It could grow anything, tropical fruit like pineapples, mangoes, bananas, plantains, paw-paws, passion fruit, temperate fruits like apples, peaches, plums. The staple food, maize, grew like a weed and fed surrounding countries as well. Peanuts, sunflowers, cotton, the millets and small grains that used to be staple foods before maize, flourished. Minerals: gold, chromium, asbestos, platinum, and rich coalfields. The dammed Zambezi River created the Kariba Lake, which fed electricity north and south. A paradise, and not only for the whites. The blacks did well, too, at least physically... But paradise has to have a superstructure, an infrastructure, and by now it is going, going -- almost gone." Since the time Lessing painted this gloomy picture, the situation has deteriorated even faster so much that an estimated four million Zimbabweans -- about a third of the country's population -- have fled to seek refuge, both economic and political, in many places around the world.

Had it not been for this flight, the situation in Zimbabwe -- economically, socially and politically -- could have been worse as demand for jobs and the unforgiving weight on the threadbare social infrastructure such as education, health and other services could have been more catastrophic.

This forced flight has also helped the situation in that the Zimbabwean Diaspora has been remitting close to US$2 billion back home annually -- about half of the country's national budge -- which money has gone a long way to keep the situation from hopelessly spiralling out of control.

Zimbabwe's economy is in comatose state.

Despite unleashing its much-vaunted five-year cure-all economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Socio Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) nearly three years ago, nothing seems to have changed for the better.

If anything, the situation remains dire, with companies closing down en-masse and those that have remained operational are doing so on a hand-to-mouth basis.

This has not been helped by the country's indegenisation policy, which has scared away foreign investors, including those willing to take risks.

Government itself is struggling to meet its basic financial obligations, including paying the salaries of its bloated civil service.

Despite its claim to have embarked on what it says was a very successful land reform programme, the country -- once the bread basket of the region -- is depending on grain imports as the seized farms lie idle, putting further pressure on its perennially precarious balance of payment position.

This year, the country -- whose economy has deteriorated to such an extent that it can no longer have a viable currency of its own -- marked its Independence anniversary in the throes of serious cash shortages.

Global research think tanks have repeatedly pointed out that corruption and political risk remains very high in Zimbabwe.

The nature of politics played in post-independent Zimbabwe can at best be described as barbaric.

Only last week, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by former prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, (MDC-T) was grudgingly allowed to hold a march in protest of the worsening economic situation in the country, a march that was triggered by President Mugabe's admission that his government was swindled of more than US$15 billion in revenue from the sale of diamonds from Chiadzwa in Marange.

At least two MDC-T legislators claimed that they received death threats in the run-up to the protest.

Despite Independence bringing freedom, it appears the conflation of the State and the ruling party continues to make freedom dangerous, not just to the opposition, but even those within the ruling party.

Hundreds of members of the ruing ZANU-PF party have found themselves either dismissed or suspended for dreaming of a country where things could be done differently.

This year's Independence anniversary took place against the background of feral fights both within government and the ruling party on how to chart the best possible way forward to the future.

So bad has the situation in Zimbabwe become that even some of the staunch supporters of President Robert Mugabe's government are now questioning some of the principles that they have in the past so steadfastly stood for.

Reason Wafawarova, a political analyst and a Herald columnist, who is a former commander at the National Youth Service, last week took to social media to make acerbic comments about the situation in the country.

"I am impressed by (former American President Theodore) Roosevelt. Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or by the ruling party, save exactly to the degree in which the president and the ruling party stand by the country," Wafawarova said on his Facebook wall.

"It is patriotic to support the ruling party insofar as it efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose the ruling party and its nominated president to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise the party fails in its duty to stand by the country.

"In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or about the party to which he belongs. I refuse to accept the philosophy that centralises power into the custodianship of one person, however intelligent or mythical that person could be. It is absolutely foolish for any one to preach one centre of power when the party is running on the whims of factional kingpins."

A fortnight ago, President Mugabe was forced to convene a fire-fighting meeting with the country's liberation war veterans, some of whose members have been exposed to a baptism of fire after they uncharacteristically tried to vent their dismay at the way things have been unfolding in both government and ZANU-PF.

Nyerere should be turning in his grave as the former jewel of Africa become the eyesore of the continent.

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