Zimbabwe: Why Can't Zimbabweans Engage in Dialogue?

analysis

Let me indulge you with a comical tale whose home truths are funny but relevant to the situation Zimbabwe currently finds itself in.

A police officer sees a drunken man intently searching the ground near a streetlight and asks him the goal of his quest. The drunkard replies that he is looking for his car keys, and the cop helps for a few minutes without success, then he asks whether the man is certain that he dropped the keys near the streetlight.

"No," is the reply, "I lost the keys somewhere across the street." "Why look here?" asks the surprised and irritated officer. "The light is much better here," the intoxicated man responds with aplomb. There are various versions of this amusing tale on the internet, although the import is invariably the same. Zimbabwe's tragedy is that people are cracking their heads, searching high and low for economic solutions -- yet the national problem is essentially political.

There is a confidence crisis caused by a legitimacy deficit. The imbroglio has been further complicated by politicians' stubborn refusal to embrace inclusive politics.

With a few rare exceptions to the rule, modern nations are built on a foundation of democratic consensus rather than state authoritarianism. Zimbabwe is burning. The government appears utterly clueless. Everywhere you go, people are asking: if the authorities are willing to see a doctors' strike dragging on for 40 days, is there anything that can really jolt them into action? At this rate, a teachers' strike could last three months. Political scientist Ibbo Mandaza has posed a pertinent question: "So, now that the country is burning and those purportedly in charge are clueless and virtually in disarray, what is to be done?"

The political question of the day can only be adequately addressed through an honest resolution of the confidence deficit. Zimbabwe's international re-engagement programme is facing huge obstacles precisely because the global community is asking: how can you seek dialogue with foreigners yet you seem reluctant to open discussion among yourselves as Zimbabweans?

This week, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube was in Brussels, the seat of the European Union. He had a special message for Zimbabweans back home: "It is vital that we do not panic." But how can we not panic? The cost of living is shooting through the roof; doctors have gone 40 days on strike; the civil service faces a paralysing shutdown; salaries have been rendered worthless; fuel queues are growing longer; unemployment is worsening; extreme poverty is on the rise, and the entire economy is in turmoil.

After watching videos showing frustrated motorists exchanging blows in fuel queues, I decided to venture out and chat with stranded citizens who have turned the hunt for fuel into a full-time pursuit.

Hopelessness and anger do not even begin to describe the situation on the ground. When a traumatised society seethes with raw anger, a red line has been crossed and nobody can expect a picnic. Fuel queues are the logical outcome of a deep-seated culture of primitive accumulation, which has gained traction on the back of failed democratisation. Zimbabweans must begin talking to each other, before they even dream of re-engaging the world.

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