By Chido Makunike
WE can learn a lot of things, other than the obvious ones, about what is wrong with Zimbabwe from the hullabaloo about corruption that has begun and that is probably going to preoccupy the
regime of Robert Mugabe for some time to come.
One of those things is how gullible we can be to the self-serving diversions by the authorities of our attention from their culpability in making Zimbabwe a mere shadow of the country it should and could be. Once our many problems were all blamed on racist neo-colonialists who were resentful that we were independent. Greedy capitalists who wanted to exploit our resources and dared to actually want to make a profit from their investments have done their bit to impoverish us. We all know the British and their friends have imposed sanctions on our revolutionary government because they want to recolonise us for their evil ends.
The list of enemies who have nothing better to do than spend all their time causing us misery is unending. That is another danger of the current frenzy about corruption. Whites, bankers and politicians out of official favour for one reason or another make soft, easy targets for blame for what ails the society. They are powerful and wealthy but not necessarily popular groups who the public is happy to see come down a peg or two. From the phase of being told all our problems are caused by the British and their local lackeys, we move to the stage of new-found economic devils trying to frustrate the innocent government as the cause of our economic decline. It is merely a new act in the tiresome, long running play of Mugabe being seemingly incapable of taking responsibility for his policies and actions and their results.
It is also amazing how easy it often is to whip us up into a collective frenzy as a catharsis for our frustration at the decline in the quality of life, rather than to ask what brought it all about in the first place. What is required to bring about an abiding turn around in our national fortunes after we have had the temporary satisfaction of seeing pompous politicians, businesspeople and bankers brought down to size? Is finally bringing these people to book, parading them in handcuffs and prison garb to our delight and picturing their ill-gotten toys now economic policy? Overnight fortunes have been made from all kinds of speculation and we have a vague sense of unease and resentment at this kind of “unearned” wealth and the way it is flaunted. Should we also not be asking what turned a fairly stable, production-based economy into one in which speculation made much more sense than attempting to grow crops or make goods in a factory?
In the regime of Mugabe we have an unimaginative government that is far more adept at finding enemies and scapegoats than at creating conditions for prosperity. Apart from outright repression and intimidation, we the populace have made it easy for them to do so for all these years because we often don’t ask fundamental questions about what has brought us to our present state.
Corruption is the new bogeyman on which all our economic ills can be blamed. But if so, could it have gone on for so long at the level it did without the president who now casts himself as a crusader against it unaware of it? How do high ranking ruling party officials acquire vast, allegedly corrupt property and investment portfolios without the police, the CIO and Mugabe himself knowing about it? Could the various spy and security services not have been aware of what was the subject of common talk in Harare for years, or did the authorities choose to look the other way because they were an integral part of the corruption? Or were perhaps the CIO too busy spying, beating up and torturing citizens attempting to exercise their right of democratic dissent to worry about highly placed crooks? Could it be that these were considered the “legitimate” perks of supporting the status quo, leading some who stand accused of massive corruption today to yesterday openly boasting of how their ruling party membership and patronage, not business acumen, had led to their “success?” If you want to do well like I have done, you must also join Zanu PF, a high profile alleged crook once openly, provocatively teased.
It certainly was not a secret that many of the overnight newly rich, both in the ruling party and outside of it, were engaged in corrupt activities. But they often did so with the tacit as well as open support and participation of hypocritical rulers who believe themselves to have covered up their own corrupt tracks enough to now sacrifice their equally corrupt junior colleagues.
I quite understand the shocked sense of betrayal the corrupt pompous young Zanu PF Turks must feel at being sacrificed the way that is happening by seniors whose own dirty secrets they know. What is tragic about the youngish high profile thieves is their obviously not having understood the high risks of the game they were playing, along with the high rewards. The haughty high profile young “playas” of Harare are being cynically, tragically getting “played” by political mentors who no longer find it in their best interests to continue with the game, at least in its present form. There is no honour among thieves, it’s everyone for himself when the heat is on!
While the long suffering public is quite justified to feel a rare sense of justice at our greediest and most corrupt high-profile citizens finally being brought to book, we must not lose sight of the fact that this is also a diversion meant to distract us from the real reasons for the decline of this country.
Speculation in foreign currency is the result of its shortage, it is not the basic cause. If hoarding of and speculation in mealie meal causes the price to shoot up beyond prices that are widely affordable, it is fundamentally because there is a shortage of it, and we must address the shortage to permanently deal with the problem. Why does a sophisticated country like Zimbabwe, drought or no drought, have a shortage of its staple food? It is not enough for us to merely enjoy the temporary satisfaction of arresting the hoarder-speculator.
It is easy to ram through new laws declaring it illegal to sell wheat or other crops to anyone but the state grain monopoly. But a far more effective way to deal with the problem is to address the fundamental issue that a farmer will quite naturally want to sell his crop where he gets the best return on his investment. Being naive about this only creates worse shortages and forces producers to find more innovative ways to flout such unreasonable laws. Apart from the shortages that result from this kind of fire-fighting that has become a hallmark of the regime of Mugabe, it is these kind of contradictions that make so many people lose respect for the law. For significant levels of voluntary compliance with the law, that law must be seen to be reasonable and fair, as well as fairly applied. This is hardly the situation in Zimbabwe today.
I am not at all surprised that economic collapse has had the result of having the members of the Zanu PF hierarchy that benefited from it for so long turn against each other. Flaunted “prosperity” that was not underpinned by increased national productivity was always a giant, fraudulent pyramid scheme that had to eventually collapse. But I am neither grateful for nor particularly impressed by a cynical, highly selective scapegoating exercise billed as an anti-corruption drive, orchestrated by the creators, godfathers and main beneficiaries of that corruption!
* Chido Makunike is a regular Harare-based contributor.