Begging for food greatest loss of national face

By Chido Makunike

ZIMBABWE’S situation and Africa’s reaction to it provide a sad and embarrassing pointer to the psychological state of the continent. Volumes have been written about the silence of Africa’s

leaders to even mildly rebuke the Zimbabwean government about its abuse of the rights of citizens, and its wilful destruction of its economy.


In addition to the many reasons that have been speculated on for African rulers’ complicit silence at the goings-on in Zimbabwe, perhaps another reason is that many may be secretly pleased that Robert Mugabe’s regime’s plunder and decimation of Zimbabwe has somewhat levelled the field.


Why should Zimbabwe stand out as an example of democracy and economic success in the midst of continental misery? “Let us all be poor, dependent, miserable, sorry for ourselves and oppressed together!”


We have learned how paternalistic Africa’s rulers are about the people they rule over. Flowery constitutions aside, the Big Man very much rules by whim and caprice. King Mswati of Swaziland has been condemned for ignoring court judgements that are unfavourable to him and seeking to subvert what constitutional rights his subjects enjoy. Yet there is something honest about his openly expressed contempt for what many would consider minimum standards of democracy.


Many other African rulers who are not formally monarchs rule by decree every bit as much as Mswati does, regardless of what system of government they claim to adhere to. The idea of holding power in trust for the citizens has simply not caught on in Africa in any meaningful way.

Opposition is still very much equated with subversion, and governments often work so tirelessly to neutralise their own laws with regard to opposition one wonders why they bother with constitutions at all.


In the current jockeying for a favourable vantage point from which to succeed President Mugabe, many interested candidates within the ruling party use strategies that almost overlook the electorate. No one talks of a governing or economic manifesto as a base from which to launch a bid for power.


It is tribal politics, canvassing for the kind of loyalty that can be bought with money or other material inducements, threats against perceived opponents and so forth.


The presumption, possibly quite correct, is that the person who can out-manoeuvre the others at these kind of games, rather than most effectively appeal to the electorate, is likely to win the prize.


It is almost as if the actual election will be just a formality, with the winner really already having “won” before any of us even get to the polls.


So many people have worked themselves into a fever about “talks” between the MDC and Zanu PF as the solution to the many problems we face that they are not paying close attention to the signals the ruling party is sending out.


The message is that talks would be considered, but entirely at the ruling party’s discretion and on their terms. In other words, they want a declaration of surrender from the opposition before they agree to sit down to talk with them!


Mugabe and his ministers Ignatius Chombo and Patrick Chinamasa have all recently made statements to do with relations with the MDC. Their tone made it very clear that they consider it to be the opposition that is wayward, and are willing to be “generous” enough to talk with them if they first renounce their core beliefs.


t would be wonderful if the country could somehow be lifted from the multi-layered mess it is in by the two parties sitting down to tea together, but I simply have not seen any signs of willingness to negotiate on any substantive issues on the part of government.


Smarting from the terrible embarrassment of having to send out an international SOS for food aid again this year, the government has tried to save face by exerting its “sovereignty” on how the food should be distributed.


International donors are expected to hand the food aid over to officials beholden to the ruling party and government, which in previous years has led to political discrimination on who gets the help.


It seems lost on the government that the greatest embarrassment is to have to beg for food aid in a country that just a few years ago fed many other countries, not to have the handing out done by the donors. Nor is this just a temporary setback because of drought, or to give the “agrarian revolution” time to work.


The evidence with regards to land use, availability of fuel, seed, fertiliser and so on is that we are going to be dependent on food handouts for a long time.


It is trivial to say “after all we are the ones who begged for the food” as Social Welfare minister July Moyo said petulantly to justify efforts to control the distribution of food aid. Based on previous experience, the donors have understandably balked, with threats to pull out completely if the government insists on this policy.


The greatest loss of “national face” is putting ourselves in a situation where we have to plead to the world for food, and no petty attempts to then flex government muscle in the distribution can overcome that.


President Mugabe has just made his pilgrimage to Malaysia. What did he bring us from Kuala Lumpur? Nothing as usual! Of course the junket would have been as “successful” as are all his trips, it’s just that the evidence of the success is a closely guarded secret. Oh sure, there have been big headlines about billions of dollars worth of fertiliser, seed and agricultural chemicals promised, but we have heard it all before. We don’t have the money to pay for any of it, and it is unlikely the shrewd Malaysians are interested in throwing money down a bottomless pit simply because Mugabe is such a hero-worshipper of their prime minister.


The Malaysia that was on about the same developmental level with us a couple of decades ago has forged so far ahead of us now we shamelessly go there to plead for handouts, ideas and inspiration. Such is the state of African uhuru for you! President Mugabe does not see that his fascination with Malaysia’s success is actually an indictment of his own two decades of ruinous rule.


I hope it doesn’t take as long for the billions of dollars worth of agricultural inputs to get here as the promised Libyan oil of a few months ago which hasn’t yet arrived!


Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.

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