By Chido Makunike
THE continuing multilayered crisis and decline in Zimbabwe are not just sad because of the considerable suffering they are causing to the citizens. Nor are the elite wh
o are benefiting from skewed economics spared from the chaos that is so abundantly obvious.
While most struggle to afford the minimal basics of a decent life that was available to them just a few years ago, even the well-to-do have experienced a marked diminution in the quality of life.
Service delivery across the board has deteriorated, many things are in short supply and even if one has the money, the process of getting those things is often degrading. One has to queue for many basic services and so forth. There is no one who can honestly claim they do not experience the precipitous decline in the prospects of Zimbabwe.
But it is not just in the daily deprivations and inconveniences Zimbabwe’s decline as a properly functional society has caused that is pathetic. Even in the ways that we respond to the crises that present themselves to us as a nation, we show ourselves to be embarrassingly immature. For all President Mugabe’s talk about “sovereignty,” we are simply not managing it very well, unless you reduce that concept to merely having citizens occupying certain positions like Mugabe does, and separate it from what is accomplished for the good of the nation with that sovereignty.
It would be naive and silly for a nation in transition on so many fronts not to have problems, even crises. What is lamentable is our clear lack of seriousness to address the source of our problems and set about dealing with them. It is astonishing how much of our national, and particularly government energy, is squandered on things that are of little or no consequence.
Recently Mugabe went to grandstand at the United Nations in New York as he has loved to do for many years, naturally accompanied by Mrs Mugabe and a few others. It is an opportunity to show the defiant pretext under which he can sneak into the US that has imposed a travel ban on him and his cronies. He can strut and pontificate before a world forum about his pet issues, and countless luxury shops are within walking distance for any of the presidential party who get their sense of worth from buying trinkets.
Mugabe gave a long rambling speech about unequal global power relations that had a lot of truth in it. He mentioned the unipolar world in which the US can do as it pleases without any checks and balances, and how there is one standard of conduct for the rich powerful countries, and another for the weak poor countries. What was bizarre about Mugabe’s antics were not so much the veracity of much of what he had to say, but his choice of points to make at this juncture in his career and in the life of his nation.
He wore his best suit and read his speech as well as he always does, but I was fascinated and appalled by how irrelevant the substance of his speech was to the needs of his nation. One did not have any sense that this was a man who was painfully aware that his country was in freefall on many fronts, and that he was taking this opportunity to address the world to help stem and reverse that decline. The many valid points he made about the world power set-up had no chance of helping him move his country forward in any way.
One had the sense of a man who was quite satisfied to score a few debating points to the already converted than of one who chose his national priorities well and chose to focus on them, leaving the grand worldly visions for another time. He appeared to be completely oblivious of the fact that it was most incongruous for a man who has presided over the failure of his country in so many areas to be speaking so authoritatively about such distant, disparate issues. Any authority to address the global issues that he loves to do would best be from his having his own country as an example of how to improve citizens’ prospects for others to follow, and Zimbabwe today is far from that.
His defensive counter to the present sad state of the country he incompetently presides over is to talk incessantly about the land reform programme, and how it will solve all the various problems he likes to lecture the world on. Yet there is virtually not one single parameter of that programme that can give any neutral, objective observer hope that it will any time soon restore the standard of living of the recent past, much less empower any substantial proportion of Zimbabweans as he likes to pretend is happening.
He has openly admitted that his greedy, corrupt cronies have disproportionately benefited from the programme, but he is too afraid and compromised himself to do anything about it. But look at how eloquently he waxes about the cynical behaviour of the US in Iraq, as if that is a legitimate counter to his own shocking uselessness as a ruler!
There are many other examples of how his confused regime simply bungles from day to day, with no cohesive plan for moving the country forward. Look at the amount of energy expended on trying to get Mugabe invited to the December Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria after Zimbabwe’s suspension last year from that body. At that time his regime’s response was that the suspension was of little consequence, now they are desperate to go to the summit. Their efforts so far seem to have come to naught, but suppose Mugabe’s pals Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki find a way to sneak him into the meeting, so what?
The only “success” it would exemplify would be at defying his opponents like Britain and Australia, much like his “defiance” of the US travel ban by still being able to enter that country under UN auspices. But honestly, has statecraft been reduced to these kinds of childish games? Is this the kind of embarrassing, irrelevant trivia we have in mind when we boast of independence and sovereignty? Where is the joy in defying perceived or even real enemies in these inconsequential ways when those enemies can have the much greater satisfaction, if they are so inclined, to point at all the ways that your country is not working even as you pose and grandstand at world fora in your favourite suit?
Mugabe’s antics are shocking and sad, not just in how they show the decline of a once great individual, but also how they show our sad lack of seriousness in tackling problems for our own best interests.
Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer