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Editor’s Memo

Living a lie
Vincent Kahiya

PRESIDENT Bingu wa Mutharika has declared a national disaster in Malawi. He has also launched an international appeal for food assistance for nearly five milli

on of his countrymen facing starvation.

Malawi recorded a huge cereal deficit this season due to a combination of drought, a shortage of fertiliser and other inputs.

All this should have a familiar ring in Zimbabwe except for one thing: we are ashamed to launch an international appeal for food aid because we are not ordinary victims of inclement weather patterns. We are the proud owners of our land and part authors of our national catastrophe.

There is another difference. As I was passing by TM supermarket in the Kopje area on Tuesday, I noticed that people no longer buy maize-meal inside the shop. They use the dirty sanitary lane facing Speke Avenue behind the shop – away from the glare of the public.

We have not only bungled national food security, we are also in denial about the resultant shortages. Talking about food shortage in public carries nearly as much stigma as being HIV-positive.

I was immediately reminded of President Robert Mugabe’s long interview with Sky News in May last year (see Page 11) in which he denied that the country faced food shortages or that people were starving. We are living dangerously; our leaders are living a lie and putting innocent people’s lives at serious risk.

There is an emerging pattern of a president far removed from our earthly realities. In that interview President Mugabe claimed the country would produce 2,3 million tonnes of maize and that there would definitely be no need for imports.

He predicted a bumper harvest and a surplus and told NGOs to take their food assistance where it was more needed. Zimbabweans did not want to choke on so much food, he said.

As it turned out, the harvest was less than a million tonnes and the country has been importing maize ever since. (Incidentally, the interviewer, Stuart Ramsey, has a standing invitation from the president to revisit Zimbabwe.)

Mugabe followed up that fiction this year in New York with claims that there were plenty of potatoes and rice to feed the nation. We still don’t know the source of that information, but that is not the issue here.

There is a very real danger of a president who is told what he wants to hear regardless of the truth on the ground. Those who gave Mugabe those fictitious figures knew what he wanted to hear. He then proceeded to make national decisions and pronouncements on the basis of that fiction.

Already, we are being told that this year’s harvest is going to better than last year’s in spite of the seed, fertiliser and fuel situation being worse than it has ever been in the past five years!

Operation Murambatsvina offers us the clearest danger of a president living in the world of misinformation as opposed to reality. New African magazine editor Baffour Ankomah stunned Zimbabweans with revelations that the whole military-style operation was inspired by paranoia, a rumour that there was an imminent uprising against Mugabe and his government.

The solution was to destroy all possible trouble spots in urban areas. The upshot was the destruction of hundreds of homes and displacement of thousands of people countrywide.

It is not for us to dispute Ankomah’s claims, except to say that government has not offered a more plausible explanation for the brutal operation.

Finance minister Herbert Murerwa said there was never a budget for the operation. The slow progress of Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle bears testimony to that if any were needed.

So the nation is still in the dark about the motives of those who fed Mugabe the fiction of a foreign-instigated rebellion. What is now known is that Mugabe proceeded to act on the basis of that dangerous rumour without cabinet approval.

Unfortunately, and more importantly, in so-doing Mugabe was isolated from the herd the way predators of the wild isolate a buffalo before killing it. In seeking to achieve absolute power, he has unconstitutionally and unwittingly yielded that power to sinister forces that have taken him hostage.

They have an agenda and information that he apparently doesn’t have.

There is a danger of an elected executive president assuming titular status after ceding all power to security agents engaged in an internecine succession war, using unorthodox means to shape the destiny of the country. All this because Mugabe will not admit failure or that the land reform so far has failed to assure national food security.

The question is: what other misleading information is Mugabe fed every day? Are these the same intelligence sources that inform him about the performance of the economy and the fuel situation which he promised two weeks ago would soon improve?

Is it the same lying sources reporting of progress on Operation Garikai but will not allow the media to view the construction projects? Why are thousands of people still living in the open along Mukuvisi River?

I would like to end with Mugabe’s evaluation of himself in the Sky News interview. Asked if he had made mistakes, he answered in the affirmative, but said his overall score was positive.

“You judge yourself by firstly your ability to achieve the goals you set yourself, secondly by ensuring that in your performance you have the actions, the thinking and the co-operation of others and then you judge your performance that others also are able to judge you and if your own judgement of yourself is the same judgement as others make of you, then you are a happy man. But if you are going to say I’m right when others say you are wrong, you will get self-opinionated . . .”

Indeed, Mr President.

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