By Chido Makunike
ONE of the nice things about the long end-of-year holiday is the greater opportunity than at other times to meet and share ideas with people from afar. Friends and relatives from abroad com
e to visit, and if one is lucky, one also gets away from the familiar surroundings to get a different perspective on things.
What struck me this year was the stark difference between Zimbabweans here and people from neighbouring countries when they discuss their near-term prospects. Talk to people from South Africa, Mozambique or Botswana for example, and they are generally upbeat about life and how their countries are doing. They are also fairly confident that whatever challenges they face, the general thrust of their countries is such that they will overcome them. One can sense energy and a purpose in the way citizens of these nations talk about their countries and go about their business.
Fairly stable and predictable economic trends mean people can plan for their lives and businesses with a confident, hopeful spirit. Politics is a cynical business anywhere, but from observing events in these neighbouring countries, one gets a greater feeling that the political process is relevant to the resolution of the citizens’ everyday problems.
That can hardly be said of Zimbabwe. The general mood about the future is one of anxiety and for many, trepidation and fear. Even though inflation is in fact significantly lower than it was a year ago, it is still at levels that make budgeting for anything a very tough grind. The prospects are that more people will lose their jobs than will be newly employed. Very few business people have plans to make significant new investments or expand their businesses. Most just hope to be able to hang on to their present level of operations, with many fearing that they will actually decline further in the New Year.
The primary election processes in both Zanu PF and the MDC have provided fascinating drama, but there is a surreal way in which they seem to have very little to do with addressing the fundamental challenges the country is facing. One has a sense of politicians, incumbent and aspiring, desperately trying to get into parliament not because they have any sort of grand visions for their country. It looks like for many, it is simply a job with a salary and significant perks. The bonus is one does not need any real qualifications or training to do the job. There is no discussion anywhere of what the role of a parliamentarian should be. The few who are able to throw around millions of dollars on “projects” and “donations” are often simply making a business investment they hope to reap a rich return from on getting into power.
All these factors and many others have led to Zimbabweans being far from optimistic about their future. Yet the element of hope is a vital ingredient in the affairs of a country. It is very difficult to put a finger on it or to quantify its significance, but between individuals as well as between nations, it can make a very big difference in outlook and in how problems are overcome.
One of the greatest failures of our political process at the moment is not engendering this spirit of hope and confidence in the future of the country.
Many Zimbabweans are still moved to seek these qualities away from home. Some find them uneasily but as foreigners in other lands. Many more however just manage to get by in those countries. It is a sign of how widespread the sense of discouragement is among Zimbabweans that even the many living on the fringes of other societies believe that they are better off there than they would be at home.
There is little doubt that Zimbabwe, with all its problems and the decline it has experienced in recent years, is still ahead of a country like Mozambique, at least in terms of infrastructure and institutions. Yet one hears many anecdotal stories of Zimbabweans packing up and leaving for opportunities in Mozambique, in addition to the more obvious attraction of South Africa.
Part of this can be explained by the fact that however much Mozambique may be perceived to be behind Zimbabwe for now, there is a sense that the country is moving forward.
The spark of optimism that this year will be better than the last compensates for a lot of what might be considered deprivations. A lot of the activities taking place in Mozambique would in different circumstances have come to Zimbabwe, which has many advantages over that country. But then the politics here has put the country at a disadvantage.
Whether within a political party or between parties, the election process should be exciting and invigorating, ushering in the promise of renewal. In Zanu PF in recent months, we have seen a predictable backlash against the antics of newcomers who were given power and prominence. Yet instead of examining the process of that attempt at rejuvenation, the party has instead taken the easy but backward step of recycling many members of the old guard who were not particularly effective even in their heyday!
We have seen the amazing spectacle of ancient politicians out of touch with the challenges of today being imposed on constituencies. Comfortable middle-class suburbanites have been thrust on poor rural constituencies they only have passing familiarity with.
There has been considerable recent effort to ensure more women have a chance at power within Zanu PF through the just-ended primaries, in particular the controversial decision to reserve some constituencies for women candidates. But one has the vague notion that it is not so much in the hope of improving the overall status of women or to broaden the visions of the country by significantly co-opting a marginalised group. Instead a noble aim seems to have been already corrupted to just give the particular women candidates a chance at the feeding trough along with the men!
Yet this could have been an opportunity not just for nominal gender political correctness, but also for improving the overall calibre of Zanu PF aspiring politicians.
In the MDC, incumbent MPs have the tough task of running for re-election without access to the levers of patronage ruling party politicians have to try to lure poor voters. It is interesting how some of the MPs have expressed outrage at being challenged. They consider their positions not as offices of trust on which they must be judged on performance, but as virtual entitlements; as the “perk” of being in the anti-Zanu PF struggle! Once again the loser in this version of what politics is all about is the ordinary voter who is looking to politicians for some real leadership.
*Chido Makunike is a regular Zimbabwe Independent columnist.