By Bill Saidi
IN the Middle East, in Europe, the United States and even in Africa, suicide bombers have blown up buses, cars, trains, holiday resorts and even flown airc
raft into skyscrapers, killing thousands of people.
The body count in Zimbabwe comes nowhere near that. Yet our record of the carnage in road and train accidents has reached alarming proportions.
If you add the number of people killed by the police, in the pursuit of criminals or innocent by-standers, then you may wonder what kind of “monster” is stalking the people.
The tendency is to conclude that it is the consequence of an economy on its last legs, or a political system so steeped in duplicity and mendacity that most people are not sure where they are going from one moment to the next.
Yet, in the midst of all this carnage, there are government officials who seem to be genuinely disturbed by the possibility of this country as the target of terrorism.
This is not terrorism confined to the occasional bank robbery in the middle of First Street in Harare or Fort Street in Bulawayo. This is a full-scale terrorist attack by suicide bombers, such as we have seen in countries perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be aiding and abetting the “enemies of Islam”.
These government officials seem to spend sleepless nights worrying, not about the rising death toll on our roads, railway network or at the hands of trigger-happy police officers. Instead, they are busy studying huge volumes on how to protect the country against an invasion by terrorists of one kind or another.
Ideologically, Zimbabwe’s foreign policy is now dictated by what one might call unenlightened self-interest. In essence, this is a policy anchored on a wishy-washy anti-Western stance, laced liberally with the accusation that this bloc has imposed “illegal” sanctions on the country to avenge the murderous seizure by the government of President Robert Mugabe of huge commercial farms formerly owned by a few hundred white farmers.
The accusations are becoming more strident and more frequent as the land reform programme seems to be plagued by corruption in high places and the clueless bungling of the “new farmers”, on whose shoulders the food security of the country now rests.
Once in a while, a government official makes a public pronouncement that debunks this official line. Last week, Health and Child Welfare deputy minister Edwin Muguti was reported by the Herald, the government’s loudest official mouthpiece, as having “denied that the problem of radiotherapy machines was a result of illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe”.
Typically, there was no attempt to elaborate on his statement. Had someone — the reporter, perhaps — tried to tempt him into blaming the problem on the “usual suspects”, the Western countries?
Muguti is one member of the government whose refreshing candour on such ticklish issues must be giving someone higher up a few sleepless nights.
Another one is the governor for Mashonaland East, Ray Kaukonde, who continues to berate both political and government leaders in his area of jurisdiction over their incompetence and laziness.
The same could be said of Tinaye Chigudu, the Manicaland governor. He too has refused to throw around meaningless platitudes which tend to give civil servants and politicians the impression that whatever it is they are doing — for most of them this amounts to little more than sleeping on the job — is fine with him.
One man who sees his job as being that of protecting the country against foreign ideologies and even foreign enemies is Tafataona Mahoso. He is the chairman of the Media and Information Commission, the enforcer of the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
His forte is, it now turns out, not the media and information sector, but security. At the first hearing of the Interception of Communications Bill in Harare last week, he held forth for a long time on the perils Zimbabwe faced if it did not pass this law.
Mahoso has studied his subject closely. You had the impression he really loves the subject, perhaps more than he loves any idea that without freedom of expression, no country is secure, that people will defend their country with their lives if its freedom is threatened by an alien force.
Mahoso spoke with a chilling self-assurance, as if he was convinced that this country is headed for apocalypse if it doesn’t pass into law the Interception of Communications Bill.
As I listened to him, I gained the distinct impression that, for Mahoso and people of his ideological ilk, freedom of expression, the liberalisation of the economy, openness in government, and handling people with dignity and respect were not priorities.
The No l priority was the security of the government, not even necessarily that of the country. Mahoso reminded me of an old film called Dr Strangelove, which starred Peter Sellers as this mad scientist who loved the atomic bomb.
The calmness and the deadly seriousness with which he spoke made me wonder if this man would ever be in the proper frame of mind to embrace the concept of freedom of expression as understood in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution or in Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I was chilled by his seemingly unshakeable conviction that freedom of expression, as understood throughout the free world, was totally anathema to the security of all nations.
If you juxtapose this position with the consequences of the economic meltdown brought about by the decline in agricultural productivity since 2000, you begin to wonder if this government is ready to sacrifice many innocent lives until the West comes to Harare on bended knees to seek Mugabe’s forgiveness.
Mugabe has said publicly that “Zimbabwe will soldier on” in spite of the crisis it is facing. This could translate into letting the economy sink as long as the West does not confess that it is to blame for everything and seeks his forgiveness.
A group of Christians from the United Kingdom did exactly that last week. They asked for forgiveness on behalf of their ancestors who plundered Africa after they decided to share its spoils.
There were pertinent questions after these confessions: Chief Fortune Charumbira, a deputy minister of the government, asked if the Christians would return to Britain to ask their government to drop the sanctions because the land reform programme had been implemented to right the wrongs of the past.
A number of African countries have had their huge debts cancelled by the West with little to show for it. Zimbabwe has not been one of them. Although it has virtually begged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to revise its status with the financial institution,there are still nagging questions to be resolved.
By and large, the IMF would like to be assured that Zimbabwe will respect private property and assure foreign investors that if they sink their money into the country, they can be guaranteed security of tenure.
There is very little chance that the people of Europe, in general, would agree to a blanket programme of compensation for Africa for the exploitation of its natural resources and the enslavement of its people.
Yet there is a measure of merit in the African case. What may be problematical is this: if everything, including debt, is forgiven, what guarantee can there be that the African people themselves, not just their leaders, will enjoy the fruits of that grand gesture?
* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News on Sunday.