Candid Comment: Zim ‘progress’ only favours the interests of elites

LAST week I attended a conference whose theme was “Progress in Zimbabwe”. When the conference started, I realised that there were many issues that have been ignored since Independence.

I expected progress to dwell more on what had happened in the country following the inception of the government of national unity, but after a few sessions into the conference, I realised that the tragedy that led to the signing of the Global Political Agreement was in itself a problem of progress. 
It suddenly became clear that whereas the country scored highly on education, access to primary health, infrastructure development, among other successes, there was no consensus on a number of other important issues such as nation-building, which continued to present problems to date.
The political elites, I suddenly realised, centralised power and in the process demobilised, not only the combatants who had fought in the liberation war, but also the peasants, the workers and other people who had supported the war of freedom.
The result was a deep state whereby the elites take over all decision making processes. These elites thought they knew what the nation wanted but there was a disarticulation between the centralised and presumably developmental state and an expectant nation.
This was clearly evident in the internal conflicts, violence, corruption and stagnated economic development within the first few years of Independence. By the time the ex-combatants, peasants, workers and students reorganised, the damage had been done. The other result of the centralisation of power by the elites was that nation-building failed and as a result there are many contested spaces which would take a genius to defuse.
One has to look at the dominant narrative in the electronic media, the history books and until recently public discourse to realise how entrenched this elitism is. The narrative in the electronic media is so exclusionary that it would appear that the Zanu PF voice is the one and only. It swallows all the other voices even on issues where there should be a celebration of diversity or difference.
Our history books since Independence are dominated by patriotic historiography that ironically was supposed to be supporting nation-building, a failed project if ever it had been on the agenda.
There is nothing wrong with the patriotic historiography, but it should also compete with critical text analysis. The obvious question would be why there are so many contestations. The answer lies in what the country meant to be progress at Independence. One has to ask if what was termed progress
fell within the continuum of what people wanted during the war. It is sad that there was a complete dislocation in terms of what people’s aspirations were before Independence and
What the people of Zimbabwe wanted and what they got and continue to get are at variance and the answer lies in the monolithic grabbing of power by the elites at Independence. Whatever space was left, between 1980 and maybe 2000 has been fast disappearing leading to the sad episodes in our history which have always been resolved by signing of unequal agreements.
If the increase in the literacy rates was progress, especially when one looked at the bottlenecks in the education system before Independence, then how would one explain the failure to give jobs to the educated? How would one explain the skills flight! The same could also be said about primary health delivery where building of clinics could be viewed as progress. However, is it progress if there are clinics in every ward in the country but without the basic medicines?
The same could also be said about the issue of uneven development in the country where one province, district or region feels neglected.
What I have realised is that in as much as there has been progress in Zimbabwe, there has also been regression. For the past 30 years, it could be argued, we have been muddling through with a deep state that has failed to realise what the people want and has instead focused on consolidating its power. The public state project, which should have replaced a racist state, failed at Independence when the people were demobilised. And until a time when the contested spaces are neutralised progress in Zimbabwe remains a mirage.


Leornard Makombe