Candid comment: Official denials reflect detached leadership

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OFTEN, a major obstacle to solving a problem or crisis is acknowledging its existence, for how do you conceive an appropriate strategy to tackle a difficulty whose existence you are in denial of?

Stewart Chabwinja

This is why for instance at meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous — a fellowship which states its primary objective as helping alcoholics “to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety” — the ritualised greeting is to say out your full name, and “I’m an alcoholic”.

Efforts to rescue the country’s sinking economy face a daunting challenge in government leaders’ reluctance to own up to their culpability in — or even the existence of — the resurgent economic crisis. There is often denial that there are telltale signs the economy is in its death throes, a notable spin by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa being that it is “the old economy” that is dead, and a new one, characterised by a thriving informal sector, is emerging.

Anyone who dares situate the genesis of the economic malaise in the Zanu PF government’s corrosive governance shortcomings is branded unpatriotic, or a regime change foot soldier. That denial, often finding official expression through auxiliary dissembling pronouncements, was in evidence last weekend when Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed a rally in Mvuma where his wife Auxilia is contesting a by-election today.

Mnangagwa berated the media and opposition for suggesting the economy was on the verge of collapse and subsequent instability as the Zanu PF government had failed — despite lofty promises in its 2013 election manifesto — to rescue it from the clutches of a protracted crisis.

He described such journalists as agents of imperialism and challenged them to show how the economy could be crumbling at time his party was “working flat out” to achieve an economic boom. If indeed the Zanu PF government is pulling out all the stops to resolve the economic conundrum — which would be news to many given evidence to the contrary — then it has as good as failed, as widely feared. The quickening retrenchments and company closures, low capacity utilisation and aggregate demand, liquidity crunch and soaring poverty, among others, show economic implosion.

Mnangagwa is not a lone ranger in the denialism. While in Japan recently for a UN disaster conference, President Robert Mugabe was in an interview screened on ZTV asked about rising poverty back home.

His stumbling response was that poverty is but a relative term, and in case Zimbabwe had redistributed land to fight it. What’s more, he said, the country had about the highest literacy rate on the continent; he of course did not mention the unemployment rate quoted at above 85% is among the highest worldwide or that millions of its citizens are reeling from poverty.

This stark detachment was also in breathtaking evidence when VP Phelekezela Mphoko recently expressed shock that able-bodied persons were resorting to vending on the streets to earn a living. His surprise sparked outrage as it reflected a leadership insulated from the daily struggles of its people due to undeserved privileges and trappings of office, and unhelpful denialism.

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