If there is one inescapable reality in today’s Zimbabwe, it is that the ruling elite has totally lost touch with the existential struggles of the ordinary citizen.
Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
The president is cocooned in the trappings of power. His closest advisors — a cabal of pot-bellied politicians — do not know the price of bread in Mbare. They cruise around in air-conditioned luxury 4X4s, wafting over the potholes created by their incompetence and avoiding the suffocating stench of burst sewers. It was Leo Tolstoy who quipped that each “unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
I was reminded of this timeless quote by President Robert Mugabe’s outlandish assertions at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Durban yesterday. With a straight face, the president argued that Zimbabwe is not a fragile state. But does he know that this country is now the biggest producer of economic refugees in southern Africa? Mugabe claimed that Zimbabwe “is one of the most highly developed countries in Africa”. He added: “After South Africa, I want to know which country has that level of development that we see in Zimbabwe.”
The grotesque irony of a frail-looking leader denying strenuously that his country is fragile was not lost on the WEF audience. Mugabe, who increasingly resembles Hastings Kamuzu Banda in his final days, is an intriguing, if flawed, character. No amount of hyperbole, caricature or satire can even begin to describe the monumental absurdity that Zimbabwe has become under Mugabe’s controversial leadership.
We all love our country, but we must tell it like it is. Zimbabwe is worse than a “fragile state” — it is a “failing state”, just a step away from the league of failed states. A fragile state is a poverty-stricken country whose central authority lacks the capacity to defend the population from horrible shocks. It is characterised by poor governance, prolonged crisis, institutional collapse, primitive accumulation of wealth by a predatory elite, and a drastic plunge in the quality of life.
Zimbabwe is a low-income, food deficit country and more than 72% of the population lives in “extreme poverty”, according to the United Nations. An estimated 4,1 million people faced starvation at the peak of the lean season this year. This man-made catastrophe is worsened by widespread poverty, HIV and Aids, scarce employment opportunities, cash shortages and general economic turmoil. The World Food Programme, an agency of the UN, says nearly a third of children under the age of five are stunted, or have heights too low for their age, as a result of chronic malnutrition. More than half of children suffer from anaemia.
President Mugabe boasted in Durban that Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa. He is wrong. Perhaps he would have been correct in the 1980s, but today there are a dozen countries with higher literacy levels on this continent. Is he aware that children from poor families are dropping out of school in record numbers?
The strength of a nation state is no longer measured by how devastating it is in exercising its sovereign right to kill, but by its propensity to give life.