As we begin 2019, there are key lessons from the coup and Zimbabwe’s post-coup experiences. The key lessons going forward relate to ethical leadership, public sector performance management, service delivery, hard and smart work and the foolishness of trying to transact change in an ethical and ideological vacuum. The following are my fundamental lessons from the coup and for 2019 and beyond:
Tribalism and Regionalism.
Tribalism is a term used mostly to denote animosities between members of different ethnic groups. Regionalism, likewise, refers to the animosities between members of different regions within a polity. By its very nature, tribalism is not a radical or transformative construct. It expresses more a desperate desire to cling onto identities (real and imagined) that are under threat, especially in situations where tribes and tribesmen are disappearing. Tribalism is urban Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean diaspora, where there are no tribes or tribesmen; it is absent in the most villages in Zimbabwe.
Tribalism is a perennial and growing problem in our governance, civil society, political parties, churches and universities. What is so remarkable here is that tribalism is more prominent in urban spaces than in villages. Conflicts occur between clusters of interests from different ethnic groups or regions in matters regarding especially appointments of new members and the promotion of old ones in institutions.
Between the Mugabe and Mnangagwa regimes, there have been recurrent accusations of Zezurinisation and Karangarisation of the State. But is there a logic to these conflicts, or are they purely the excuse used to promote mediocrity and assuage the insecurity of incompetent political merchants?
Are corruption and insecurity the major drivers of tribalism in Zimbabwe? The enquiry as to the public cost of tribalism-induced inefficiency and corruption is secondary to destruction of public trust.
Meritocracy and ethics
The very idea that ‘our own’ can steal and under-perform with impunity is what has destroyed Zimbabwe’s public administration and undermined quality service delivery to the generality of the citizenry. In Zimbabwe’s body politic today behind the suave public relations spectacle of a supposed ‘new dispensation’ and pretensions of a ‘listening and inclusive leadership’ lies a rotten pre-disposition towards homeboy and home girl politics.
To understand the full nature of the problem, we must transcend the ideological distortions of the simplistic “tribe against tribe” theme in historical accounts of the liberation struggle and Gukurahundi. “Inter-tribal”, rather than “intra-tribal”, struggles are given the accent in interpretations of Zimbabwe’s political strife. The coup exposed the scope and even the significance of “intra-tribal” and inter-regional struggles in Zimbabwe. By carefully emphasising “inter-tribal” disharmonies in pre-coup Zimbabwe, Mugabe and his cronies had two things to gain concurrently. First, the principle of divide and rule was effectively employed to create dis-harmony between groups from different parts of the country; second, it gave the Zanu PF government and Mugabe the image of benevolent peacemaker, who could keep the country united and establish order.
Tribalism flourishes among professors and students in Zimbabwean colleges and universities, many of who rarely visit their villages of birth.
Post-coup appointments to several strategic positions have again raised the fears that village network politics is returning more ferocious than it was in the latter days of the Mugabe era. Mnangagwa has to remember that people believe in anecdotes and a mismanagement of this perception — no matter the reality — might lead to greater tensions within the State and party in 2019 and beyond.
The perplexing thing about corruption in Zimbabwe is not so much its enormity, complexity or crassness, but the pervading and growing notion that treats public institutions and assets as amoral and the legitimation of the need to seize largesse from the state, local government, central government, civil society and donors. There are three forms of corruption that are associated with the Zimbabwean elites.
The first is what is regarded as embezzlement of funds from the government, NGOs, private sector or donor agencies. The second is the solicitation and acceptance of bribes from individuals seeking services provided by the local or central government (for an example passports, identity documents, registration of stands, vehicle licences, driving licences, drug control licenses, and etcetera) by those who administer these services. The third category is asset stripping and acceptance of kickbacks from investors, tenderpreneurs, and middlemen. All three carry little moral sanction and may well receive great moral approbation from members of one’s social circles and family. In comparison, these forms of corruption are completely absent in most private social spaces such as churches, mosques and families.
The typical chief or queen of bribes in Zimbabwe, that one who demands bribes from individuals or who engages in embezzlement in the performance of his duties in the civil service is likely to be a stickler for accountability within their church circles or family spaces. On the other hand, he or she may be mocked, rebuked or even sanctioned by members of his own family, clan or tribe if he or she attempts to extend the honesty and integrity with which s/he performs his or her duties at church and family funerals to his or her duties at work by employing universalistic criteria of impartiality. Every time I have gotten a new job, several relatives, friends and colleagues have always tried to get me to hire someone from the social circles and most are offended when I indicate that it is contrary to the rules.
So, Zimbabwe’s national and local governments have a deplorable record of corruption and cronyism, but the family and church entities that handle equally huge amounts of money as the local authorities do not have half the corruption challenges of the former. Those that steal from local authorities are often credited with street smartness and are envied for taking advantage of their opportunities and more so when they use such crookedness to serve the needs of the private voluntary spaces such as clan, tribe, church and some such other philanthropic endeavour.
However, those that steal the funds of the church, Mosque, burial society clearly offend the public conscience and are ostracised from society. In order to fight corruption effectively there is need to define it beyond the bribe-taking and bribe-giving as well as public sector confine. The entire ecosystem needs to be looked at alongside the strengthening of anti-corruption agencies and investigatory capacities. But no country has ever reduced corruption without political will, commitment and force of example of the leadership. Zimbabwe is no exception.
Work ethic and attitude
Recently many people on social media were up in arms against Tsitsi Masiyiwa when she commented on some Zimbabweans’ attitude towards work. In fairness to her, her comment may have been ill-timed, but what she really meant was hardly objectively interrogated without the emotive disdain born out of the perception that a billionaire’s wife was condescending towards the poor and working class.
There is a schizophrenic attitude that extends to observable habits of work. The culture of kukiya kiya has raised a generation that is used to making huge profits from little effort and will prove difficult to bring back into structured ways of doing business at reasonable (as opposed to exorbitant) returns.
For the most part, Zimbabweans are extremely hard working especially when it comes to personal endeavour and family spaces, as anyone familiar with Zimbabweans can testify. The man-hours or woman-hours spent in the service of family, church and voluntary associations are frightening – but it would be unwise to quantify and emphasise them; such is their voluntary character. On the other hand, a huge percentage of Zimbabweans in the public service, civil society and certain components of the private sector are not as hard working.
Very few seem to feel guilty when they waste. The same individual would be terribly embarrassed where he or she to waste time or make claims for work he or she has not done in his or her church, family or clan. It is not unusual that some individuals treat their duties in formal employment as an opportunity for rest in preparation for their tougher assignments at church, in secret societies, the clan, political party and so on and so forth.
Patriots vs quislings.
Standing somewhat apart from the rest, but central to the ideological promotion of the legitimacy of Zanu PF rule, is the near-religious emphasis on the distinction between “patriots and/or revolutionaries” (that is citizens that support Zanu PF) and unpatriotic sell-outs (that is, those citizens that support the opposition or advocate for human rights). Flip this on its head and imagine what the extraordinary appeal to white capital means for black children’s psychology.
Owing to Rhodesian myth-making most Africans before independence and soon after had the perception of the European as a man superior in every respect, that worked smart, was intelligent, with a great business acumen and who did nothing much more than acquire skill and worked hard to earn their comparatively unparalleled privilege and luxury.
Amongst the generation of our current leaders western education and primitive accumulation was for them an avenue for escaping hard work and poverty associated in their generation with being ‘black’.
In their time and upbringing, hard work was meant for the black labourer class. At least it was believed that the white settlers, having acquired technical know-how, could not engage in menial or manual labor. To send one’s son or daughter to school was to hope that s/he would escape the penury of hard work. Many of these perceptions of whites and of Western education continue to be promoted by Zimbabwe’s post-coup leaders despite the glaring evidence of a growing reserve army of unemployed and yet degreed youth.
These are unfounded views meant to justify the privileged treatment of white Zimbabweans in business and other social sectors. The racist strategy of Rhodesians designed to separate ‘natives’ from governance, the economy and high society and to define the “native” in terms of what is low permeates the post-coup political discourse and actions. This condescending distinction between the white investor and commercial farmer and low “natives” has found new expression in the idea that Africa does not need democracy, but strongmen that rule by an iron-fist. That returning white farmers and farms to whites is synonymous with agricultural renaissance.
Post-coup Zimbabwean politics partially emerged with the widening interest of Chinese, Saudi, Emirati, Indian, American and European investors in modern, especially post-2008, Zimbabwe. The tactics employed by western media and PR firms such as divide and rule, smear, finance dissent, create phantom good guys are drawn from the colonial conception of African politics in the West.
But these tactics and strategies appear either exhausted, comical or simply ineffective from overuse and they cry out for modernisation and re-think. They fail to appreciate the dynamism of Zimbabwean politics and lack any understanding of what is unique in it. I am persuaded that the pro-democracy experience provides that uniqueness. Our post-coup politics has not only been fashioned by our colonial past but is the by-product of a very robust pro-democracy struggle stretching over three decades. It is both those colonial and pro-democracy legacies that have defined for us the spheres of morality and ideological contestations that have come to dominate our politics.
Our problems may be partially understood and hopefully solved by the realisation that there is absolutely no sustainable room for in contemporary Zimbabwean politics. Nor is there room for rabid neo-liberal economism, we have been there and done that and failed under ESAP1 and ESAP II.
Strongmen and sustainable peace moral and ideological rivals that in fact the strongman governance and development leadership would be starved of badly needed morality, street credibility and political integrity. Of course, “credibility, legitimacy and integrity” have an old-fashioned ring about them; but any politics without these is destructive and ultimately violent. And the destructive results of Zimbabwean politics in the post-coup era owes something to the shoddy attempt to de-ideologise and de-politicise the public discourse and by so doing rob it of the lens and standards of leadership accountability.
Brian T Kagoro is a lawyer and political analyst. — Twitter: @TamukaKagoro77.