Editor’s Memo: Brezh Malaba
IF you want to gain a deeper understanding of the sheer magnitude of Zimbabwe’s catastrophic economy, look closely at the statistics pertaining to extreme poverty and the huge number of people living below the internationally recognised thresholds of penury.
This week, I heard that the United Nations is providing books to 2,5 million Zimbabwean children; providing monthly cash payouts to over 300 000 poor households— particularly those headed by minors—and funding water and sanitation services to more than 3,6 million people in rural and semi-urban areas. More than a million Zimbabweans are receiving anti-retroviral drugs from the donor community. The UN has mobilised US$400 million annually for humanitarian programmes in Zimbabwe for the past three years.
These are millions of people surviving on the benevolence of well-wishers. How would their lives be without this vital support from donors?
The UN says 72% of Zimbabweans live in poverty. Extreme poverty, according to the World Poverty Clock, is an everyday reality for 3,8 million Zimbabweans—almost a quarter of the population.
Our leaders must sober up. Why are they failing to see what everyone else is seeing so clearly?
Economic turmoil is the logical culmination of what is essentially a political problem. The Zimbabwean situation is producing the bitter fruits of poverty and violence, but its roots are firmly anchored in the blood-dimmed strata of a dysfunctional political culture.
Six months after a contentious general election, the country is yet to find answers to the all-important question of political legitimacy and its direct offshoot—confidence. Legitimacy, like integrity, is not demanded but earned.
Where do we go from here?
There are basically two options at this stage: the first one entails the formation of a power-sharing government, and the second one involves the creation of a transitional government.
In a power-sharing arrangement, the major stakeholders—who are usually the main political parties—devise a viable formula for the allocation of portfolios and the assignment of key responsibilities.
A transitional government is more of a caretaker administration whose main task is to facilitate processes leading to a free, fair and credible election. There have been growing calls for such an election to be supervised by the United Nations—and you do not need a PhD in political science to comprehend this self-evident fact.
Credible dialogue will require the intervention of a mediator who commands gravitas on the international stage. Such a person can be an eminent jurist, a respected statesman or a retired UN bureaucrat.
But we should be very careful with power-sharing arrangements which morph into elitist pacts. Some politicians would see this as a glorious opportunity to jostle for a prime slot at the feeding trough. Others would be naturally inclined to use the veneer of borrowed legitimacy to prolong regime survival. In the hands of crooked politicians, the national interest is sacrificed on the altar of primitive accumulation and power retention.
For any dialogue to lead to a desirable outcome, it is vital for Zimbabweans to clearly define their expectations. What do people want from a national conversation?
To be sure, there is often no substitute for dialogue, but we have to guard against leading people down the garden path. Zimbabwe had a power-sharing government from 2009 to 2013. What happened to that adventure?
Yes, the economy registered a remarkable uptick, bringing to an end a devastating period of hyperinflation. A success of sorts, perhaps. But the power-sharing government failed its most important test: entrenching democracy. Sure, the country emerged with a glitzy new constitution. The question is: did that prevent electoral theft? Did it bring to an end extra-judicial killings? Did it stem corruption and economic mismanagement?
The biggest lesson from all this is that a negotiated political settlement is no miracle cure. The virus of bad governance is not eliminated through elitist handshakes and dazzling photo opportunities.
The answer will only be found in an all-inclusive, democratic and prosperous polity that delivers fair opportunities to everyone who calls Zimbabwe home.