Poverty is a terrible threat to national dignity

Candid Comment: Brezh Malaba

Poverty, at personal level, is a very humbling experience. At community level, it is dehumanising. When poverty assails an entire nation, the result is a suffocating sense of utter humiliation.

Can you imagine the damage inflicted on the national psyche by the revelation that a huge segment of the population — equivalent to the entire number of registered voters in this country — will now survive on food from Western donors? These days we are even celebrating bandages donated to us by African countries.

The United Nations and its donor partners yesterday launched a campaign to raise US$234 million to provide emergency food aid to 5,3 million hungry Zimbabweans who face starvation as the economic crisis escalates.

If freedom and independence mean anything, it is the capacity to feed oneself. He who feeds you controls you.

What goes through the minds of our political leaders when they see donors fending for millions of Zimbabweans? We are talking of the very basics of life here: food, water, sanitation, education, health, shelter. If a government is incapable of delivering the barest of essentials, what moral authority to rule does it have?

The UN is buying books for 2,5 million Zimbabwean children; dispensing monthly cash payouts to over 300 000 poor households — many of them 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.

A particularly worrying dimension of the humanitarian emergency is the increase in food-insecure households in urban areas. Urban poverty is on the rise. These deprived communities could become incubators of civil unrest. A government’s right to govern is justified by its performance legitimacy — which tells us whether there is significant progress in economic delivery and the general well-being of the ordinary people. We can also measure performance legitimacy by closely scrutinising how the government is faring in defending the national interest through useful policies and actions.

In a country where 5,3 million people are in desperate need of emergency food assistance, the national interest is best served by delivering socio-economic prosperity. Contrary to conventional Zanu PF wisdom, sovereignty is not all about the state’s monopoly over instruments of violence; true sovereignty is the ability to feed yourself, clothe yourself, afford decent shelter and build a better future for all.

Economic mismanagement, incompetence and corruption erode public confidence in the government’s commitment to deliver prosperity, equity and justice.

Recent protests triggered by worsening economic hardships are a reflection of the rising tide of active discontent in this society.

Zimbabwe can do better.