My first visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was in 1999. Soon after touching down at Kinshasa’s Ndjili International Airport — which is quite some distance from the sprawling city of 10 million people — one of the things I immediately noticed about the central African country was the terrible state of the roads.
Candid Comment,Brezh Malaba
When I returned to Kinshasa in 2011, I was stunned to discover that the country had still not completed constructing a road I had seen workmen attempting to tar 12 years before. The realisation hit me like a tonne of bricks. I just could not wrap my head around the unsettling idea that a nation endowed with the richest array of precious minerals on the face of the planet could fail to apply a thin layer of asphalt in 12 long years.
With time, I have come to understand that there is really nothing unique about what I saw in the DRC; it is a common African malady. Here in Zimbabwe, the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road has been “under construction” since I was a toddler. Towards elections, it has become routine for politicians to recycle the “we are now constructing Nkayi Road” lie to fool gullible voters.
This week, memories of Kinshasa came flooding back when deputy minister of Transport Fortune Chasi tweeted four pictures of Bulawayo-Nkayi Road captioned: “Bulawayo-Nkayi Road construction as of today”. Time will tell.
Zimbabwe is celebrating 39 years of Independence today. What does Independence mean to you? How do you measure its successes and failures? What does independence mean to an expecting mother in a country whose maternal mortality rate is 614 deaths per 100 000 live births? What does Independence mean to a child in Binga district who learns under a mopane tree because the government has not built classrooms? What does Independence mean to the one-in-three Zimbabwean children who suffer from chronic malnutrition and stunting?
What does Independence mean to Itai Dzamara’s children whose father was snatched away in broad daylight by an evil system, never to be seen again? If you think there is no connection between this week’s outrageous jump in the price of bread and the dysfunctional governance culture of those who have ruined this country since 1980, you are not paying attention. In 1998, one of Africa’s greatest sons, Julius Nyerere, brilliantly located the nexus between poverty, corruption and bad governance.
“This continent is not distinguished for its good governance of the peoples of Africa. But without good governance, we cannot eradicate poverty; for no corrupt government is interested in the eradication of poverty; on the contrary, and as we have seen in many parts of Africa and elsewhere, widespread corruption in high places breeds poverty,” Mwalimu said.
You may choose to bury your head in the sand and deny reality, but the Zimbabwean situation is essentially a crisis of governance. A promising country has been impoverished by corruption, toxic politics and the failed policies of predatory leaders. This great nation — the only place we call home — deserves better.