ONE of the biggest talking points on Zimbabwean social media in recent days has centred on Zanu PF’s ridiculous solution to the ongoing shortage of bread: rudimentary bush ovens.
Candid Comment,Brezh Malaba
For some strange reason, the ruling party seems to have concluded that the country has a shortage of bakery ovens. That is a dangerous diagnosis.
There is no shortage of ovens; what is in short supply is wheat.
We should never take bread for granted. The quality, price and availability of bread can tell you a lot about the health of a nation’s economy.
More importantly, it is a good indicator of the governance ethos.
The upper classes can dismiss the importance of bread at their own peril. History recalls how Marie Antoinette, the queen of France during the French Revolution, dismissively remarked: “Let them eat cake” when she heard that the wretched povo had run out of bread supplies. The attribution of the quote has been questioned by many scholars, but the import of its meaning is unmistakeable: the privileged elite are far detached from the suffering of the masses.
Bread — in a normal society — should be affordable to virtually every member of the community. It is, in a sense, the poor man’s staple food.
In days gone by, even homeless children who live on the treacherous streets of Harare could afford a loaf. As economic turmoil escalates, bread has become a luxury commodity in this country, only afforded by the moneyed class.
Let me explain why the bread shortage is emblematic of failed leadership and governance. For a society to be able to produce bread, it must get its ducks in a row. You need a viable agricultural sector that can grow a decent wheat crop.
For that to happen, you need helpful policies, excellent incentives and efficient markets. These do not fall from the sky; you must attain a high level of organisational culture before you even begin entertaining the dream of delivering bread to every home.
But how do you develop a competitive agricultural sector in a country where land is viewed by financial institutions as a dead asset?
A merry band of enterprising farmers, on its own, is not enough to guarantee you an adequate supply of bread. Producer prices must incentivise the farmer; the market dynamics have to allow for free and open trade; bakeries need the financial capacity to buy wheat, and the customer must have the purchasing power to afford a loaf of bread.
Zimbabwe’s bread shortage is a tragic failure of leadership and governance. It must worry us that even in war-torn countries — with bombs detonating everywhere — people are still able to buy bread. This country has thrown US$3 billion into Command Agriculture but we do not have a single loaf of bread to show for all that money.