PHEW, what a week!
Zimbabweans witnessed a bizarre spectacle on Wednesday this week when the National Security Council addressed a press conference to dismiss what it described as “rumours of a coup”.
It was a very unusual step. The security forces basically accused everyone of peddling the “rumours”: pastors, online platforms, journalists, Zanu PF’s G40 faction, opposition politicians, government officials, civil society, Western diplomats.
On that same day, while the command element was strangely denying “rumours of a coup”, across town President Emmerson Mnangagwa was addressing the Zanu PF politburo and “declaring war on economic saboteurs”. For good measure, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was also issuing a statement attributing the economic collapse to some unnamed forces of evil.
Curiously, the leaders are silent about the ruinous corruption which is angering the masses.There is a thread running through all this. The authorities are seeing shadows everywhere. How has an educated nation degenerated into such a tragic farce?
If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Mnangagwa has lived in the shadows since the 1960s. His worldview has been shaped by smoke and mirrors, subterfuge, deception, cloak and dagger, and the dark arts of political intrigue. His default settings are suspicion and secrecy rather than trust and openness. It is a stance that has kept him alive in the treacherous labyrinth of Zimbabwean politics, but his existential dilemma today is that he is woefully ill-equipped for 21st Century statecraft.
One of the most fascinating countries I have visited as a journalist is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Potentially the richest nation on the planet, the DRC is geographically bigger than Western Europe and richly endowed with almost every precious mineral imaginable.
There is a basket of minerals which can only be viably mined in the DRC and nowhere else under the sun. These metals are crucial in the manufacture of aircraft components, armaments, cellphones and other sleek gadgetry. And yet the Congo’s human development indicators are so dismal the country is consistently ranked the poorest in the world.
On my trips to the sprawling capital Kinshasa, I came face-to-face with the grim realities of Africa’s failed leadership. On two trips — 10 years apart — I noticed that some major roads which were under construction on my first visit remained incomplete a whole decade later.
It reminded me of the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road which has been “under construction” for 40 years, but that is a story for another day. Poverty was so endemic in the Congo that, in a family of five, only two members of the family would eat today while the rest slept on empty stomachs; the following day, it would be the turn of the other three to eat while the rest went to bed hungry. It was a grotesque perversion of the corrupt African leaders’ motto: “It’s our turn to eat.”
The DRC generates billions of United States dollars from natural resources and its citizens should really not be wallowing in squalor. But this is what happens in a kleptocracy — a government run by thieves.
Zimbabwe has all the traits of an authoritarian kleptocracy. The calibre of leadership is the reason why Botswana, a semi-desert country largely dependent on single-resource diamond revenue, has built a relatively stable economy and boasts extensive foreign exchange reserves, yet Zimbabwe, with more than 40 minerals, arable land and high literacy, is today a hellhole of hunger, poverty, corruption and repression. It is not a result of bad luck or the wrath of the ancestors; it is directly linked to corrupt and incompetent leadership.
The economy is in tatters. Zanu PF’s dysfunctional governance is characterised by gross economic mismanagement, inept public administration, grand corruption, powerful cartels and a stark lack of compassion in the corridors of power for the suffering of impoverished citizens.
What happens now? Well, the people of Zimbabwe cannot continue moaning helplessly. When they have suffered enough, it will dawn upon them that real power resides in people’s hands and they cannot continue thoughtlessly outsourcing their destiny to crooked politicians.