An Independence celebration which must serve as a lesson

BY CHRIS MUGAGA

As he roams the streets of Pelandaba in Bulawayo, Sizande Dube is turning 40 this winter, almost 19 years after leaving Sizane Secondary school to pursue a trade test en route to qualification as an artisan. Regardless, he was never formally employed with informal hustles bridging his daily struggles as poverty grinds his expectations into thin air. When engaging him further, an air of hopelessness laced with bitterness defines his perspective to life in general. The economy has defeated him.

Zimbabwe, a nation which has known no joy on the economic front since 1990 can be described as an over-spilling basket which turned empty following years of continuous leakage. After inheriting the second most solid infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa, the promises of a middle income economy by today were too pronounced for anyone not to read through. Fast forward 41 years later, we have witnessed chaos on different fronts, be it political, economic, social and to a certain extent diplomaticwise . The first republic premised its agenda on vindictive politics which saw the collapse of both industry and agriculture, not mentioning the stretched social fabric following a “mfecane” of families into diaspora to look for greener pastures.

When the former president the late Robert Mugabe went on a mission to pursue land reform, the agenda was quite inspiring but the team around him was far from ready to support his stance, notwithstanding that his personal readiness might also be in question if reports of multiple land ownership he is said to be associated with are anything to go by. He created a cartel of corruption which set tragicomic levels, I recall vividly one of the evenings when I went on a Melting Pot current affairs show to discuss Indigenisation as a government policy, my fellow guest was his nephew. Patrick Zhuwao was then minister responsible for the controversial portfolio on indigenisation and economic empowerment . We almost had a fist fight during and after the show as he could not stomach my vehement opposition to how the indigenisation process was executed, to my great surprise I had a lot of sober people even in government structures who were fully supporting my stance, alas they couldn’t say it for fear of victimisation. Leadership should be able to stand up against what is wrong regardless of the consequences, a better Zimbabwe worth celebrating its independence should boast of such characters.

This is an independence celebration which has to spur us to learn from our mistakes of fatalistic docility and learn to call each other out without invoking political slogans at times. An honest engagement regarding the lost ground for a lengthy season inspired by populistic economic policies, politics of vendetta and a docile private sector which seeks to gain relevance in the eyes of politicians at the expense of economic development.

A strong private sector is not the one which specialises in blind criticism of government policies, nor should it be complicit in support of unproductive policies but rather one which presents alternatives guided by evidence based research.

The 41 years in Zimbabwe have taught us that the economy of a nation does not take a lifetime to collapse, it equally reminded us that a positive correlation does subsist between tenure of leadership in a nation and economic prosperity of that nation. Following almost four decades at the helm of the nation, the founding father of the nation was still playing hide and seek with succession politics and that alone caused its own unnecessary anxiety to the outside world which saw a military aided transition.

The art of being a great leader is to know when to leave be it in corporate, politics, religion and to a certain extent even in families you see the old and frail parents delegating key responsibilities to their heir apparent. This has not been unique to the ruling party only but even the main opposition party saw its founder; Morgan Tsvangirai passing on with no clear succession agenda which is the breeding ground for today’s endless factions and break aways from the party .

It’s time the nation puts its head together and deal with the underlying conditions bedevilling the economy, such conditions had been mutating and evasive for quite some time now.

These conditions range from intolerance, corruption, gross incompetence, blame game and most recently Covid-19. The argument simply illustrates the fact that before Covid-19 was a bother, we had different “viruses” which continue mutating unabated.

For so long, we have swept the scourge of unemployment under the carpet of informal sector, we continue practicing rear-view mirror economics where ZiscoSteel remains an agenda item for every government with no credible trajectory to build new corporates which rival the yesteryear giant.  Like Sizande of Pelandaba, we have a sizeable demographic chunk of citizens in their middle age who have never been employed, who thrive on less than US$0,75 per day and whose only source of hope are the fake prophets who had been on mute throughout the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

This independence celebration must serve as a reminder to all Zimbabweans that we are still a distance from normalcy. Inflation is still pegged at three digits, the local currency is still playing second fiddle to the greenback, they are more potholes than formal jobs in the economy and water has become an ostentatious good, more shopping malls are opening at the expense of manufacturing plants, access to forex is still on a priority list basis when a new digital currency is gaining ground, the cryptocurrency market is now worth above US$2 trillion and this week will witness the launch of the direct listing of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Global and polarity of media continues depicting a divided nation. By acknowledging our shortcomings and investing our efforts and skills to solve such challenges, we become a better nation. The political noise is too high in our everyday living corridors, even the incompetent ones can thrive in such an environment since they easily blame either the sanctions or harsh economic environment for their shortcomings.

Different nations had gone through different transformations post-independence, the story of Mozambique continues haunting us worse still with the Isis extremist group domiciled in Cabo Delgado reclaiming the bad boy tag of Renamo when the late Afonso Dhlakama was still their guerrilla leader, the failure of South Sudan to unite its people post July 9, 2011 when it was freed from Sudan, to the utopian promises of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 1981 when he promised not to run for more than two terms . What is a common denominator in all these scenarios is failed leadership which propelled coups or dissident groups cropping as a result of disenfranchisement.

The observation that the further an African nation is from the time it got its independence, the more underdeveloped it becomes makes a sad reading. To imagine that in the early 60s, Ghana’s GDP per capita was rivalling that of South Korea is difficult to comprehend, the income inequality amongst rich and poor blacks in South Africa is worse off today than it was in 1994. Zimbabwe is grappling with more challenges to do with social amenities and jobs today more than it was in 1985.

It is that lack of coordinated and well thought-out economic models which leaves the bigger percentage of population vulnerable and disgruntled leaving breathing space for erstwhile colonial masters to continue dictating the terms and philosophy of African development, Zimbabwe included.

Mugaga is an economist and chief executive officer of Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce. These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of ZES. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile +263 772 382 852