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Local journalists need to reset agenda

Nevanji Madanhire
Zimbabwean media has never really set the agenda on the cause and effect of the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the United States and most of the Western bloc.

The sanctions, most clearly spelt out in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera), have divided opinion and the media has been remiss in explaining their effects on the ordinary Zimbabweans.

There are several narratives that emerged from Zimbabwe’s economic collapse that accelerated dramatically at the turn of the millennium when the government embarked on a fast-track land reform programme that saw land being expropriated from white commercial farmers and handed over to indigenous people.

Zidera was enacted in 2001 as a direct response to the land reform programme.

There is a school of thought that espouses that the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy is a direct result of the sanctions.

This is the position taken by the Zimbabwe government and the public media.

Another school posits that the collapse is a direct result of corruption and economic mismanagement.

This position has been taken by all forces that oppose the government and the media that go with the anti-establishment sentiment.

There is no middle ground apparently.

It is surprising, therefore, that a news feature by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) was published in both the public and the private press this week.

NewsDay carried it on the same day the Herald also carried it.

AFP is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France.

The feature describes how American-imposed sanctions have affected not only its intended target, the elite that has supposedly milked the country and undermined democracy, to their benefit, but also the common people who have lost their livelihoods due to job losses.

The feature, ironically coming from a Western news agency, concedes that the sanctions have had a “far-reaching impact on the Zimbabwean economy by strangling the country’s access to the international banking system”.

Successive US ambassadors have been adamant the sanctions do not affect ordinary people.

They argue the US has continued to bring aid to the most marginalised people in Zimbabwe, therefore the sanctions only affect the targeted elites.

The AFP feature traces the fortunes of one firm, Imperial Refrigeration, which at its peak employed 350 people and produced  20 000 refrigerators per year to what it is now, employing just 50 people and producing 1 000 refrigerators a year.

This AFP attributes to the Western-imposed sanctions.

Now a question arises.

Why haven’t Zimbabwean media, both public and private, written this kind of story? There are many companies that have suffered the fate of Imperial Refrigeration.

Cities, such as Bulawayo, that used to be industrial hubs, now lie derelict, but Zimbabwean scribes have never sought the heart of the matter and highlighted it.

They have never visited the low-income suburbs where people formerly employed by these industries wallow in poverty due to unemployment.

They have never followed the thousands of former workers now living in penury in the communal lands because they can no longer be employed in the factories where they spent much of their youth working.

They have never covered the children of these former employees who have dropped out of school because their parents can no longer raise school fees for them

Zimbabwe’s polarised media missed this great story because the journalists took sides in an argument between the imposer of sanctions and the government on whom the sanctions were imposed.

They forgot their most important constituency — the people — which looks up to them for information that makes them understand issues better so they can make informed decisions.

As the AFP story has shown, journalism is moving from the “big man story” to hyperlocal content.

While most journalists are busy chasing the big story, that is the story that regurgitates what the big politicians say, responsible journalists are now chasing the “small man” because that’s where the real story is.

Life is about ordinary people, not superstars. Journalists are chasing headline-grabbing trivia, while the common people have the story of what is really happening on the ground, but no one is interested in it.

In the near future, it won’t be surprising to see more and more stories like the AFP one being written by local scribes.

It is sad that a foreign news agency has come to set the agenda for us while the story was always there in front of us for the picking.

It is great to highlight how corruption and mismanagement have been among the many causes of the country’s economic collapse, but it is also great to honestly assess the effects that sanctions have had on the economy.

Journalists owe it to their consumers to bring fairness and balance to their content.

  • Madanhire is the Zimind associate editor.

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