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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

ON FRIDAY, July 20, 2007, the Minister of Industry and International Trade, Obert Mpofu, who is also the Chairman of the Cabinet Task Force on Price Monitoring and Stabilisation, announced in Bulawayo that the government had set aside Z$30 billion for resuscitating the defunct Zimbabwe State Trading Corporation (ZSTC) and the Zimbabwe Development Corporation (ZDC) as vehicles for acquiring companies that it might want to take over for engaging in economic sabotage.

It is proposed that the ZSTC, originally established in1986 by an Act of Parliament as a post-colonial body corporate, will be reactivated with the sole objective of acquiring trading companies in response to the alleged politically motivated price escalations. It is also proposed that ZDC, a state corporation that was established in 1988 by an Act of Parliament, be the instrument for nationalising private manufacturing assets.

The events that have unfolded in Zimbabwe leading to the wholesale arrests of businesspersons on allegations of unjustified price increases should, therefore, not be seen in isolation of the value set that has dominated the minds of the post-Rhodesia government. While the emergence of Chindia and other newly industrialised countries may have exposed the bankruptcy of a command economy as a nation building instrument, it appears that the government of Zimbabwe is determined to revisit this defining issue.

The ZSTC and ZDC were two of many institutions that were established by the government of Zimbabwe to intervene in the economy on the grounds that the private sector, given its character and colour, could not be trusted to respond to the needs of a development state. These institutions failed to live up to the expectations of not only the government but of the people resulting in the government abandoning them. It now seems politically expedient to resuscitate these institutions.

The politicisation of the economic space is not unique to Zimbabwe but what is striking is the inconsistency of the government’s approach to nation building. In the 1980s, the government under the leadership of none other than President Robert Mugabe set up institutions that even in the assessment of the government were monumental failures and now with the nation mired in an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, there appears to be no alternative strategies than to revisit failed policies and initiatives.

It appears that the government will never be brought to book for their demonstrated failed policy in as much the same government is very judgmental about alleged market failures. While the government has zero tolerance for purported market failure, it appears that it is not accountable to anyone for its own failures. The attitude of the government is that any failure by the private sector should necessarily lead to the takeover of errand companies while the failure by the government to provide the required leadership should not lead to regime change.

It is important that any rational analysis of the post independence era critically examines the true nature of the construction of the state. I had an interesting encounter last Friday when I met four Zimbabwean gentlemen who have been reading my weekly column on New They expressed concern about the future of Zimbabwe. We shared our insights into the complex subject but what was striking was that they were all convinced that the remedy to the Zimbabwean problem was the removal of President Mugabe and not any change of values. After the encounter, I began to appreciate the importance of unpacking the role of a leader and the governed in nation building.

Most post-colonial states inherited colonial administrative machinery that was never meant to serve the interests of all the citizens and one of the key features of a colonial system was the investment in ensuring that citizens feared the state and they were kept ignorant of how the state functioned and how to make it accountable to the majority.

It is evident that President Mugabe has consistently positioned himself as a protector of the poor and a custodian of national values without attempting to define the kind of political morality that should underpin a progressive nation. I gave a simple example to the Zimbabwean gentlemen that I met to explain my take on one of the enduring African problems in relation to the role of the state in nation building.

I said that if one assumes a hypothetical country with five citizens who are tasked with creating their own state and how they should be governed, the key issue for such people is to determine their values before even deciding who of them should lead. The construction of a state in a Republican dispensation is that the people are sovereign and a leader should, therefore, emerge among the five citizens on the basis that anyone of the five can be at the top.

Unlike the private sector where business leaders are not elected, political leaders must emerge from the citizens. In this vein, the five citizens would then agree that they should set up a government to handle their affairs and they would finance the government from their own sweat through taxes. Accordingly, one of the five would emerge as a leader while the other four citizens carry on with their activities that they pursue in their own self interest while conscious of their obligations to the collective.

A leader who emerges from such construction is humbled by the fact that his source of legitimacy and power is the surrender by the other four citizens of their power to him to preside over the affairs of the state on their behalf and on none other. Such a leader is not expected to use the state to do the things that citizens can do for themselves.

However, when a leader discovers that all able bodied and potential tax payers would rather sell their productive time to other nations, he will know that he has failed to administer his oath of office. Equally, if the leader ends up constructing a reality where the state ends up displacing citizens in engaging in economic activities, then you know a Tsunami or rather a Tsugabe has occurred.

The reason communist experiments were monumental disasters was that they were premised on a logic that is contrary to the sovereignty principle. No state can create its own legitimacy in a vacuum or in the abstract as many states in Africa have tried to do in the mistaken belief that the state can be more trustworthy than citizens who should inform it. Many of the governments end up pursuing policies and programs that serve to undermine the very financiers (taxpayers) of the state that they need for sustenance. What is interesting is that more blacks have chosen to pay taxes to foreign countries under Mugabe’s watch than under colonialism. Equally, while blacks (Mugabe’s natural constituency) are voting with their feet, whites are not only staying put but are coming back to entrench their interests.

With unemployment at about 80%, it means that only 20% of the working population has to generate enough resources to feed the entire country. Is this sustainable? Any leader who has failed to meet the expectations of the people who surrender their power to him/her should ordinarily resign in the national interest. Imagine the four citizens who trusted one of them to lead them in my imaginary nation end up being afraid of their leader to the extent that they resign into believing that they are not competent to take him out and he is indispensable.

The question that emerges is whether the leader is a victim or a villain. In the case of President Mugabe, there are many including himself who believe that he has been a victim of one or the other forces and really he has not been in control of the ship. After 27 years in power, he has presented himself successfully as a victim (not of failed policies) but of a conspiracy that he should have anticipated as a leader when he took the first oath of office in 1980. The quality of any good general is the ability to fight the battle before exposing his troops to the enemy. If in his mind he can win it, only then should he accept to lead the charge.

If President Mugabe was a general in the fight against poverty, what would citizens have expected him to do over the last 27 years? Has President Mugabe’s government lived up to the expectations of the poor? Are Zimbabweans better off today than they were at independence? In the case of Tanzania, when President Nyerere was faced with the same reality, he chose to step down to allow the country to move forward.

It is now inevitable that President Mugabe will be the candidate for Zanu PF in next year’s elections and as expected he will win and yet among his supporters he remains as infallible as King IL Sung was until death in North Korea. There are many who genuinely believe that President Mugabe should not be held accountable for his actions. What is even scarier is that over the last 27 years, citizens have resigned themselves into accepting that they are also victims of fate.

Notwithstanding failed policies and non delivery, it is evident in President Mugabe’s speeches that he does not believe that his government has made any mistakes. Droughts, IMF/World Bank, white conspiracy, black puppets, criminal businesspersons, George Bush and Tony Blair have come in handy for the President in explaining why the post colonial experience has been a disaster. Accordingly, his supporters argue that the President should remain in situ for as long as God gives him the health.

Is President Mugabe alone in constructing a victim focused reality? We need to interrogate the notion that the state knows better than the citizens who create it.
After 27 years of investing in fear, it is apparent that Zimbabweans who are fed up with the status quo have no other choice but to leave. If one were to do a climate analysis of contemporary Zimbabwe tracking fear as a variable, it would be not surprising for the reading to be at its highest. How can people who live in fear be expected to be free and make rational choices?

Having carefully studied my circumstances (nationalisation of my assets in the name of national interest) and that of other black Zimbabweans, the attitude of business in Zimbabwe is that it is in the national interest to swallow losses than challenge misguided, recycled and universally discredited policies.

The people who control Zimbabwean assets (principally foreign and white) in the main are conscious that the fate of the farmers and carefully targeted businesspersons can easily befall them with no protection. Can you imagine that after 27 years in power, Zimbabwe needs an Indigenisation Act? What is ironic is that many intelligent Zimbabweans believe naively that Zimbabwe all along had an indigenisation policy and we were some of the beneficiaries. Who has been in charge? While the government is putting a legal framework for indigenisation, the few blacks who have already ventured into business have been victimised raising a legitimate question of the true intent of such policies

While Zimbabwe implodes, Lonrho is leading the charge to reassert its former colonial status. Last Friday, Lonrho announced that it raised an initial £32.3m ($66.4m, €48m) from shareholders towards a new subsidiary – Lonzim – to buy up assets in Zimbabwe with a “significant opportunity for future growth”.

David Lenigas, Lonrho’s executive chairman, told the Financial Times that he aimed to raise a total of £100m for the company through a share offer to be launched in London soon. He said demand for Lonzim shares was coming from Europe, South Africa and the Middle East. But it had been strongest among institutional investors including pension and hedge funds in the US. He thought this was driven by a broader appetite for African risk.

What does Lenigas know about Zimbabwe that is not being told to the rest of the public? It appears that cynically Mugabe’s policies are of benefit to imperial capital than to citizens. Was this the true intention of independence to run the country down so that non-citizens can pick the cherries while citizens are chased away?

Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column appears on New every Monday. You can contact him at:

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