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By Mutumwa D. Mawere

THE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Chairman, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, summed up the position of the regional grouping’s political leadership on Zimbabwe at last week’s summit by saying: “We also feel that the problems in Zimbabwe have been exaggerated. We feel they will solve their economic problems.”

The summit provided a unique forum for leaders of SADC and their social partners to explore some of the most pressing issues of the day and Zimbabwe was one such issue.

The position taken at the summit on Zimbabwe is reflection of a widely held view that the root cause of the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe is the unresolved colonially generated asset ownership structure.

It is evident that there is consensus among many African leaders that issues related to economic democracy in the continent necessarily attracts a negative response from the former colonial masters and their alleged puppets. To this end, if one accepts that the root cause of the Zimbabwean crisis is the position taken by Mugabe to democratise land ownership, then the Zimbabwean crisis with attendant targeted sanctions is seen as a necessary price to pay for the complete emancipation of the country.

Mugabe’s views are shared by many in Africa and the developing world for different reasons. They argue that anyone who takes a fight against Anglo American hegemony can never be wrong and, if anything, he deserves support. People, who believe in pan-Africanism, see in Mugabe the fighting spirit that is missing in many post-colonial states that still face the challenge of eradicating the enduring economic legacies of colonialism.

The standing ovation Mugabe received in Lusaka is no different from the treatment he has enjoyed at many conferences. In fact, the only thing that seems to unite Mwanawasa and his political nemesis, Michael Sata, is their common and shared position on the origins of the Zimbabwean crisis.

The success of the Lusaka summit in the eyes of Harare demonstrates that the message from Zimbabwe’s opposition has failed to resonate with Africa’s critical players. This raises the following questions: Is the Zimbabwean opposition misinformed or misdirected? To the extent that the opposition believes that Mugabe is the problem, why is it that they seem to fail to communicate this? If Zimbabwe faces a leadership crisis, does SADC have any locus to intervene, let alone pronounce an opinion?

If there is a common theme that characterises the Zimbabwean crisis, it is leadership: what constitutes good leadership, how (and, indeed, whether) the lack of it is responsible for the Zimbabwean crisis, what criteria should be applied when assessing it in the context of a post-colonial state? What should be the role of the opposition and how should citizens weigh the various indicators – from maximising national wealth (poverty eradication) to brand-building and longer term considerations such as nation building?

And given the emergence of China, India, UAE and other nations as global players and the pace of globalisation, can one expect to apply one set of criteria to what makes for good leadership in very different cultural contexts? Anglo-Saxon models have dominated the theory and practice of leadership for so long that it may be difficult to accept that other models may be relevant and appropriate.

When there remains immense differences of perceived leadership qualities between Africans and Anglo Americans, how much do we as Africans have to start investing in understanding this important variable in nation building? Does Africa need democracy to progress? If so, what kind of leadership should it have? What interests ought to inform it?

It is more than 27 years since Zimbabwe became an independent and sovereign state. It is salutary, looking back, to remember the illusions which were commonplace at the time. Some Zimbabweans believed that independence accompanied by eloquent speeches about how Europe underdeveloped Africa would quickly solve the country’s problems.

In the West, the grant of an Anglo Saxon type of constitution was considered as a necessary and sufficient condition by itself to institutionalise a functioning constitutional democracy underpinned by a scrupulous respect of the Rule of Law, human rights, accountability and transparency.

The euphoria that characterised the independence atmosphere in Zimbabwe was well founded in Robert Mugabe’s reconciliatory speeches and approach to nation building.

Many were convinced that a new dawn had visited Zimbabwe and the country had the leadership it deserved to rid itself of the negative vestiges of colonialism. That was then and now the illusions have largely evaporated.

Zimbabwe under Mugabe has lived through some challenges from the construction of a post-colonial dispensation in which all citizens were allowed to assert their sovereign right to makes laws and regulate their lives as they wish to the well acknowledged investment in the social and physical infrastructure of the country using a small tax base inherited from the colonial state. Regrettably the post colonial state did not address issues related to the democratisation of the economy resulting in the current state of affairs where the population has grown accompanied by a decaying national economy.

The financing of the post-colonial state investments was largely done from borrowed sources and not from taxes. Any rational leader would have known that the relationship between the state, the protector of collective interests and the market, and the protectors of individual interests, is critical for economic growth. In assessing whether Mugabe has been a good leader for Zimbabwe, one has to look at how his administration has balanced the interests of the market with that of the state.

The failure of the post-colonial economic model was already evident in the late 1980s to the extent that the IMF, ordinarily a fire brigade, was invited by none other than Mugabe to intervene with balance of payments support.

The Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) or euphemistically referred to as The Extended Suffering of African People was adopted and implemented not by the opposition but by a Zanu PF government. The program was abandoned by the government of Zimbabwe because the hard policy choices that needed to be made could not find leaders with the courage to make them.

While the SADC leaders have accepted that targeted economic sanctions have a causal link with the Zimbabwean crisis, they surely must be aware that the economic objectives of growth for any nation must be harmonised with the objectives associated with the political order. The designing of growth strategies must necessarily include the promotion of factors that support the democratisation of society, the defence of sovereignty and the self determination of citizens.

What is evident is that no growth strategy will succeed if it is underpinned by an ideology that is premised on the state as the referee and player. Yes, SADC may have endorsed the Zimbabwean rescue plan like the multilateral institutions have done in the past but the success of such plans have to deal with the leadership question without any equivocation.

Anyone who thinks seriously about Africa and indeed Zimbabwe’s future will value a conversation on the leadership question. Can Mugabe reinvent himself and make the choices that he has failed to make over the last 27 years? Is Mugabe’s world view on issues of governance, rule of law, and leadership consistent with a view that is required for a progressive nation?

Some have argued that when the Emperor is naked it is difficult for friends and foes to inform him. Could any rational person have expected SADC leaders to tell Mugabe where the root cause of the Zimbabwean crisis is? Does SADC have such a mandate anyway?

What is evident to many and I am sure to Africa’s leaders is that the course of nation building in Zimbabwe has encountered serious set backs. Zimbabweans’ hope for a free democratic existence as the background for stable national development has been dashed.

Huge treasuries of material resources and opportunities for development have been dissipated. And more worrying is that the current leadership does not seem to have what it takes to motivate citizens to recover sufficient strength to resume the fight to build a future for themselves (rather than worrying about daily existence) and their families.

Morale is at its lowest in Zimbabwe for justifiable reasons. A rescue package from SADC will not rescue the injury to the psyche of citizens who legitimately had a right to expect better from their leaders. Will Mugabe’s re-election next year change the climate of hopelessness that is evident in Zimbabwe? Even if sanctions were lifted today, how would that address the leadership credibility issue?

The 2008 elections have been dubbed the economic emancipation elections. President Mugabe is convinced that a fresh mandate will allow him to use the state to empower the majority economically. While this may be exciting news to the naïve, how is this going to be done against a background of a bankrupt state and economically vulnerable citizens? Even if all the economic assets were transferred to the state/selected individuals, would that promote growth and prosperity?

Someone said a long time ago you cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. No government in the world has managed to come up with an instrument where the fear of being arrested induced favourable supply response. While the government of Zimbabwe may believe that arresting businesspersons will arrest inflation and restore economic order, I am not sure whether SADC leaders (who incidentally are not pursuing such policies in their own countries) seriously believe that Zimbabwe is a candidate for economic surgery.

When Margaret Thatcher became big headed and a stumbling block to progress, the Conservative Party managed to remove her. Equally, Tony Blair got the same medicine. In Zimbabwe it appears that some people believe that only one man can solve the colonial injury however defined and that person has no obligation to explain how he will be able to implement the new ideas of empowerment when he has failed to do the same for agriculture.

I believe that Mwanawasa may be cynically encouraging Mugabe to hang in there so that he can benefit from the contribution of Zimbabwean settler farmers. If Mugabe goes, I have no doubt what is in Mwanawasa’s mind about the sustainability of the agrarian revolution that is underpinned by Zimbabwean skills in his country. Would the farmers elect to remain in Zambia or return to Zimbabwe?

Leadership plays a central role in managing perceptions. Today Zimbabwe is less confident that it was 27 years ago. It is now a confident member of the class of nations that can be classified as failed states. The frightening economic indicators have escaped the attention of the SADC leaders. Apart from the expected anti-imperialist rhetoric, the current political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe is testament to wrong, irresponsible and backward looking policies and weak core values of democracy, freedom and the Rule of Law. Many democratic nations would find it difficult to trust a leader that has been at the helm of a crumbling state to continue experimenting with the nation building project.

While the world waits for signals that Zimbabweans will take ownership of their problems, the tragedy is that Zimbabweans expect change to come from without. The message from the SADC summit is that only Zimbabwean leaders can lead and shape Zimbabwe. A committed and accountable leadership that is forward looking can find the world and indeed SADC a reliable partner in delivering a better future for Zimbabwe and its people.

The world is anxiously waiting for Zimbabweans in general to have an opportunity to genuinely express their choice about who should govern them notwithstanding the privatisation of the state and implications thereof on freedom of choice. The illusions of independence have been sufficiently exposed to allow Zimbabwean citizens to use the ballot as the instrument for change.

In the final analysis the responsibility must lie with those who have dedicated their lives to the change agenda to demonstrate that bad leadership has a lot to do with the Zimbabwean crisis. Zimbabwe needs a smart system and not necessarily a smart leader.

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

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