THIS is my first time writing to any publication to contribute on anything. But, as we all know, one day virginity will be broken. Unfortunately my scripture virginity has been broken by a nagging question on the issue of sanctions or restrictive measures as some have called them. There was drama in parliament recently when a jubilant Zanu PF team proposed to discuss the punitive sanctions in a bid to have a countrywide caucus on renouncing them and maybe leading to their removal. Of course, there was another corner which merely disagreed with the terms used. But in essence the latter acknowledged that there is a policy in the West targeted at businesses and individuals in Zimbabwe.
As a person I am not too concerned with the semantics used to describe the measures taken by the US and its friends. My question as a Zimbabwean has been what is the impact on my plate? If there is an impact, what is my Government doing to help me? In these thoughts, I discussed the topic with colleagues and was left confused. The discussion narrowed into someone being a sell out and puppet with others being labelled dictators and thieves. Everyone seemed to skirt away for what the responsibility of the government should be when it is under attack.
From just listening to both arguments I concluded that indeed Zimbabweans are under attack. Unfortunately I did not identify the attackers as only the Americans and the British, but also internal individuals as well. I went away and digested the two issues which are dividing Zimbabwe in our age: sanctions and puppetry. I thought of looking at the two issues as the key problems we have. I am inclined to think that these are the new most popular words being used by our politicians these days. I ploughed through some history books to educate myself on sanctions and the government’s responsibility.
Popular countries which went through sanctions which came to mind were: Rhodesia, South Africa, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. As someone who passed through an Economics lecture room in my teens, I thought of just looking at the basic measure of wealth per individual – GDP Per Capita. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country’s standard of living although this can be problematic because GDP per capita is not a measure of personal income. I do not want to be too technical on this but to use the data to help me understand our problem of sanctions and impact on our lives.Advertisement
The first question I asked was whether the sanctions were hurting the economy. In doing so, I just checked where Zimbabwe ranked on the list of countries on a per capita basis. It was sad to note that, based on the 2012 data, we are only better than one country of the world: our friends in the DRC. This came as a shock to me as I grew up knowing that we are the bread basket of Southern Africa and, as represented by the gold on our national flag, we are rich in mineral wealth. To be honest, I know things are bad but I have never thought we were that bad. I kept thinking we are still better than most African countries and still have a literacy rate better than Portugal. All my pride was shuttered by this realisation. I then said, “What! These sanctions did really hurt us”. I wanted to know how much so got an analysing the trend of our GDP per capita since onset of the sanction to latest data which was 2011. See the table below.
True to my concerns, indeed the sanctions had a huge impact. They effectively came in after the presidential election in 2003 and were intensified following the 2005 parliamentary elections. Not wanting to just join the bandwagon of mourners, I reminisced what my grandfather would do if we were hit by a drought. To us, as a rural folk, droughts were as severe as sanctions. We ate the food we farmed and got fees and money from the same business. I recall three, the worst one being 1992. He would trade us out of the drought using other assets built over time as well as liquidating his beasts. I just wondered why our government did not do the same; we have mineral wealth which is wanted by so many countries who are will trade with us.
Another thought then came to say, maybe I am a layman, and it is not possible to bust these sanctions. Maybe I should just mourn and hope that one day, these Western countries will feel pity for us. I asked how others in our situation fared during their own sanctions periods. I deliberately omitted Rhodesia and South Africa so that I am not controversial. Here is data of some of these countries’ GPD per capita during the same period.
Surprise surprise! They have managed to better the lives of their people while under economic sanctions. I was left with more questions than answers; all the countries except us had advanced the quality of living of their people over the same period. So what was my government doing during this time? Moreover, the other three countries were under real severe sanctions against the whole country not selective ones as we have. Fellow countrymen, I was left with so many questions which still bother me to date and cannot be answered conclusively. But one thing is clear of the sanction issue; they are not the reason why our lives have gone to the dogs. Our government is responsible for our suffering. We should be talking about slowed growth rather than economic decline. I made a comparison with other SADC countries, the results are sickening.
Having dug out these facts, it is now very difficult for me to believe that we have puppets. I would admit any political party will have relations with some countries with policies and doctrines they believe in but that does not necessarily make one a puppet. Or does it? If it does, we would say our own government is a Chinese puppet. I was laughing with a colleague about this very issue. I said if indeed Tsvangirai is a puppet, he would not have made his reported women blunders! US and UK politicians are coached and whipped into line and would not make so many of the same mistake. I am sure he is his own man. I know he is not polished, but I doubt he is necessarily a yes man. You can read the same in the current squabbles in his party. If he was a real puppet, he would have listed to Baas Bennett.
Having considered these issues, I am now convinced that Zimbabwe does not require a strongman but a genius who can come up with survival tactics to deliver us from poverty. Some will ask why I am not prescribing an individual. Well, I think our country will always be under threat be it from the West or East. As we grow, we will certainly have policies which are not palatable with some of our bigger neighbours. It’s something which we will always see in the future in one form or another. We need someone who does not abort but strategizes on how he can deliver and nurture our beautiful country. Sanctions or puppetry are not the issue, we have an incompetent lot who have now found something to cling to and cover their faces.
Samson Handishe is just a patron at Zindoga and is writing in his own capacity.