Zim @ 34: We have messed up big time

THOUSANDS of gallant sons and daughters of the soil paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that Zimbabwe gained independence from racist colonial rule on April 18, 1980. It would be a monumental betrayal of the supreme sacrifice of these gallant and selfless patriots if we fail to celebrate our hard won independence when Zimbabwe turns 34 on Friday, April 18, 2014. In the same breath, we should take time to reflect and analyse the political and socio-economic trajectory that our mighty nation has navigated over the past 34 years. We should start to ask ourselves some very tough and introspective questions.
Why is it that 34 years after attaining our independence, more than 80% of our 14 million people are classified as living in abject poverty? United Nations standards stipulate that anyone who subsists on less than US$2 per day is defined as living in poverty. Why is it that no less than four (4) million Zimbabweans have sought economic refuge in neighbouring countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and also overseas in countries such as  the United Kingdom, the United States of America,  Australia and New Zealand?
More than ten (10) years after embarking upon a somewhat controversial and often violent land reform program, why is Zimbabwe still a basket case? Why do we remain a net importer of food?  Why has Zimbabwe been virtually reduced into one huge supermarket for South African produced goods and services? Put simply, why are we so desperately poor yet we are so fabulously rich?
The starting point is to get real and stop playing the blame game. Acres of space have been devoted by some academic writers and political analysts who sought to explain the devastating impact and effect of the restrictive measures that were imposed on Zimbabwe by some Western countries such as Britain and her allies soon after the commencement of the violent land reform program. I have absolutely no brief for Britain and her allies in trying to justify the reason(s) why punitive and stringent restrictive measures were imposed on Zimbabwe particularly soon after the hugely controversial and disputed Presidential elections that were held in 2002.
History will record that from the year 2000 to the present date, virtually all national elections that have been held in Zimbabwe have been marred by some very serious and in most cases, very credible and substantiated allegations of gross electoral abuses such as manipulation of the voters’ roll, rampant physical and psychological violence perpetrated on supporters of opposition political parties, stuffing of ballot boxes etc etc. It is a fact that from the year 2000 to the present day, Zimbabwe’s electoral history is anything but rosy and exemplary.Advertisement

Be that is at may, it is beyond  the scope of this opinion piece to delve into the nitty gritties of  how national elections in Zimbabwe have been manipulated and massaged to meet the whims and fantasies of the political ruling class. Suffice to state that until such a time that Zimbabwe begins to hold free, fair, credible and democratic elections that will easily pass the test of legitimacy, this country shall remain mired in socio-economic and serious political problems. That’s a fact.
My argument is that our biggest challenge is political more than anything else. Alternatively put, it is largely because of bad and retrogressive politics that Zimbabwe finds herself in the present economic and political mess. We have allowed an intolerant and hugely corrupt political trajectory to hold sway in our beloved motherland. We have dismally failed to tolerate opposing political views and most importantly, we have disappointingly failed to produce and regenerate a new breed of political actors as time went by. One of our biggest shortcomings was to nurture and sustain so-called Big Man politics where our whole political spectrum focuses more on personalities rather than on issues. Our politics stinks to high heavens.  In other words, our politics is personality-based and not issues-based. That has been our Archilles’ heel over the past 34 years.
As a nation, we should be ashamed of the fact that 34 years after independence, our country is being run on a paltry annual budget of about US$4 billion. Had we played our politics right, by now in the year 2014, Zimbabwe should be sitting on at least a US$150 billion economy. In 1980, Zimbabwe was the second largest economy in Southern Africa; second only to South Africa. We had a very sophisticated industrial base as well as an advanced commercial agricultural sector. We were a net exporter of goods and services rather than a net importer as we are today.
In 1980, the Zimbabwean dollar was stronger than the US dollar and in fact, it was almost on par with the British pound sterling. In 2014, out of the fifteen (15) countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the size of Zimbabwe’s economy is ranking third from the bottom. If we are not alarmed by these shocking statistics, then nothing will alarm us at all. We shall, forever, remain and languish in dreamland. The long and short of it is that Zimbabwe is fast becoming a failed state. This is not propaganda. These are cold, hard facts.
We now urgently need a Renaissance in Zimbabwe. We need a new focus; a new trajectory. In short, we desperately need new and fresh politics; a re-birth so to speak. The current rot in our politics, across the divide, will take us nowhere. We are on a highway to doom and gloom. We have pressed the self-destruct button. We are in serious trouble.  Readers should stop thinking that I am playing the devil’s advocate. Neither should readers think that I am a pervasive pessimist. I am simply calling a spade a spade. Our politics needs serious and comprehensive cleansing and the time to do so is now!  Time is of the essence. Success has got many fathers whilst failure is an orphan.
As we celebrate 34 years of Uhuru, we shouldn’t forget that we have messed up the country big time. We should repent from our political sins and draw a line in the sand. Never again should brother oppress brother, sister trash sister and sibling rise against sibling. Happy 34 years Zimbabwe!!
Written by Obert Gutu. Gutu is a corporate lawyer and politician based in Harare.