Zim at faulty, oops, forty: A country in need of fixing

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Tichaona Zindoga

Zimbabwe observed its 40th Independence Day anniversary on Saturday.

This particular milestone will be quickly forgotten, for a number of reasons.

Zimbabwe observed the 2020 Independence commemorations under the dark cloud of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, which precluded the usual State-led ceremony.

However, Zimbabwe has deep-seated problems that, even without the pall of Covid-19, it would have  made uncomfortable reflections as it marked this particular birthday.

They say life begins at 40.

Zimbabwe is hardly looking hopeful at that age, resembling more  a life of wasted youth and barely a foundation to build on any success.

Since 1980, Zimbabwe has hobbled from one crisis to another, making it structurally weak and with broken economic, social and political systems. Some modest gains accrued from Independence in areas such as education and health pale into insignificance against a backdrop of huge crises that have consistently dogged the southern African country and former British colony.  Some of these crises bear naming here.

Three years into Independence, Zimbabwe suffered civil and political disturbances that ravaged the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces. The period saw thousands of people in the Midlands and Matabeleland region being brutalised and killed by Government forces that blamed them of dissident activity in a conflict that had strong ethnic underpinnings.

A truce was made in December 1987 and called Unity Accord, which also saw the swallowing of Zapu – Joshua Nkomo’s party – by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF.

With uneasy political and social stability ushered in by the Unity Accord, the early 1990s soon manifested a crisis of governance and economic mismanagement after the failure of the socialist experiments of the earlier era.

The Cold War had ended. The country dabbled with the prescriptions of the Bretton Woods Institutions under the rubric of structural adjustment programmes (SAPS).

The neoliberal agenda was championed by none other than Bernard Chidzero, Mugabe’s Finance Minister whom the trade union movement gave the moniker, Mr Esap, after the eponymous Economic Structural Adjustment Programmme (Esap). Esap meant that Government would scrap social protections, allow massive retrenchments in the private and public sectors, and move towards debt management and fiscal consolidation.

It was an experiment that had been tried elsewhere in the Third World since the 1970s, albeit without any success. So, its failure in Zimbabwe and  the social misery it created were hardly unexpected. It also opened the way for massive corruption and stripping of public entities.

The natural offshoot of this economic crisis was a new political and social movement that birthed the country’s first major opposition party in the Movement for Democratic Change led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai.

To all intents and purposes, the entry of a formidable opposition was not the blessing it ought to have been. First, it polarised the politics of the country to unimaginable levels as to render national life dysfunctional. Secondly and connected to this, the securocratic state prevented the transfer of power to the opposition when it won some elections from 2000. This would create a crisis that broke the country. The political crisis and the land reform programme gave the international community (read the West) to interfere in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe. This interference became a crisis in itself – a crisis that lasts to this day.

Unfortunately, the removal of Mugabe in 2017 did not result in a recalibration of relations between Zimbabwe and  the West. It is a failure that is squarely on the doorstep of Mnangagwa, who failed to leverage the much changed circumstances to reset relations – whatever it took.

As we speak, we are in the default mode, in spite of the reengagement drive that has clearly gone nowhere.

As Zimbabwe has turns 40 – the crisis in domestic and local politics has been compounded even further.

Mnangagwa’s rule has become a crisis in itself due to its failure to succeed on major deliverables of the day, economically, socially and politically.

It is not lost to any student of politics that Mnangagwa was supposed to be a transitional leader, serving a bridge between the old and the new.

By some accounts, he was supposed to be the Deng Xiaoping of Zimbabwe, taking after the Chinese leader who led the way in the opening up and prosperity of the country in the 1970s, after taking over from Mao.

This has not happened.

Faulty 40

There is more than enough evidence to suggest that even without Covid-19, the occasion to mark 40 years would not have been momentous.

We have enumerated the major crises that have buffeted the country, to the present.

Zimbabweans are hungrier, poorer and with the least social protections than any time since 2008. In fact, it feels like we are back in the cruel Esap days of the 1990s, something that is made more cogent by the fact that the Government is back with the SAPS again, now clothed up as austerity. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube is the latter-day Mr Esap. The current policies of Ncube and the Government of Mnangagwa are bound to fail like the experiments of the earlier era.

That is not a promising start. We have a faulty foundation for life that is imagined to start at 40.

It stands to reason that the shaky economic policies of the current administration will have to be abolished and undone for any serious reconstructive order to take place. And until such a time as a holistic new order can be effected.

It is salutary that Mnangagwa’s Vision 2030 is simply not there as a defining policy.

An uninspired nation

Mnangagwa gave an insipid and routine televised speech to mark Independence on Saturday.

So disappointing was the speech that some of his known sympathisers openly criticised the peroration on social media.

The disappointment is understandable. On similar occasions, Mnangagwa’s predecessor – Robert Mugabe – gave speeches that elicited and excited all manner of emotion.

Forty years ago, in a similar role, Mugabe gave his age-defining “swords-into-ploughshares” speech. It was considered a masterpiece that would be talked about for many years to come.

By contrast, Mnangagwa’s speech on Saturday was empty of both energy and soundbite when he was supposed to be “Defining the decade towards 2030”, this year’s theme.

Given Mnangagwa’s performance on this year’s Independence Day and the material challenges attending his rule, it is clear that he lacks the initiative to go beyond a couple years from now.

The next election, incidentally, is in 2023.

It has become an absolute necessity that Zimbabwe ought to change course now, if it has to reap the dividend of growing older – beyond 40.

It is easy to blame natural phenomena such as the current Covid-19 global pandemic or even climate change for poor national fortunes.

However, more competent administrations and their better governed polities fare better in light of challenges.

This is why this country needs fixing. Lots of it.

  • Zindoga is the founder and Head of Content of Review & Mail