Zimbabwe: A case study on how to squander opportunity

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IN the heady days when Thabo Mbeki took over from Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, he presented himself as a true Pan African. The ideas poured out as he fashioned his ideas of where Africa should go – an African Renaissance was beginning. In the new dispensation, his view of Africa leadership was of a unity of purpose and vision that would transform the way the continent was governed. Included in his proposed pantheon of measures was a proposal that each national leader would submit himself or herself to a process of “Peer Review”.
I have just been to Uganda where I attended a workshop of 15 countries, looking at the rule of law, corruption and the delivery of human rights. It took the form of a peer review in that each country was able to talk about corruption and the rule of law in their respective States. It was both encouraging and dispiriting. 
Clearly Africa is growing up and our respective modern State structures maturing and starting the function as intended. Strangely those who have gone through the worst of events in recent years, like Rwanda, are now doing the best in this race to the future. They seem to know the value of their institutions and to understand the fragility of human leadership. They know they need the rule of law and that everyone must submit themselves to the application of such law.
It was encouraging to meet new leadership from States such as Angola and Mozambique, who just yesterday, were struggling with civil wars and deeply corrupt administrations. It was encouraging to meet young Africans from all walks of life but all holding senior positions in their respective countries, many as Civil Servants, who are smart, well-educated and informed and committed to the best interests of their countries and the continent. 
What was dispiriting was to hear their views on the Zimbabwean leadership and our prospects for the future. These perspectives were not being cast by Westerners or people from other continents, but from Africa itself and from many SADC States. The universal view was that our leadership was hopeless and so endemically corrupt as being beyond redemption. Nearly a third of those attending were lawyers and Judges – they included two Judge Presidents and of particular concern to me was their view that our own judicial system and Bench was so compromised that only a revolution would be able to restore some semblance of sanity and respect to our legal system as a whole.Advertisement

A Professor from an East African University stated that we have plenty of good basic legislation in Africa, even many excellent, progressive Constitutions but what was absent in many States and a serious problem in almost all countries in Africa was the political will to submit to the dictates of our own laws and to respect the rights of our citizens. Zimbabwe was cited as an example of the worst of such States. If this was peer review, we were judged and found wanting in almost every respect.
Our position is such that we have become almost a case study for academics and students throughout the world. How does a country, starting out with one of the best educated elites in Africa, 17 PhD graduates in its first Cabinet, a State President with 6 University degrees including degrees in Law and Economics and an acknowledged intellect; virtually no debt, a sound infrastructure, strong institutions, the highest ratio of natural resources to population in world; a good climate, self-sufficiency in 90 per cent of what it consumed including industrial consumer goods and food; end up, 34 years later, in this mess and nearly at the bottom of the Membership of the African Union? 
We are one year away from the maturity of the Millennium Development Goals and instead of moving towards those universally adopted goals, we have regressed in almost every area in which States are to be judged. Our life expectancy has halved, our excellent education system is in a shambles, our formal employment numbers have halved or worse and our income per capita is among the lowest in the world. Human rights of all kinds are either compromised or violated, our democratic rights are more than compromised; so much so that the new generations of Zimbabweans no longer believe they can change the leadership by democratic means and are now voting with their feet for a better life in other countries.
In this situation we are being left behind and ignored by a continent that is now on the move, driven by a new generation of leaders, lawyers, professionals and businesspersons who are confident and comfortable in their sense of self-worth and achievement. We are a curiosity to be observed and studied as an example of how not to do almost everything.
Just how did we get here and how do we get out of the hole we find ourselves in today? We got here by giving our leadership unfettered control of the State. We have allowed them to rob and pillage our State coffers and to destroy the savings of a 100 years of enterprise and hard work. We have paid lip service to the rule of law and respect for human rights. We have allowed our leaders to create a rogue State out of what they took over from a settler regime.
Our problem now is that this rogue regime is now so entrenched that many believe that only a revolution or the death of its key players can bring about change. 2013 reinforced that belief when the regime ruthlessly brushed aside all pretence of holding to the rule of law and the fundamentals of democracy and all but crushed the opposition. International criticism and the call for change is left to a tiny minority of leaders in the world community – Obama, Merkel and a few others.
But my meeting in Uganda showed me very clearly that the people of Africa know what is going on and are well aware of the failure and shortcomings of the Zimbabwe government. I was surprised and pleased with the level of understanding those at the workshop displayed. I have always held that our greatest enemy is ignorance and a lack of understanding based on ignorance.
I need not have worried, the African community is well aware of our situation and although they are unable to help in any significant way, they pray for us and when asked, they speak honestly into our affairs. They know that we fail the peer review test even if our leaders do not have the political will or the wisdom to submit themselves to the judgment of their peers in Africa and then to do something about it.
Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website