Africa at 56 and Zimbabwe at 39: Still in search of Uhuru
May 25th and The African Agenda
Celebrations on May 25th, crowned Africa Day. Recitals are held annually to commemorate the beginning of Africa’s independence from colonialism and imperialism. Ghana became the first independent African country on the 6th of March 1957, igniting flames of a liberation and the quest for freedom by Africans. The reinforcement of this liberation was the first union of African countries on African soil; the foundation of the regional integration body; the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963, which 38 years later, evolved into the African Union (AU). In 2019, the continental organisation celebrates 56 years of determined efforts for unity among the African people, and their bid for socio-economic freedom from foreign dominion and exploitation. Nevertheless, the question that still stands; what is there to celebrate in Africa and particularly in Zimbabwe given the country’s seemingly unending meltdown?
The African Union has sought to have collective actions amongst Africans to: protect the environment; fight international terrorism; combat the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, malaria and tuberculosis; deal with humanitarian issues such as the plight of refugees and displaced persons; promote peace, security and stability, and facilitate cooperation and development in Africa and strengthen solidarity throughout the continent and build a common destiny among the people of Africa. However, this collective dream has remained elusive as Africa has been plagued relentlessly and unending by diseases, poverty and war. The youth are fleeing and risking drowning in the Mediterranean, as they flee from disease, poverty, war and the lack of a future. Africa’s former liberators have become tormentors of their own people and the new faces of oppression. The former freedom fighters have become Africa’s “Architects of poverty” as argued by Moleletsi Mbeki. Indeed, ‘It is a shame’ as observed by Professor Arthur Mutambara that as we celebrate 56 years of Africa’s independence Zimbabweans are still suffering from bad governance, corruption, poor health facilities, inequality, and high levels of poverty.
The Pilferage of National Resources
Corruption is a virus in Zimbabwe that needs an antidote. Zimbabwe is ranked 160 out of 175 countries on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International (Trading Economics, 2019). The media is awash of high scale corruption cases and allegations against top government officials and those connected to higher offices, yet little happens on the prosecution. In one glaring case, the Masvingo Mirror reported that 215 drums of bitumen tar meant for the Beitbridge-Harare highway disappeared with no trace from a Ministry of Transport depot in Chivhu and no single arrest was made. This is just one case and there many more others, buried at the bottom of this, is how corruption has become rampant and now negatively affecting service delivery in Zimbabwe. Interestingly, while there is a pilferage of natural resources like this Zimbabweans are still relying on foreign aid to meet the needs of some of its people especially in the social services sector. Global poverty today, especially in Africa is no longer a result of lack of resources or opportunity, but of poor institutions, poor government and toxic politics as argued by Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo and Tendai Biti in their book: Democracy Works; Re-wiring Politics to Africa’s Advantage. Though billions of dollars official aid still flow from donor governments to recipient governments, they have failed to erase poverty but have rather served the commercial interests at home or bought political allies abroad. For instance, in Zimbabwe whilst the leadership is whining and pining on how sanctions are constraining them, USAID is working with its partners to strengthen health services, increase food security, support economic resilience, and promote democratic governance. The sanctions have become a convenient excuse to justify service delivery, yet when the political elite wants to hire luxury private jets, go for foreign medical trips and shopping, fund their palacious lifestyles and satisfy their exotic tastes, they seem to have a way of circumventing the sanctions.
Rising Inequality and Declining Health & Social Services
39 years after independence and 56 years after the beginning of the African liberation journey, Zimbabwe has a crippled health system that is in the intensive care because of years of neglect. Doctors complain of working under grim conditions: Bare-handed surgeries; plastic bags used to collect patients' urine; broken-down machines among many other numerous challenges. Zimbabwe's health sector, once considered one of the best in Africa, is now on its knees (News24 12, January 2019). High level of unemployment is evidenced in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's largest workers union, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions says the country’s unemployment rate was pegged at 90-percent (ENCA, 2 May 2017) and by now this should be more dire. The migration of Zimbabwe’s young people into neighbouring countries and especially, South Africa highlights how the revolution has been betrayed in the once “Jewel of Africa”.
At the core of Zimbabwe’s crisis is rising inequality and widening income gaps. It appears to be firmly entrenched, with the rich continuing to increase their net worth, while the middle class and poor continue to be squeezed to the last drop of blood. The austerity measures introduced under the Transition and Stabilisation Programme (TSP) has produced budget surpluses amidst shortage of basic medical essentials like latex gloves, bandages etc. The so-called trickle-down effect economics seem not to be benefiting the local poor people as much of the money goes towards the purchase of imported luxury goods across the spectrum of basics such as foods to luxury vehicles, furniture and other durable goods. Hence, it may be argued that the current inequality levels in the economy are even more unsustainable. While the difficulties in the Zimbabwean economy over the past decade or so have seen some become wealthy over short periods of time by exploiting the inefficiencies and anomalies of the economy, the poor continue to have stagnant or declining real incomes. The population is largely educated, but the environment continues to be skewed in the favour of the rich and those in authority, and provides very few opportunities for the poor to rise, thus limiting their talents and potential to create wealth.
The Unfinished Business of THE Liberation struggle
History has devotedly taught us that our elders took up arms following the continued mistreatment by the former colonial masters. It was out of anger and pain of being enslaved and treated badly that our people took it upon themselves to fight for the restoration of dignity of Africans. After gaining independence a number of African countries introduced indigenisation and economic empowerment programme as decolonisation projects that sought black advancement. However, Dr Nyamunda argues that these black advancement projects received lukewarm government support between 1980 and 2000 in the form of programmes that offered employment opportunities and income, giving limited access to finance and education/extension services to previously excluded and disadvantaged black people. But beneficiaries of these programmes have largely been determined on a partisan basis, thus undermining prospects of nation building. Dr Zamchiya’s study: A Synopsis of Land and Agrarian Change in Chipinge District, Zimbabwe observes how political loyalty and patronage were central to accessing land in a supposed national programme. These political practices are observable almost in every sector of the Zimbabwean society as the political elite focus on power retention and not nation building. An assessment of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment programme will show that nothing much came out of the process as the economy remained largely unreformed. Dr Nyamunda surmises the state of affairs; “the role of blacks in the commanding heights of the economy or the private sector especially in areas such as manufacturing, financial services, commercial agriculture, mining and a variety of services was marginal as local white firms and transnational corporations retained dominance over most sectors, with open monopolies domineering large segments of critical sectors” (Nyamunda, 2016). Women continue to face violations in the so-called ‘New Dispensation’. The allegations of using rape as a political tool by women from various suburbs in Harare against the soldiers during the January 2019 shutdown protest indicate a sorry situation. Gender based violence has actually increased and it is more evident that young women constitute the majority of the reported cases of rape. The Research and Advocacy Unity (RAU) observes that the conviction rates are generally very low, with 57% being acquitted, or having charges withdrawn for lack of evidence. This means, there is still a lot of work to progressively realise the liberation and emancipation of women in Zimbabwe. The state remains largely unreformed, hence the unfinished business of the liberation struggle.
From the foregoing discussion one can note that the bad is outweighing the good. For Zimbabwe to move forward there is need to be open minded about pursuing an inclusive dialogue. There is need for restoration of dignity, freedom, rights and justice, of all Zimbabweans, regardless of race, tribe or any other-isms. Zimbabweans need not fool themselves the country’s meltdown is for real and the time to act is now, lest the May 25th will always be just a stark reminder of the failed dreams of Africa’s and Zimbabwe’s founding fathers.
Tsitsidzashe Bvute is based at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity
Enca, 2019. Zimbabwe's unemployment rate at 90 percent: union. ENCA, 2 May 2017 https://www.enca.com/africa/zimbabwes-unemployment-rate-at-90-percent-union Accessed 25 may 2019.
News 24, 2019. Bare-handed surgeries as Zimbabwe's health system collapses. 12, January 2019. https://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/bare-handed-surgeries-as-zimbabwes-health-system-collapses-20190112. Accessed 3 June 2019.
Nyamunda, T., 2016. The state and black business development: The Small Enterprises Development Corporation and the politics of indigenisation and economic empowerment in Zimbabwe. Historia, 61(1), pp.41-65.
RAU, 2018. Gender Based Violence Within Secondary Schools in Zimbabwe. http://researchandadvocacyunit.org/system/files/GBV%20IN%20secondary%20schools%20final%2012%20Feb%202018%281%29.pdf Accessed 24 May 2019.
Trading Economics, 2019. https://tradingeconomics.com/zimbabwe/corruption-rank Accessed 23 May 2019.