Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa

Zimbabwe

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Tuesday 21 April, 2009

Only politicians find something to celebrate

On Saturday the 18th of April, Zimbabwe celebrated 29 years of self-rule. Politicians made a big deal of their newly found "inclusiveness".

To show that the Global Political Agreement between ZANU PF and the two MDCs was alive and well, we had various government ministers and officials bombard us on radio about the importance of us all celebrating our independence anniversary together as a people.

For the past 28 years, ZANU PF has commandeered national events and most Zimbabweans have stayed away because they felt unwanted and demonised. Now we are suddenly told we should all pretend we are one big happy family!

We had MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister, his two deputies and  ministers attending the main independence day celebrations alongside Robert Mugabe. The whole thing was simply a charade. It remained the ZANU PF leader's event. Tsvangirai was not even given the opportunity to address the people.

Twenty-nine years after attainment of majority rule, most Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty, unemployment continues to soar and basic human rights are trampled on.

A day before the celebrations, a journalist and two members of the main MDC were released from prison. They are being accused of banditry. I guess their release was something to celebrate.

In 1980 we gained independence from Britain. There was so much hope. We had such high expectations. We believed in our political leadership. There was so much goodwill and we believed nothing could go wrong. But we were wrong, we were so wrong.

We had a "people's government" and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Our government brooked no disagreement. Criticism was not tolerated. Refusing to be a  member of the ruling party meant your safety and freedoms were not guaranteed. Political detentions and persecution of the private media took a more sinister form. The people's government fought against its own people.

The shaky arrangement we have now does not inspire confidence in many people. And those  people are right to be skeptical. There is no evidence of genuine goodwill on the part of  ZANU PF. Agreements are not respected or honoured.

Zimbabweans are tired of empty promises. They are tired of listening to pompous politicians who think the world owes them a living. Independence is not just about raising a flag or singing a national anthem. It is not about a bunch of politicians agreeing to sit together for once. It should mean much more than that.

It should mean better education and health for all. It should mean employment opportunities. It should enable us to create opportunities for the whole nation and not just a select few. It should mean the respect of property and individual rights irrespective of race, colour or creed.

During the war of liberation we were told independence would bring milk and honey. To most Zimbabweans it has only brought pain and suffering. Politicians must be told that watching your people suffer is not a virtue, giving people a better life is. No one  should be proud of the fact that Zimbabweans have shown resilience in their day to day survival.

Leadership in this makeshift outfit that we call an inclusive government must be told that people cannot be taken for granted forever. The politicians must act in accordance  with expected norms of democracy and good governance. They must be told that there will be no free lunches. The international community will not give its money to people who do not respect their own nationals' property rights. No sane country will give money to a country that does not uphold the rule of law. You have to have a hole in the head to invest in a country where there are no guarantees and impunity is the order of the day.

We need the world. We cannot go it alone without the international community. Our politicians need to grow up and start proving that they are serious about getting this country working again. Beating our chests about our sovereignty will not create jobs or set our economy straight.

If we do not act in good faith, we will be celebrating our 30th independence  anniversary next year as a real failed state and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

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Friday 22 August, 2008

A country that works

This week I am working from our offices at the High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa – job shadowing. I am working with Russ Dixon and his team.

Just one day in the Pretoria office gives you an idea of just how hard these guys work. The amount of work they do and the number of programmes they whizz through in a day make you realise just how much work we in Harare would be able to do if we were working in a normal environment. South Africa is a country that works. The guys in the Pretoria office have an inspiring fire in their bellies. They have such an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm, it is contagious.

I will admit that I am quite envious of the fact that my colleagues can actually sit down and plan various projects and programmes, set up meetings that bear fruit and confidently speak of what they would like to do in the new year. Coming from Harare, Zimbabwe, I cannot very well say I can confidently say what our public diplomacy strategy will focus on and I cannot even realistically promise that our key objectives will be achieved. I sound despondent but the reality is that my colleagues here are in an enabling environment and I am coming from a place where tomorrow is definitely not promised!

We do a lot of good work in Harare but this week has made me realise just how much more we could achieve if the political situation normalised. We could do more were the environment less hostile. The Zimbabwe story is a major story down here. The difference is that there are so many papers writing about it and all in a very different way – it is just so refreshing even though some of the papers get it wrong. There is a media diversity that makes me envious. Here is a country that has its own political problems but has seen the benefit of different views. Community radio stations are in abundance. They are at least not seen as enemies of the state. Yes, the South African government has many complaints about the media but it is mature enough to realise that with democracy comes the responsibility of ensuring that the various freedoms are respected and upheld. Journalists do not live in fear of being abducted or brutalised. Zimbabwe could learn so much from countries that allow free speech. It might even start developing in the right direction. In the early 80s, I and I am sure several other Zimbabweans took so many things for granted. We lived our lives in a vacuum and allowed so many things to go wrong. We let go of our freedoms and rights and when we started realising our mistake, it was too late. We ceded power to people we trusted to look after our welfare. We went to sleep and forgot that good governance, democracy and human rights are precious commodities that need to be kept under close and constant guard. What we did can happen to any nation that relaxes and forgets or ignores the fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that leaders are people who need to be constantly made to account for their actions.

Yes, my colleagues in Pretoria buzz around and get things done. This used to happen in the early years of our independence in Zimbabwe. Development and humanitarian agencies worked efficiently because the country’s wheels were firmly on and were well greased. I feel really energised and there are many lessons I will take from Pretoria but will I still have a country to apply what I have learnt to? The decline in Zimbabwe continues.

As to the negotiations between ZANU PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)- we are told by the leaders that people want a deal now. Really? Has anyone cared to check exactly what kind of deal the people want? Power is good but real power should always be vested in the people. Real power should be drawn from the people. Many people are already on one meal a day but I am sure even as the days get bleaker no one wants a deal that will be meaningless. We all want our country to work again and it can work again. There was a lot of goodwill at independence in 1980 and that goodwill is still out there. We just have to do the right thing as a country.

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