By Ken Yamamoto
If you want to be corrupt in Zimbabwe, and get away with it, just mention that whatever you are doing has the blessing of the godfather.
So for example, you can just say you are collecting the shakedown for “Dr Amai”, which is a euphemism for – it’s for Mugabe and his wife.
Dakota wisdom and riding a dead horse
AS THEY say, the tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. In Zimbabwe however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies are often employed. These include:
- Buying a stronger whip.
- Changing riders.
- Threatening the horse with termination.
- Appointing a committee to study the horse.
- Visiting other sites to see how others ride dead horses.
- Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
- Re-classifying the dead horse as “living, impaired”.
- Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
- Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.
- Attempting to mount multiple dead horses in hopes that one of them will spring to life.
- Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
- Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
- Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it’s less costly, carries lower overhead, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than some other horses.
- Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses.
- Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.
Clearly, Dakota wisdom does seem to be common sense, but not for some, especially in Zimbabwe. Here are the top five dead horses Zimbabweans have been riding. As a reader, you are free to add yours.
1) Hope that China will provide a bailout package.
Deng Xiaoping is a legend in the history of modern China. A pragmatist, Deng in 1961 uttered the famous refrain; “No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.” Even though this did not endear him to Mao Tse Tung, he understood that China had to be more pragmatic than communist. He led and championed the China we know today.
However, there is something about China that old school leaders of Zimbabwe don’t get. China is capitalistic and ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’! Robert Mugabe visited China from 24 to 28 August 2014, cap in hand literally. He naively thought that with over 3 trillion in foreign reserves, China was not going to worry about dishing out a paltry $20 billion dollars, a mere pittance by comparison.
Mugabe’s visit was exactly a year from the time he ‘won’ the 2014 elections, which precipitated rapid economic decline, leaving Zimbabwe leaking like a sieve, which still continues to this day. Despite coming back empty-handed, Zimbabwe’s state-controlled media went to town touting what they called ‘nine mega deals’. Needless to say Mugabe never got the money that he thought would be used to fund the so-called ZIMASSET program, itself a damp squib.
Exactly two years after Mugabe ‘won’ the elections in 2013, and almost a year after the so-called mega deals, little has come out of it. In fact, other than a poorly structured vendor-backed loan through which state-owned NetOne has to import everything from China from switches to steel towers, there is no bailout from China. So last week, Mugabe dispatched his deputy to China to prod more on the bailout package that never was. This is what Mnangagwa said during an interview on the Talk Africa program on CCTV:
“The question is what is China doing to assist us. China is ready. The burden is now on Zimbabwe to produce bankable projects. It could be infrastructure. It could be in IT, China is ready to support.”
Therein, right there, lies the catch – bankable projects – what he and his president don’t seem to get is that the reason so much money left Zimbabwe is because the projects available are not bankable. He seems to get it yet he doesn’t quite get it.
He and his boss are kuuki yomenai – which means they can’t read the air. They are flogging a dead horse when the best strategy is to dismount. So are many Zimbabweans. There is no bailout coming from China. The Chinese are not idiots. They learnt decades ago from Deng that ‘no matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.’ But then the Zimbabwean cat will not catch mice for them, so it’s not a good cat. They (the Chinese) also learnt from their mistake in South Sudan which is costing them a lot in protecting their investments in that country.
2) Hope that Mugabe will retire
You don’t have to be a Nobel prize-winning scientist to know that Mr Mugabe actually wants to die a president. Any hope that he wants to retire is misplaced, and tantamount to riding a dead horse. Why is it so clear that he does not want to retire? Read between the lines.
Visionary leaders that want to retire put in place a succession plan. For example, back in April 2014 at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington DC, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, who plans to retire after elections in October 2015 stated;
“After 10 years, you need to move on. It’s been 10 years since I came to this high profile office. I was very young, just 55. But what I can tell you about this job is that it is stressful and thankless.”
This month, Kikwete’s party chose John Magufuli as Kikwete’s successor, going into elections. Kikwete realizes that Chama Cha Mapinduzi as a party and Tanzania have to have a life of their own without him.
Mugabe on the other hand has stifled every bid to have a succession plan. He is very uncomfortable with any succession talk. You don’t have to go far to read the signs. A few weeks ago, he warned party youths,
“If you are choosing between my two vice-presidents, you are beginning your own Gamatox [fired faction],”
That’s enough of a reminder for those who may forget what happened to a former Vice President. Last year Mugabe rubbished his two senior party members Joyce Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa during a birthday interview;
“But why should it (succession) be discussed when it is not due? Is it due? … The leadership still exists that runs the country. In other words, I am still there.”
The Journal of Southern African Studies (Volume 39, Issue 4, 2013) carries a paper entitled the “Ideology, Civilian Authority and the Zimbabwean Military” which suggests that there have been several covert but failed negotiated attempts to get Mugabe to retire. A retired colonel Lionel Dyck, working with then General Vitalis Zvinavashe and others back in 2002 tried to get Mugabe to retire, planning to replace him with Mnangagwa who was then a speaker of Parliament.
Then Zimbabwe would have tested its first government of national unity as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was included in the plan. After foiling the plan and the dust had settled, Mugabe later described these maneuvers as counter-revolutionary and foolhardy. The mere thought of anyone replacing him is foolhardy, meaning it’s idiotic. In other words, every aspiring leader in Zimbabwe is an idiot in Mr Mugabe’s head.
So if you keep your fingers crossed, thinking Robert Mugabe will retire, and things will get better, dream on. You are flogging a dead horse. If you want him to leave office, you have to drive him out, kicking and screaming.
3) Hope that Mugabe will fight corruption – hope that a thief will return the loot
The elite oligarchy … Mugabe (right) and the generals keeping him in power
I have said in my past contributions, thieves are rarely gracious enough to return their loot. The logic is simple – if they had ‘grace’ (no pun intended), they would not have stolen in the first place. Zimbabwe has become a mini-version of Nigeria with a generous mix of both grandiose corruption at high levels and petty bribery at the lower levels of society. The police shamelessly set up road blocks at 10 km intervals across town and highways, engaging in mass scale shakedowns. Ruling party scoundrels go around town like warlords in Somalia, taking over bus termini, hijacking city council buildings and collecting rent and protection fees, as well as collecting ‘rentals’ from desperate street vendors.
But there is a catch. If you want to be corrupt in Zimbabwe, and get away with it, just mention that whatever you are doing has the blessing of the godfather. So for example, you can just say you are collecting the shakedown for “Dr Amai”, which is a euphemism for – it’s for Mugabe and his wife. One youngster from the ruling party who made the mistake of exceeding his authority was recently arrested for shaking down over $200,000 from desperate households trying to build homes. Perhaps he hadn’t paid all his dues to the Godfather.
If you don’t get the message here, let me spell it in black and white. Robert Mugabe is the Al “Scarface” Capone of Zimbabwe. He is the Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán of the troubled southern African country, albeit a better one because he is a sitting president, and will never have trouble from the law because he is the law.
Mugabe has been involved in sleazy stuff within and outside Zimbabwe (in the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, etc), and has allowed his subordinates just as much slack. Last year, I made a detailed submission where I argued that Mugabe has always been at the core of corruption and bribery well from the time Zimbabwe got independent in 1980 and detailed his involvement in big money scandals found here http://bit.ly/1LwSpks . Among other scandals, this quote aptly captures it;
‘The first official confirmation of Mugabe’s fingers in the corruption jar came out in a 1992 report published by the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations. Then, senators John Kerry and Hank Brown led thorough investigations into the operations of the large Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). BCCI was an elaborate criminal corporate spider-web set up and led by sleek Pakistani banker named Agha Hasan Abedi, with significant funding from the ruler of Abu Dhabi and then President and founder of United Arab Emirates – Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan.
… BCCI would make direct payments to key officials, … Nazir Chinoy, a BCCI official told the committee that Abedi paid both Robert Mugabe who was then the Prime Minister, to fast track setting up the joint venture that became BCCI in Zimbabwe. He also paid Joshua Nkomo who was Mugabe’s opposing number across the Zimbabwean political aisle. … To the uninitiated, BCCI is the predecessor of present day CBZ Bank from which the previous central bank governor, Gideon Gono, and the just appointed central bank governor John Mangudya hailed. Readers may also not be aware that BCCI was very much at the centre of the Willowgate scandal. BCCI manager Ashrat Aktar issued the bank certified cheques to employees of Naran, a sleazy businessman, who was acting in cahoots with Calistus Ndlovu, then Minister of Industry and Technology. It was a refund from one of these cheques that was misdirected to Obert Mpofu, leading to a public spill of the corruption scandal.”
So if you think the Robert Mugabe will fight corruption, you are no better than someone riding a dead horse, strategizing about how to lower the standards so that more dead horses can also be included. The best you can do is dismount this dead horse and think about how to clean Zimbabwe up and drive the Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán of Zimbabwe out of office. It is important to note that the best way to deal with Zimbabwe’s level of corruption is via what I call the Rwanda-style antidote. It will take a Kagame-kind of person to instill discipline and remove the cancer quickly. This anecdote will be a matter for another day.
4) That Zimbabwe is a normal republic
It’s common in Harare to see youths across town with push carts full of bananas. Poor, corrupt, politically wobbly, agrarian and largely dependent on the export of a few resources, Zimbabwe now generally meets most people’s definition of a banana republic. American author William Porter who coined the term ‘banana republic’ used the phrase to depict a country with a huge but impoverished working class, presided upon by a small ruling elite made up of political, business and military class. The ruling class is interconnected with one influencing, feeding and operating the other, but more importantly, controlling the primary sector the economy is dependent upon.
Zimbabwe, among other countries, is one of the countries that evolved from colonialism and chose a rotten path towards becoming a banana republic. If you want to understand this better, explore the whole web of Zimbabwe’s ruling class, the military included, and how their involvement in the agricultural and mining sectors especially the country’s diamond mines.
5) Hope of improvement in your lifetime
A better future life is possible for the Zimbabwean generation born in the last ten years – they have a fair chance of seeing a good Zimbabwe in their lifetime. But for anybody born after 1980 and before the year 2005, a good lifestyle for the generality of the population is a mirage. The majority of the university graduates in Zimbabwe today will not get employment in their prime years, which means that they miss out on gaining critical formal skills necessary for a productive economy. Some will cross borders to go and labor in foreign lands.
If you want to see why a month can easily turn into a year and a year into decades while your life is wasting away with your chances to change the world fading away into the horizon, here is the evidence. As noted above, a few people in Zanu PF saw that Mugabe was a risk to the nation more than a decade ago. The late army general Vitalis Zvinavashe through proxies approached Morgan Tsvangirai to arrange what would have been Zimbabwe’s first government of national unity way back in 2002.
The late army general, according to reports at the time, was working with Emmerson Mnangagwa on this plan because they realized that Robert Mugabe “is the main stumbling block”. They said Mugabe must step down before we can find solutions to our economic decline and the hunger, among many other problems,” Tsvangirai said at the time.
Clearly Mugabe is still there thirteen years later. He is still a stumbling block, and will remain one. True to Zvinavashe’s view, Mugabe still has to step down before Zimbabwe can find solutions to its economic quagmire. Hunger has increased. More people have since died from archaic diseases like cholera since 2002. More children have dropped out of school, a whole generation is ruined and generally everybody in Zimbabwe is now more impoverished than back then.
While we are at it, Robert Mugabe has declared his interest, covertly and overtly, to run for President of Zimbabwe in 2018. So before you think your woes will soon be over, hang on and buckle our seatbelts. For that reason, international capital will skirt Zimbabwe and go to other countries with a better value proposition, because international capital is a coward.
6) Hope that the land problem will go away
This is one problem that will not go away. He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Robert Mugabe got his chance to correct the land issue in Zimbabwe and he messed it up. Few people get the chance he had to actually properly plan how the land as an economic resource can be managed and utilized. It is for this reason that fifteen years after the so-called land reform, Zimbabwe still experiences land invasions, repossession of farms and all the other nonsense that comes with it.
So why will it remain a thorny issue? There are a number of reasons. Many former farm land-owners still have lawful title-deeds to their farms. The goal to decongest rural areas was a very unwise move as rural areas are sparsely populated anyway, and it should never be a goal to decongest them. The goal should be to make rural folks more productive.
Greedy elites will always want to accumulate more in a banana republic, so like one Walter Mzembi, they will wake up one day and decide they don’t want one farm, but they like another, so they can, at their whims and caprices, swap one piece of land for another and so forth. For the next several decades, the land issue will remain a thorny one until a leader with the stomach to take on the issue is chosen by the people.
We had the same feudal challenge in Japan. However, Japan after World War II has long been considered one of the most successful agrarian reform projects in the world. This must be seen in the context of the reality that before this reform, a lot of land pre-WWII was owned by feudal landlords. Japan’s reform experience offers precious lessons to developing countries now intent on implementing agrarian reform.
Land reform in Japan demolished a class structure based on landholding. Landlords were no longer supreme and rural society was restructured. Driven by Wolf Ladejinsky, an American agricultural economist, and Hiro Wada, a former Minister of Agriculture, they led a land reform that dismantled a power structure dominated by wealthy landlords, empowering peasants to become productive landowners.
On the contrary, Zimbabwe’s land reform simply transferred vast farms and tracts of land to elites who have very little knowledge and passion for farming. Officially opening an agricultural show in Harare in 2013, Mugabe attacked resettled farmers for being unproductive. He complained that: “Now people with A2 farms are practising just like my grandparents but they have the knowledge and so many degrees.” Such complaints are the consequence of unplanned land reform driven more by emotions and the pursuit for power than the desire to productively use land as an economic resource for national development.
In conclusion, as long as Robert Mugabe is where he is, there is little if any hope for the present generation in Zimbabwe. Hoping for the best when reality shows otherwise is tantamount to riding a dead horse, and the best strategy when you are riding a dead horse is to dismount. How you dismount is up to you.
Ken Yamamoto is a research fellow on Africa at an institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. You can contact Ken on firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes in his personal capacity