Cursed by our Leaders

Just 7 years ago Zimbabwe was accepted as a reasonably democratic State (we held elections periodically) and we had a diversified economy that was the fastest growing in Africa. The nightmare of shortages and artificial exchange rates were behind us and our tourism industry was booming with 1,2 million visitors.

Today we have the fastest shrinking economy in the world, life expectancy has collapsed, our savings are worthless and the average quality of life and life expectancy has declined to all time lows. Critical indicators such as child mortality (indicating malnutrition and poor health services) are the worst in the world while record numbers of women die in childbirth and deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia are at pandemic levels.

Our government is isolated, ostracized and cut off from all the systems the world has put in place to try and overcome poverty in third world countries. We are treated as a pariah State and if we try to join others on State occasions or at global gatherings, we are just an embarrassment. There is only one reason for this state of affairs - our leadership has failed us as a people.

In many ways Africa is cursed by its leaders. They plunder our resources, kill their opponents, subvert their democracies and flaunt their power and wealth to a bemused and cynical world. I well recall being in Geneva on business in the mid 80's when the UN was in session. Curious, I went to the venue to see the great and powerful arrive. It was a sobering sight, for there in the line were a string of luxury cars, with drivers carrying the diplomats of some of the poorest countries in the world. They emerged from their cars in their Gucci shoes and Saville Row suits carrying briefcases made from the skins of their vanishing wildlife.

Then down at the gate of the UN I saw a public bus arrive at the bus stop and down from the bus stepped the Chinese delegation - led by their Ambassador who then walked up the drive to the UN buildings. My admiration for them as a people and their leadership - it was the start of the Deng Zhou Ping regime, rose to new heights.

I fought the Smith regime in Zimbabwe for all of its 16 years in power, I joined the opposition, got arrested and detained, was ostracized by the white community and breathed a sigh of relief when we were finally rescued from ourselves by Henry Kissenger in September 1976. Then I worked through the transition from Smith to Mugabe and worked in the public sector until 1987. In the first few years we were so hopeful. The new leadership was young and dynamic and we were no longer outcasts. But it was not to last long and the first real signs of trouble came with the killings in Matabeleland in the mid 80's.

Since then it has been downhill all the way - the ruling elite has thrown democracy overboard and in fact rules as a defacto one Party State. They have subverted all the ideals they fought for during the years from 1949 when the first Nationalist leaders began the struggle. They are starving their people and destroying a 100 years of development just so they can hold onto the only thing they value - power.

The gap between good and bad leadership is not large. The principles behind good leadership are simple and easy to follow. The results of political leaders choosing one or the other are not simple or easy to follow but the consequences are very obvious.

The Bible makes this situation very clear. When God allowed Israel to appoint its own government He warned them that this new institution would tax them and force them into serfdom. He also said that bad government - that is government, which did not follow the rules, as laid out in the Bible, would lead to hunger, deprivation, political subjugation and humiliation. Government that followed the rules would be "blessed" and their people flourish in every way.

And so it has been in Africa. South Africa, blessed with remarkable leadership just when they needed it, found it's way through the post Apartheid minefields without significant damage. Botswana, also blessed with god leadership became a small, but progressive and prosperous democracy.

The Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea have all collapsed under bad leadership in the past 20 years. All are potentially rich countries, rich in natural resources and in their people. Ghana, Uganda and Senegal show what leadership can do to turn around disastrous situations. Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast demonstrate how quickly a reasonably progressive State can be reduced to anarchy and penury. And it is all about leadership.

When the international community eventually decided that the Smith regime had to go, they knew they had to take out Ian Smith. Kissenger was delegated the task and he writes about this operation in his memoirs. Having forced Smith to accept majority rule, it was only the management of the transition that was left to do before new leadership was ushered in. If this action had not been taken the leaders of the day - Smith, Mugabe, Nkomo and Tongogara, would have fought that fight to the finish, destroying the country and its economy in the process.

Today we are back at the beginning. Mugabe has become Smith. Robbing his people of the freedoms they fought for, destroying his country in a desperate attempt to hold onto power. Denying the people the mechanisms they need to effect change without war and violence.

We are in dangerous territory. The people feel betrayed, their right to choose the leadership they want denied, the economy in crisis and food shortages reaching critical levels. The options open to the opposition who are in the majority, are limited. In this situation surely it is time to revisit the external intervention option. To force African leaders to demand that Mugabe convene a conference within Zimbabwe to draft a new constitution which will map the way forward and determine how our leaders will be selected in future. As in September 1976, such an outcome can only be achieved by the major powers applying their leverage to the situation and demanding action from regional African leaders.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 11th April 2005