Living in a Lunatic Asylum

The man who created Singapore died a few days ago. I watched his son, now Prime Minister himself, give the eulogy at his fatherís funeral, it was a brilliant speech, almost a sermon and deeply moving. At one stage he made the point that his father had been one of a generation who had struggled to bring their nations to independence from a colonial power (Britain in this case), then had to deal with all the usual post Independence conflicts and struggles in a multi ethnic society. His tribute to his father was that he took Singapore from a muddy backwater with a majority Chinese society, previously suppressed and discriminated against by the Malay majority during an ill fated Federation and created a non racial, progressive and hugely successful society.

He specifically mentioned those of his fatherís generation who had failed to do this in their own countries.

Clearly the most extreme example of one such leader must be Robert Gabriel Mugabe. He took up the reins of power in a country that had a British colonial history, had been in a short lived Federation and where the majority had been discriminated against. But there the comparison ends, unlike Singapore, he inherited a country that was rich in natural resources, self sufficient in food and water and with a well educated, even sophisticated leadership, albeit a tiny minority. Its income per capita was the second highest in Africa with a diversified economy and reasonable infrastructure.

Today, 35 years later, Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries in Africa, has double the percentage of its people living in absolute poverty, has seen over a third of its population migrate to other countries and is now unable to pay even a modest salary to its long suffering civil servants. On the index of economic and political freedom, Zimbabwe is well down in the bottom quintile of all nations, its average life expectancy is half that of Singapore, its income per capita just 2 per cent of Singaporeís $55 000 a year average income. Singapore is number 2 in the world on the Freedom Index.

It is all about leadership. That is the ability to make the right decisions at the right time, to exploit every opportunity that comes along and to act as a steward of national resources, especially the national income.

In Zimbabwe itís a bit like living in a lunatic asylum, but only worse, because sometimes I think the patients are actually in charge. I never supported the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith in 1965. How could a tiny country like Rhodesia, take on the whole world and at the same time expect 3 per cent of its population to be able to suppress a 97 per cent majority in a hostile continent? It was doomed to failure and I was part of a small group of young leaders in 1973 that went to Mr. Smith and argued that he had to do a deal or face defeat. He rejected our analysis and was virtually removed from power in 1976 leaving his community and his country on auto pilot and leaving strangers to determine what sort of framework and leadership we had to work with after Independence in 1980.

Mr. Mugabe took over a small country without significant debt, the support of the whole world, an open cheque book when it came to external funding and a hard working, reasonably educated people. Zimbabwe had the most advanced agricultural system in the third world, had many strong institutions of research and development in key sectors and was strategically located in the center of what has become one of the main nodes of growth in the world. There were 17 PhD graduates from some of the best universities in the world in his first Cabinet.

What has gone wrong? Unlike Singapore we are a text book example of a monumental failure of leadership. Mr. Mugabe took over a police force that was honest, committed and well run. It is now nearly totally corrupt, unable to respond to even the most simple of crimes and it is hardly worth reporting a crime to, even when the cost has been very high. Worse, the police have become part of a repressive political machine that has denied the people of Zimbabwe their choice of leadership 5 times in the past 15 years.

He has taken an agricultural industry that once fed the nation at the lowest cost in Africa, practiced the most advanced forms of conservation and high technology on the continent, almost in the world in some sectors, employed a third of the labour force in the country and generated half its exports and even more of its industrial activity and simply smashed it to pieces. The editorial in yesterdays Sunday Mail stated ďZambia is doing something right and Zimbabwe would do well to find out what it is and apply what it can to our local context.Ē Extraordinary when you appreciate that the agricultural turn around in Zambia is mainly due to the arrival and settlement of several hundred Zimbabwean farmers who were essentially expelled from Zimbabwe and in the process lost their entire savings from a hundred years of enterprise.

He has failed to build a single power station, failed to construct a kilometer of new railway line or road, failed to plant a single new plantation of trees or fruit or coffee or tea. Instead he has built monuments to the dead at heroís acre in Harare and has allowed our social infrastructure to crumble and decay. He insists on assuming the Chancellorship of every University and capping every student every year, but allows his wife to accept a fraudulent PhD from the University of Zimbabwe.

Now, in the middle of perhaps the most serious political and economic crisis we have faced since Independence, he expels the former Vice President and his most loyal associate, Joyce Mujuru from the Party she has supported and worked for over 40 years. More seriously, she has the majority support of the membership and structures of the Party and will take what is left of Zanu PF out into the wilderness with her. Itís a completely irrational and nonsensical decision that defies all logic. More seriously it undermines the unity and cohesiveness of the country at a time when we need to get together to resolve our difficulties and put our house in order.

We need a national government and a new transitional arrangement to repair the damage done by three decades of lousy leadership and bad, corrupt government, I really do not think that anything less, will get us out of the mess we are in at present and time is not on our side. Recent decisions are no longer rational and this must be of concern to all of us, both inside and outside Zimbabwe.

Eddie Cross
Harare 6th April 2015