Are we too poor or too stupid? – Part Two


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While Malema's message resonated with his South African audience who went on to make his party the third largest in the country, nine months after its formation, it did not jell with Zimbabweans-the very people that he was saying had liberated themselves.

Instead Zimbabweans are whining day-in, day-out, about how the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front has ruined the country and why its policy of empowering locals is stifling foreign direct investment.

The country, they cry, can never recover as long as Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, first as Prime Minister, then as President, is in power.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa was so annoyed by the negativity among Zimbabweans that he told journalists: "Visitors who come to Zimbabwe have a better perception about our country and ourselves than we ourselves. We speak so negatively about ourselves to the point where it is very dispiriting to say the least….. What you write negatively about our country is amplified outside and where-ever I am going instead of talking and discussing business I am made to explain stupid reports made elsewhere about my country which have no basis. In fact, that is what bleeds my heart."

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya had this to say: "We must speak more positively about ourselves. We are renowned for being educated, but we are so negative about ourselves and those negative perceptions lead to more negativity and that leads to lack of confidence. But if we were to measure it, we are not a country with very bad policies. The policies are good, but we may not be publicising them very well. We have a number of comparative advantages which we can exploit. We have good weather, the seventh wonder of the world, the Victoria Falls, and we have peace. We take these factors for granted, but to an investor they are very critical. If we were to put a very huge investment around the Victoria Falls and target one million arrivals and they spend US$1 000 each, we would raise US$1 billion and this could fund ZimAsset."

While the media is partly to blame for failing to portray a positive image if the country, the government and the ruling ZANU-PF shoulder the bulk of the blame. ZANU-PF talks too much and makes too many promises but it does not deliver.

More importantly, although Chinamasa urged people to focus on ideas and not personalities and said the government welcomed contributions from the public, the reality on the ground is different. The ZANU-PF government is too arrogant. It perceives anyone critical of its policies as an enemy who should be condemned (pasi naye). There is total lack of tolerance for people with different views even when these views are more constructive and can boost the ruling party if it adopted them.

What Chinamasa said, however, – that visitors have a better perception of Zimbabwe than locals- needs to be seriously examined because it is true.

An investment lawyer in Harare once told me that it was very difficult to get a room at the five-star Meikles Hotel, one of the leading hotels of the world, because it was always fully booked, including suites which cost between US$360 and US$1 000 a night-more than the monthly salary of most Zimbabweans. He was told that he needed to book six months in advance to get a suite.

The hotel was full of foreigners coming to do business or looking for business in Zimbabwe. You don't pay that kind of money every night for nothing! It just doesn't make sense especially if you are a foreigner and a businessman and not a conman.

Yet, Zimbabweans themselves do not see these business opportunities because they are obsessed with succession. Who is going to succeed Mugabe? Is it Mujuru, Mnangagwa or Sekeramayi? No. None of those. Gono has the blessing of the First Lady! Nelson Chamisa is pushing out everyone from the Movement for Democratic Change so that he can take over from Morgan Tsvangirai. No. He doesn't stand a chance. It is Mudzuri. Biti miscalculated. Abednico Bhebhe is trying to strike a deal. And so on.

"Mukoma muno muri kutambwa tsoro. Muri kuitwa mari," my cousin once told me, implying that games were being played in Zimbabwe. "There is money in this country and people are scrambling to come in while we are squabbling over petty issues. The more I think of it, the more I want to curse our media, especially the so-called independent media, because it seems this media is being used to sidetrack us from the main issue – the economy and who is getting what. Muchipota muchidzoka otherwise munowana vapedza kugovana nyika."

This was three years ago. I was working in South Africa at the time. And following his advice, I made it a point to return to Zimbabwe at least once every two months to see what was happening.

To be continued. Click here to read the full story now or here to read the part one.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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