ED’s dilemma, democracy or economic growth

ANJAN Sundaram is an award-winning journalist who has reported from Africa for the New York Times. His 2016 book, Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, is particularly insightful on how President Paul Kagame is managing his Rwanda miracle.


He writes: “…it had been decided: the President (Kagame) would receive 93%, the next candidate 5%, and the remainder split between the others. The Intore dancers were summoned and put on a gigantic celebration in the stadium. Thousands attended. More Intore made the rounds in each neighbourhood. In the dark valley below my house, I heard the screams — raw, brutal — until almost dawn.

“If some websites and stories even slightly criticised the election, the Intore immediately logged comments ridiculing and denouncing the authors, and saying that their lives in Rwanda were happy. They wrote vehement letters to newspapers, defending the President and his victory — and always gave their full names, so they could be seen for this loyalty.
They knew the President’s office was watching.

“The oppression was obvious to those with experience. A Russian UN worker I met three days after he arrived, when I asked what he thought of the country, said at once that it reminded him of the Soviet Union. He had noticed the tone of the newspapers.”

When Kagame took over the tiny east African country in 1994, it was a shell of a nation, decimated by war in which he was a principal player and more than 800 000 people had been killed in one of the most brutal genocides on record. The country was hugely divided and demoralised.

Today, Rwanda is in a different space altogether and is now ranked among the economic powerhouses of the continent. It has been able to make important economic and structural reforms, which have seen its economy grow at an average of 8% over the last decade.

On the continent, Rwanda is considered the second easiest place to start a business after Mauritius.

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is in a better place today than where Rwanda was 22 years ago, with enviable natural resources, minerals, a highly-skilled labour force and a young, vibrant and creative population, eager to make up for time lost during the fog created by former President Robert Mugabe’s nearly four decades of misrule.

But which model of governance is Zimbabwe taking? In Africa, it is a question that has been difficult to answer.

It is noteworthy that when African leaders met in Addis Ababa last December for the 12th African Economic Conference, there was no advocacy for a particular system, participants opting to instead, call for governance to remain a priority of development programmes.

Does Zimbabwe put a premium on human rights and democracy, a model championed by the West or adopt the Chinese model, which places more emphasis on political stability and economic growth?

Our sister paper, The Zimbabwe Independent, last Friday reported that President Emmerson Mnangagwa is eager to adopt Kagame’s economic development model, which blends authoritarian practices and home-grown solutions with international best practices from developmental states.

In the experience of another authoritarian state, Singapore, under its founder Lee Kuan Yew, the city state moved from the backwaters of development to a first world nation in the space of a generation.

These examples are critical for Zimbabwe because, after being an aide to Mugabe for most of his life, Mnangagwa is trying to practise a brand of democracy that is alien to his more authoritarian DNA, so a system that blends control and success would appeal to him.

The country clearly needs discipline and direction, and but Mnangagwa also needs conviction of his own policies, of the direction which he intends to take the country and buy-in from Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe needs strong economic and political leadership to start delivering economic growth a country of its endowments should be having and ensure stability.

The country needs to decide if human rights, particularly the right to vote whichever way, do not matter if the trade-off is sustained economic growth with food, shelter, health, and good sanitation.

A memorable quote for ED from LKY: “A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people, and the quality of their leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history.”

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