Leadership bridge to nowhere. . .

KEN YAMAMOTO argues that there is no foreseeable turnaround in Zimbabwe, especially with a clueless and inept leadership – incapable of dealing with 21st century challenges in a globalised environment.

The trouble with a rat race is that even if you win, you remain a rat. This is exactly the situation that Zimbabwe’s government finds itself in after winning the elections last year. The local media is full of scandal – as if to keep the people busy and prevent them from rioting.

Zimbabwe’s International airport is a small terminal the size of Hakata train station in Fukuoka, Japan. Just getting off a plane and entering Zimbabwe is in itself a swim into one scandal after another. Built a few years ago around a tendering scandal involving Air Harbour Technologies, a company related to the President’s nephew Leo Mugabe, the poor lighting at the airport is an omen of what you get to see as you proceed into the country.

There is only one way to get from the airport into the CBD – via a short incomplete highway that has been under construction since 2007. That highway is a poster-project of how not to manage a project. Corruption around that road stinks to high heaven. It is in itself a scandal, linked to the Minister of Local Government, Ignatious Chombo, who has been linked to every corruption scandal involving local authorities; and one Ken Sharpe, a businessman linked to Augur Investments, a little-known firm from Estonia.

Shopping mall

Sharpe and the folks he fronts won themselves prime land to build a shopping mall in a wetland in an upmarket suburb, in exchange for the airport road project they did not complete. Needless to say the ordinary citizen is now picking up the tab as the project has now been kicked over to ZINARA to complete. To add insult to injury, motorists will have to pay more after Minister Obert Mpofu, another one with dubiously acquired wealth, doubled the tollgate fees.

Yet Sharpe, Michael Mahachi and all the shady characters behind this deal, in spite of failing to deliver an airport highway, are going to keep the land their acquired nefariously without fulfilling their end of the bargain.

If you venture into Harare’s CBD from the airport, you find all manner of young people peddling wares of all sorts, hoping that the traffic lights will hold up the cars long enough to secure a sale. Some peddle Zimbabwe flags, bottled water, lapel pins, electric boilers, newspapers, prepaid phone credit (juice card – they call it), car radio frequency modulators, car phone chargers and Chinese sex therapies to mention but a few.

The vendors’ ages are varied, but what’s very clear is that they are very young people trying to eke out an honest living. As I proceed to the hotel, this situation is replicated at every intersection. I can’t help agonising how the 90 year-old President and his team have ruined an entire generation. How is it possible that such infirm elders whose soundness of mind has diminished with age are so reckless as to want to determine the future of millions of young people?

17 years back

My first trip to Zimbabwe was in 1998 as a young engineer doing postgraduate studies in economics. At that time, I was visiting my uncle who was a director on a project in which Fujitsu was digitalising PTC’s relay stations in Mashonaland and Matabeleland. The project was carried out after the Japanese government had advanced a loan to the Zimbabwean government to modernise its telecoms infrastructure, which the later has not finished paying to date.

Back then Zimbabwe was still intact, but its infrastructure was starting to show signs of distress. This could be seen through power black outs, increasing potholes on the roads, piped water shortages and so on.

Yet this was the period when Mugabe started losing it, making decisions that have taken the country to the precipice. That’s when he made the single-handed but idiotic decision of venturing into the DRC war, which caused the economy to run out of foreign currency reserves by 1999. Prior to that, he had issued unbudgeted gratuities to former fighters of the war of independence. Both decisions set the economy into an extreme fragile mode.

Terminal decline

Back in 1998, it was not common to see vendors at every traffic light. There were street kids, yes, but there was not so much vending on the street. Yet at that time, it was clear that Zimbabwe’s economy and manufacturing sector was on a path of decline.

This was easy to see if you visited the flea markets that were sprouting all over Harare by 1998. It was evident that 99% of the goods peddled at the flea markets were not made locally. Jeans, shirts, shoes among several other items were all mainly from Asia, perhaps imported through South Africa. To a discerning eye, this projected a manufacturing sector in decline.

So from the late 90s, Zimbabwe was significantly losing its competitiveness. The average folks were not seeing it as it was gradual, but the economy was, particularly the manufacturing sector, losing jobs gradually. The politicians, who seem to have an oversized view of their country didn’t see it either. The President, who holds many paper degrees, is practically economically incompetent –otherwise he would have foreseen the consequences of his policies.

Imported trinkets

The odds of getting a formal job after getting a college degree in Zimbabwe how are 1,000 to one. It represents significant underemployment and sheer waste of resources when university graduates spent their day vending mobile phone credit and imported trinkets.

On one hand, it is idiocy for the government to announce as if celebrating the fact that the economy is now more informal, as Minister Chinamasa did in his 2014 budget document. It is idiotic because the informal sector will neither industrialise nor grow Zimbabwe’s economy. Rather, it has a significant negative multiplier on the state’s ability to raise tax revenues, in the process debilitating efforts to invest in infrastructure and the ability to pay of loans.

The point is, as things stand, there is no foreseeable turnaround in Zimbabwe, especially with a clueless and inept leadership, which is not capable of dealing with twenty first century challenges in a globalised environment. This means that more graduates will not find jobs, more companies will close and make hundreds of thousands of employees redundant, less revenue collection for the government, more kids unable to go to school, decline in infrastructure, more power outages, worse water reticulation capabilities, more vendors at street corners and more risk of diseases; sucking the majority into a vicious vortex of hardships and hopelessness. This is certainly a reversal from the atmosphere of hope that had grown among both citizens and foreign investors during the period of the unity government.

Meanwhile the government is creating sideshows and seems to have a great propensity for chasing shadows, rats, cockroaches and squirrels; instead of dealing with the elephant in the room. All the efforts in dealing with Facebook characters, so-called weevils and other non-consequent issues are a mindless waste of time and resources. – yamamotokensan@gmail.com

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