Zimbabwe: ‘We demand change. Right now.’
03 Aug 2018

There were scenes of furious protesters chanting slogans, reports of shootings and armed soldiers brutally beating up civilians on Wednesday in the city of Harare, where I live.

According to news reports, six people died in the violence.

I had to dash out of the office for safety reasons and head home because of the turmoil.

All this was never meant to be part of the Zimbabwean election.

However, the government under former president Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF had a reputation for rigging elections, and using torture and intimidation to ‘win.’

A friend once remarked that Zanu PF is a ruthless election-winning machine prepared to use both overt and covert means just to stay in power.

After talking the talk and even coining a new term to describe themselves as “a new dispensation”, Zimbabwe’s rulers have failed to walk the walk.

They have preferred to sacrifice human life on the altar of political expediency.

Zanu PF and its supporters deny such allegations, but I stand by my point.

So trouble kicked off on Wednesday after the authorities delayed announcing the election results, as well news that the ruling Zanu PF candidate and current president Emmerson Mnangagwa had gained a huge lead ahead of the main opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance.

This morning it was announced that Mnangagwa had won by a narrow margin – garnering 50.8% of votes, compared to 44.3% for Chamisa.

My reaction to hearing the news of Zanu PF’s victory was ‘Oh, boy, here we go again …’ as I consider the mayhem this government has caused, and its amazing ability to worsen, rather than better, life in Zimbabwe after over thirty years in power.

With Zanu PF back at the helm for another five years in power, things are looking very gloomy, given their history.

The thing is that we had actually hoped for change.

Seriously, it was within our grasp but now seems to have slipped away.

Dream of change after Mugabe

The possibility of change in Zimbabwe came about on 18 November 2017, when multitudes of Zimbabweans marched on the streets of Harare and other parts of the country, demanding that Robert Mugabe step down, following a coup by senior figures in his party.

Mugabe did eventually quit on 22 November, through a letter he wrote to the speaker of parliament.

His resignation, however, was not before an impeachment charge sheet was prepared by his party, also accusing him of aiding and abetting corruption amongst a plethora of charges.

Those who took over the country – Mugabe’s former colleagues – promised that despite several years of association with him, a new dawn was upon us and good times were about to roll.

Corruption was to be eradicated and legal channels restored. The new president, Mnangagwa, also announced a programme to tackle corruption and looted assets.

Did change come? Barely, and even none in many instances.

Bribery blues

Close to eight months later after the coup, corruption is still sunk deep in the fabric of Zimbabwean society.

Bribery is still deeply entrenched like the roots of a baobab tree, and is not about to be uprooted soon, judging from what we have witnessed on the ground.

Access to public services, such as getting or replacing a national identity card, are still a nightmare for most people, and money eventually exchanges hands for one to get an ID in such cases.

There are also issues that arise when crossing the border post into neighbouring countries and getting paper work checked.

This can be a lengthy process and sometimes a business professional can lose at least a day’s worth of income or wages, just by wasting time following all the official channels one is asked to do.

However, for a “small premium” one can jump the queue and have their papers processed faster.

Because of this corruption, it is understood that some cargo is now skirting one of the country’s main border posts, and a lot of money is being lost out with officials apparently preferring to pocket bribes and let travellers go free for a fee, hence possibly millions of dollars of potential revenue for the state are lost.

Smuggling syndicates

Financial leakages are also seen in the area of smuggling goods into Zimbabwe from neighbouring countries.

Syndicates and rackets have now been formed to smuggle clothes, shoes, alcohol and basic commodities such as cooking oil and flour that are needed by the market but expensive to produce locally.

This in turn has given rise to a parallel market for US dollars, which as I write is around 75% for electronic and bank transfers and 40% for Zimbabwe’s bond note that had been introduced to mitigate a shortage of cash on the market.

There are also allegations that the deals being signed by government officials on behalf of the country are not transparent, giving rise to suspicion that kick-backs are being paid to have transactions finalised.

Meanwhile, the formal economy continues to have several middlemen who make the cost of goods and services steep for the ordinary citizen.

Election effect

As we come to the end of the election season, radical changes have to be made to the way the Zimbabwean economy is administered and corruption and bribery are tackled.

People have to learn to trust the government and this will certainly be no stroll in the park for this administration, given the questionable background that has brought them to power.

Formal channels of trade are highly likely to continue to be shunned for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the new leadership has a mammoth task ahead in terms of fighting financial crime such as bribery and corruption, which have now become a cultural trend from government officials in the corridors of power to ordinary folk in the bustling streets of town.

Another challenge is set to be the resource factor: this is a desperately poor government that barely has money to spend on vital services such as health, hygiene and education, and allocating serious funds to investigate financial crime may prove to be a fanciful idea.

Factors like political will and action to address such crime also plays an important part – some African politicians are known for giving great speeches on cracking down on corruption, while being the very perpetrators.

Do we need elections, do we need new actors in this seemingly hopeless drama about the state of Zimbabwe?

I believe so.

Maintaining the status quo in Zimbabwe is a sure endorsement of five more years of suffering for the masses and we are set to spiral deeper into the abyss of damning corruption.

We demand change. Right now.

About the author: Masimba Kuchera is a Harare-based economic analyst, who covers a variety of topics including business and corruption.

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