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Paved with good intentions


They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you are a regular reader of this column you will know that I have a keen interest in the concept and practice of leadership, that I am passionate about Africa and African women in particular and that I am a struggling Christian, with innumerable unanswerable issues surrounding our faith.

Today’s column is not about any of these things. Or perhaps it is about all of these things. It is about good intentions and why they so often land us on the opposite side of the place they were expected to take us. What happens in between and how do we steer ourselves back on the path to, if not righteousness, then at least rightness?

I am thinking about political leaders for instance. The generation of African leaders that brought us independence is so often criticised for turning from liberator to oppressor, but the question is not often asked about what their true objectives were.

Surely they started out with the very best of intentions: To free one’s people from tyranny; to overcome oppression; to ensure resources are shared in a fair and equitable system; to reward those who think deeply and work hard and energise the multitudes to rally behind these worthy causes.

But what happens after that? What goes wrong in the blueprint? Why do so many stories of liberation from the tyranny of colonisation never seem to arrive at the happy ending initially written for them?
I always thought if my intentions were good to begin with, then surely God kind of owed it to me to make everything work out well. But that’s just one of the many questions I’ve tabled on my ask list.

International history is littered with examples of good intentions gone wrong. The Great Depression was caused by economic policies which were thought to be prudent at the time and were expected to help Americans recover from the economic turmoil following World War I and the crash of Wall Street.

In Zimbabwe we have our very own Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), our Land Reform Programme and more recently our Indigenisation policies. Perhaps you doubt the good intentions of the proponents of these instruments.

Perhaps you believe, as many do, that these are tools of political expediency rather than genuine goodwill. But all the same, let’s give the authors the benefit of the doubt. The question remains: With the best will in the world, could any of these stories have ended in anything but an unhappy ending?

Esap, launched in the early 1990s was intended to reduce debt, increase export and curb unemployment.

Enter a severe drought followed by consecutive poor rainy seasons in our agro-based economy, and it soon became clear it was not in fact going to be the panacea we had all hoped for. On the contrary, we felt rather as if we were descending into the pit of hell.

But of course we really didn’t know the meaning of hell until we experienced inflation the likes of which had never been seen before and shortages of food and other basics turned just about everyone into a common criminal.

Many blame the economic crisis we experienced on the land redistribution programme, others blame it on the drought, and some blame poor relations with the West.

Just supposing the government of that day really did suddenly realise how inequitable the distribution of land in the country was, and just supposing that the thing which was uppermost in their minds at the time was social justice and imagining for a minute that shoring up the rural support base ahead of elections had nothing to do with it, and of course supposing that the Bill did not in fact completely negate everything that Esap was trying to do. Supposing therefore that all of the intentions of this piece of legislation were completely honourable, how would you rate its chances of success?

Indeed, I do not doubt the programme has changed many lives for the better. I do not dispute there are many resettled farmers who are doing well on their new farms and are seeing prosperity which previously eluded them.

Nor do I argue against the right of a people to work the land of their forefathers. But is all of this enough? Does the end justify the means? Does it create a detour along the road to hell which our apparent good intentions seemed to be leading us to?

I would very much like to have tea with the President one day (preferably not on a Monday when it might be crowded!) I would ask him what he considers to be his successes and how he would like to be remembered.

I would seek to understand what he really thinks and feels when he looks back over the years of his leadership, and whether he has any regrets about the choices he made or how they have affected the people of this country.

I would want to hear from him what his intentions were at the outset of each monumental move and whether he was happy with the outcome. Even a powerful orator and a charismatic leader must experience moments of introspection.

I am no economist and neither am I a political analyst nor a social scientist. I am only a woman with a little common sense and a lot of questions; and I worry about the legacy we are leaving for the coming generations — economically, politically and socially.

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity.

Reader’s comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw.

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