Gluttony has historically been at the heart of human suffering

NOT so long ago, Zimbabwe made global headlines over ‘the discovery’ of diamonds, in the Marange area of Manicaland province. The ‘discovery’ came at a time when the country faced global isolation due to bad politics and human rights violations. The diamonds gave reprieve to the ailing government. Up to today, no one knows what happened to the diamonds from Marange.

develop me: Tapiwa Gomo

Just to give a perspective, the Marange diamond fields are an area of widespread small-scale diamond production in Chiadzwa, in Manicaland. Estimates of the reserves contained in this area have varied depending on who is communicating about them, but some experts suggested that it might have been one of the world’s richest diamond deposits. The diamond fields were estimated to be the world’s biggest diamond (in carats, not by value) find in more than a century. In terms of carats produced, the Marange field was the largest diamond producing project in the world, estimated to have produced 16,9 million carats in 2013, or 13% of the global rough diamond supply.
Marange is estimated to have produced 12 million carats in 2012, 8,7 million carats in 2011, and 8,2 million carats in 2010. While some diamond mines produce rough diamonds valued at over $1 000 per carat, average production at Marange was estimated at under $50 per carat.

This is not a story from a book of folklore, but a real story that occurred or may still be happening in a poor country called Zimbabwe. It happened in the same country that is currently facing shortages of everything except poverty and bad politics and the same country whose people have limited access to basic services because public service institutions have not been financed. It is the same country where the industry is struggling to rise and therefore unable to produce jobs for its impoverished population. It is a story that demonstrates that being wealthy is not an equivalent of wisdom. A people can be blessed with resources, but as long as the brain to manage them is lacking, they can continue to languish in poverty.

But are we the only country where power bled people to death? Certainly not. There is a myriad of stories where gluttony by few individuals led to the deaths of millions of people. In the 19th century, while India starved, Britain was exporting grain from that same country in what is now known as the Great Famine of 1876-8 which led to the loss of millions of lives. While famine stalked millions of lives, some Indian officials were working with British authorities to export millions of tonnes of wheat to England.

The Indian officials at the time told their starving people that in exchange for the wheat, the British had funded the construction of a railroad. But then, this was to facilitate the export of huge quantities of grain from drought-stricken regions to centrally-located storage facilities for hoarding and protection. As the grain was siphoned from these areas, the prices of wheat soared beyond the reach of many, leading to massive starvation. By late 1877, attempts by the ordinary Indians to protest were met with British-funded terror. Destitute women and their hungry children who tried to steal from gardens or glean grain from fields for survival were tortured and sometimes killed.

Those who acted on behalf of the British government believed that only their country deserved the grain and as millions of Indians died of hunger-related illnesses, the victims were blamed and branded as idle and criminals. Hoarding and exporting of grain during a famine was not seen as immoral because accumulation of wealth was the priority than preventing loss of lives.

Why would this be important to us at this particular juncture? We have a country that possesses all the ingredients for a functioning economy, but there is lack of brains that prioritise the country. This dearth is in both the ruling and opposition camps.

In all our struggles, we have missed the realisation that whenever there is an imbalance of power between groups, the weaker is vulnerable to the whims of the stronger. And whenever there is a contest for power, those who hold it use it to retain power at whatever cost, including sacrificing national resources and people’s lives. The priority right now is to decentralise power and this cannot wait for the next elections. The push for reforms needs to start now, sector by sector, because doing it now and gradually does not alert the status quo of their gradual loss of power and control of governance institutions. As the balance improves in favour of the disempowered group, so does the quality of their options and with that the people’s ability to identify and pursue what they value.

History shows us that decentralising power is not an event but a process. In established democracies, people have fought for many decades to decentralise power by establishing and extending democratic forms of decision-making. While free and fair elections are the essence of democracy, they are just one manifestation of the democratic impulse, and one that has failed to empower our people to bring change. Democracy requires more than just elections, but conditions that enable and allow people to pursue a deeper understanding of themselves and their world, and institutions that provide the options to participate meaningfully in the decisions that affect their lives. The pursuit for democracy must be inspired by the desire to scale up creative freedom and harmonise the process of identifying and creating valuable outcomes among the masses.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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