HomeOpinion & AnalysisDespotic leaders to blame for Africa’s economic morass

Despotic leaders to blame for Africa’s economic morass

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By Cuthbert Mavheko

ON May 25, Zimbabwe joins the rest of the African continent in marking the 59th anniversary of Africa Day.

The day has tremendous significance for Africans and was set aside to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On this day, leaders of the 32 African States that had achieved independence agreed to establish the OAU, whose mandate was to spearhead the decolonisation of the rest of the continent.

Among the founding fathers of the OAU, which was dissolved and replaced by the African Union (AU), are Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, Ben Bella of Algeria, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, William Tubman of Liberia, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania et al.

The decolonisation of the African continent started in Ghana, which attained its independence on May 6,  1957 and ended with the independence of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

The heartbreaking reality is that, despite having discarded the mantle of colonial rule many years ago, most African countries today face severe economic challenges that have driven millions of Africans into the wilderness of searing poverty.

According to one study, over 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live on US$1 a day. The study further notes that African leaders are generally more conserned with acquiring and accumulating ill-gotten wealth for themselves than with ameliorating the economic welfare of their people.

Indeed, it presents a perplexing paradox to note that while Africans are exceedingly affluent in all the resources that create wealth, millions of them are today marooned on a small island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material and economic prosperity. No wonder why one author described Africans as “the world’s richest poor people.”

African leaders blame the continent’s erstwhile colonisers for the economic challenges that beset the African continent. In so doing, they deliberately negate the fact that they are equally to blame.

The frank truth is that Africa has become a haven for despotic leaders, who masquerade as champions of democracy. These pseudo-democrats are using their political muscle and influence to plunder the continent’s natural resources while their subjects are literally scrounging around to eke out a living.

Socio-economically, Nigeria has taken giant strides backwards, notwithstanding the fact that it is a major petroleum-producing country.

The plundering of its petroleum wealth by successive military juntas  has, apart from from reducing Nigeria to one of the world’s poorest nations, left the country’s once-vibrant economy in the throes of a recession.

The situation in Nigeria is not exactly peculiar.  Most African countries, including Zambia, Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe, to mention just a few, today face a similar, if not worse, predicament.

It is insightful to note that when Zimbabwe attained its independence in 1980, the Zanu PF-led administration, which assumed the reins of power, inherited one of the strongest economies in Africa. It is quite disconcerting to note that the country has now been reduced to a basket case, owing to the late R G Mugabe’s ruinous years in government.

The economic crisis in Zimbabwe, which is epitomised by massive company closures, a runaway cost of living, dwindling incomes and high unemployment has forced millions of people to flee to other countries, where a better life is guaranteed. To add insult to injury, legions of Zimbabweans who opted to remain in the country are today navigating a precarious livelihoods in the informal sector.

According to the Havard University Centre of African Studies, about 80 to 90% of Zimbabwe’s population is eking out a miserable living in the informal sector.

The few Zimbabweans, who are still in formal employment, are toiling for emoluments, which have remained characteristically pathetic and nowhere near the alleviation of poverty.

The overwhelming majority of Zimbabwean people have resigned to near-destitution, frustration and disenchantment emanating from an unprecedented scale of  impoverishment, which is gnawing at the moral fabric of the nation.

I recall reading a report published by Psychology Consultants, which said 43% of working Zimbabweans are experiencing symptoms of distress. The report also stated that  27,2% of the Zimbabwean population is depressed to the extent of feeling that things are meaningless and that they would be better off if they were dead. Indeed, this is very sad!

A prominent English philosopher and mathematician once said: “The desire for food has been, and still is, one of the causes of great political events.” This is an undeniable truth.

As the number of people experiencing misery and hunger proliferates, many among the economically marginalised will inevitably throw in their lot with anti-government forces or embrace the ideologies of tribal or religious groups that espouse social cleavages and violence.    The end result is that violence will become a common feature in the country.

Of course, the situation in Zimbabwe has not deteriorated to such grave dimensions as to engender violent social upheavals. However, the simple truth is that a recipe for social discontent is being brewed,which, in the long run, may prove detrimental to the country’s fragile political stability.

It presents a perplexing paradox to note that while the country is burning,the two major political parties in the country-ZANU(PF) and the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC),continue to view and treat each other as enemies.

As I personally see it,if the leadership of the two political oufits truly have the interests of the nation at heart, and did not board the political train for personal glory and self-aggrandisement, they should now bury the hatchet and work hand in glove to resolve the country’s socio-economic and political challenges.

The leadership of the two antagonistic political parties should  awaken to the reality that the country has more to gain from unity,co-operation and constructive dialogue than from vindictiveness,division and hate speech,which only serves to incite violence.

Parting shot:An Afro barometer survey report last year showed that a large segment of the Zimbabwean population are vouching for a coalition government to restore socio-economic and political stability in the country.

Readers may recall that the last time Zimbabwe came under a coalition government was between 2009 and 2013 when ZANU(PF) coalesced with two MDC formations and this stabilised the country politically and economically.

  • P/S Cuthbert Mavheko is a Bulawayo-based freelance journalist. Contact details- Mobile Phone: 0773 963 448; Email: mavhekoc@gmail.com

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