In Conversation With Trevor: Thinking beyond the Zimbabwe crisis

Tendai Murisa In Conversation With Trevor Ncube

Today I'm in conversation with Tendai Murisa, the executive director of SIVIO Institute.

SIVIO Institute executive director says Zimbabweans should start thinking beyond the country’s multifaceted crisis and take an active interest in governance issues.

Murisa (TM) made the call when he appeared on the platform In Conversation with Trevor, which is hosted by Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN).

Below are excerpts from the conversation.

TN: Dr. Tendai Murisa, welcome to In Conversation with Trevor.

TM: Thank you so much for having me, Trevor.

It's about time, because I have been seeing you on the side-lines commenting on some of the stuff that people have been saying on the show.

So today we have got that opportunity to deal with some of those issues.

I'm probably one of the biggest fans of the show.

TN: Oh, thank you so much. Tendai, I want us to start first of all by helping people understand what SIVIO Institute is. When did you set it up? What does it do?

TM: Thank you for that. SIVIO Institute is a combination of ideas. It has a birth date, a formal birth date, which is January 2018. That's when the Institute was formally established.

But as an idea, it starts off before that. By 2013, 2014, quite a number of us were beginning to think about beyond the crisis; what will Zimbabwe look like beyond the crisis.

We did not know what would lead, even up to now we don't know what would take us out of the crisis, but we began to gather newly trained academics, thinkers, etc. from different fields to say, what if we put together a set of ideas to take us forward because at the moment, at that particular moment, even up to now, the preoccupation was how to define the problem.

TN: So in a nutshell, what issues are you focusing on? What work are you doing?

TM: SIVIO is organised around three centres. So there's a centre that is focused on civic engagement.

 That is about how do we make sure that the manner in which citizens, I'm not talking of the political party formation, but all of us who are not office holders, can actually influence or have a part to play in governance, day-to-day governance issues.

That centre is directed by this hypothesis or statement that we use at the office.

Another thing we raised because of the issues to do with dependency.

Most of us realise that in Africa, we shape Africa's development from a deficit perspective.

We always make this assumption to say, oh, somebody has to come and help us. 

So in the end, let's take government, the government solution or the theory of change is around what you call foreign direct investment.

So we're waiting for somebody to come and save us. Same as other poor and everyone else, if you go to any community that is struggling, they'll say we are hoping you are the donor or you're the government. The government will do this for us.

So we began to say, how do we think about assets and mobilising locally available assets?

So we call that the centre of philanthropy and community inclusion.

But our thinking was just not the philanthropy that you read about, that which says Bill Gates or Strive Masiyiwa does, but the philanthropy which is a day-to-day form of solidarity amongst ourselves.

So that's how we began to say that that's how we can reduce dependency.

Then when it comes to the question around, how do we make sure we create employment.

We set up a centre for entrepreneurship, which has gone through various changes because we thought like, if we are going to be facing challenges of creation of jobs, what if we helped to develop a new cohort of entrepreneurs that are socially minded, but also that are looking inward within the country to begin to say my mandate is not just a profit but my mandate is to create jobs, sustainable jobs, dignified jobs.

So those are the three centres that we set out with and that has been our strategy to say we want to achieve.

TN: Are you seeing any traction? Are there any tangible results from the three centres that you've set up?

TM: Oh yes, our centre for civic engagement, where we actually train public policy analysis advocacy, but also we are one of a few or the only one that actually keeps a daily tracker of how the government is performing.

So it has helped us to have different kinds of conversations with the government.

So what we are beginning to see is to say initially there was a pushback, so we were called all sorts of names.

Government called us a regime change agenda-setting organisation. In some places, we would rate government performance highly so they also said we were pro-government.

 So you find yourself in the new conversations that are based on evidence and the challenges.

So the real issue for us was not about, is the government performing well or not.

The real issue is to say whose agenda the government is pursuing.

So for instance everything that we see, especially with the introduction of this new currency, the argument we have made is that the idea could have been brilliant, but you are bringing us to an idea that you have formulated and completed by yourself. We were not there.

TN: You were not there?

TM: Exactly. We are not there at its conception. You never consulted us.

So even the idea of consultation is to sell you an idea. They are salespeople. They are selling you what they have made.

TN: They do it badly, I'm sorry to say that. Oh yeah, they are bad salespeople. So as far as entrepreneurship is concerned, what traction are you making?

TM: Oh yes, so that has been on the one hand the most exciting work, but on the other hand the most difficult work.

 I'm trained as a political science activist, practitioner and academic.

Most of my work has been around development, hard-core development issues and also to do with policy, to do with advocacy and governance.

So entrepreneurship is a new space.

So in terms of mobilising resources required for what we thought we could do, we wanted to set up entrepreneurship hubs across all the 10 provinces.

That vision is yet to manifest.

But I'm glad to say Trevor, we've trained over 80 young entrepreneurs.

They have gone through our school of entrepreneurship and we also have an entrepreneurship hub on our website where anyone thinking of entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe can go to that online repository and get all the materials to do with how to register your company, what do you need for compliance, what licenses do you need per value chain, and we begin to say let's map up opportunities within each value chain.

In terms of being an information hub, we have done very well.

When we started, we did not want to end there.

We thought we could raise resources that we could then say everyone who has gone through our training also gets start-up financing.

That has been the issue. We are yet to get there but we have not given up.

We are still trying to talk to different banks, different institutions like the National Pensions Authority in this country.

It sits on a lot of money but it's not supporting young entrepreneurs to begin to say what kind of interventions can we make for them.

For every country that has developed, you know it has been at the backbone of entrepreneurship. Here we call it the informal sector but others call it cottage industry.

So it's actually the terms we use and then we think it's about relying on it, controlling it or texting it.

We love texting them, but we don't give them incentives.

So we have also engaged from a policy perspective to say there are certain incentives that need to be given to us to promote entrepreneurship in the public.

TN: Tell me, you say this has brought you to spaces where you are having interesting conversations.

Just talk to us briefly about the interesting conversations that you have had with the opposition and interesting conversations that you have had with the government because of the work that you are doing as briefly as possible.

TM: Okay, so we keep what we call a local government tracker.

We need to analyse them, to expose them to their challenges. So they have been, yes, in opposition.

They have failed to take over national power, but they have run local authorities across.

So the rot that we see in local authorities, the blame has to be apportioned also on them.

But it's a challenge that they have not taken on board easily because for them, they then argue that it is the meddling of the minister of Local Government, but I asked the spokesperson for the then president of the MDC Alliance in a meeting, I said, are you saying the minister is stopping you from collecting litter because refuse collection in the CBD was a major issue. I said, is there a rule?

So you find that what we are having is a challenge of excuses. We cannot take ownership of problems and then begin to say if it's our problem we can fix.

TN: Tendai, I think right there is the nub of the issue because the opposition is not taking ownership, they're finding excuses. The government is not taking ownership, they're finding excuses. What's wrong with us? What has become of us as a people?

Forget the political titles. What's become wrong with us? What has happened to us?

TM: That's a big question, Trevor.

I have begun, and not out of frustration, but actually out of feeling, because I think when I started at SIVIO  Institute, there was a level of optimism, and maybe I was naive in a certain way because I think that question you are asking could be to do with the mindset.

 So there are two issues that I think I am going to hold you there because this is a very important answer.

The context being, you talk to the opposition, they have a pile of excuses why things are not working.

Some of them okay, some of them not okay. You talk to the government, a pile of excuses, the biggest being sanctions and all sorts of things.

We do not take responsibilities and say, this is what we messed up, this is what we're going to fix. And my question to you is what's happened to us?

So I'm grateful that you raised this and I'm grateful that you've also allowed us to say, let's think about from a 44-year perspective, because I think there are two sorts of tendencies.

The first tendency that we saw in 1980, which then resonates with 2017 is of high expectation that things are going to change overnight.

We do not know what it takes to build a nation. That's number one.

Then number two, amongst us as citizens, we also have another challenge which you raised in what I call messianic politics; that we think the solution is to vote for an individual and that individual will fix everything.

So we have this saying at SIVIO that citizens vote, politicians promise, but nothing happens in the middle because we are made to expect that if we vote, we're done. So we depart from the public space.

So we are good at making excuses, but I think we need to be humble enough and to learn from countries that decolonized earlier than us or countries that were never colonized like Ethiopia.

TN: I am going to hold you there, Tendai. Is it not that we have seen the wrong kind of leadership modelled in front of us? I go so far, Tendai, as saying that we have a little Robert Mugabe in all of us.

TM: Yes, because this is the kind of leadership that we were used to seeing.

That observation you have made. That's why for some of us, we are actually saying and you'll find that many times when we talk about politics, we are actually moving away from these parties and toxic spaces, but we are beginning to move towards saying, what can citizens do in their collective spaces?

Because what we are trying to say is we need to model certain citizen behaviour, because that citizen behaviour can shape leaders.

Half the time we have thought that leaders need to come and shape us, but we want to put it the other way round.

Let's get in our collective spaces, let's model something so in our neighbourhood, if we are to change and begin to fix our roads, collect litter, make sure that there's security by fixing our problems.

  • “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on  

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