Corruption watch: Here is how corruption has killed the economy


Just this other evening, I was driving along Rekayi Tangwena Street in Harare — that stretch between Samora Machel Avenue and Coventry Road.

I said to myself, there is something different about this part of the road now. But that new thing was not immediately obvious. It took me about three minutes to figure it out. Yes, the road was so bright now! For a long, long time, that road, like most of the roads in Harare, was so dark. No street lights at all; no nothing.

The road between Samora Machel and Coventry Rd was fully ornamented with streets lights, all of them in shiny and glitzy working order. Then I remembered something. Zanu PF had just held its congress close by a day or two before. There is no coincidence like that.

The only reasonable inference was that the lights had been put up because of the congress. They had to light up the area so that there was no darkness in the area of the congress. Somehow, they managed to get the resources to provide lighting in the area.

If, a few days before the congress, you had asked people like Christopher Mutsvangwa, the head of propaganda at Zanu PF, and Tafadzwa Mugwadi, his tow-away director of Information at the ruling party, why there was no lighting on that stretch of the road and not on other roads, their answer was going to be predictable. Sanctions.

Now that there is light on that road, was there a sanctions moratorium before congress? If not, where did the money to set up the streets lights come from?

There is this unhelpful tendency in Zanu PF to refuse to listen to rhyme and reason, to bury its head in the hot sand and always reduce everything and anything to sanctions. As for corruption, well, it’s there, but it’s not a big deal, they say.

Mugwadi was not very clever when he appeared on a radio station to discuss sanctions and corruption during that crazy anti-sanctions moment more than a week ago. He kept saying sanctions, sanctions, sanctions and evidently tried all he could to brush aside the issue of corruption when it comes to the economic problems Zimbabwe has faced for a long time. And then, towards the end of the talk show, he started rambling and rumbling about the excellent job that his boss, President Mnangagwa, was doing fixing our roads.

Before that, just a quick throwback on the street lights mentioned above. If you look closely, you will see glaring corruption in the fact that resources were spent on the streets lights on the said stretch just so as to decorate the Zanu PF congress and give the party’s international visitors the impression that they were an organised leadership. 

You know now that Zanu PF is a private institution and roads and street lights are public facilities. If the money that was used to brighten up that stretch on Rekayi Tangwena to spruce up the congress is public money — which is the most probable thing as it is — this is abuse of office by some people in there. Its scandalous conflation of the party and state. And abuse of office in this manner is corruption. Essentially, therefore, corruption was at play as Zanu PF was having its congress.

Come to think about it this way. The Zimbabwean government of Zanu PF imposed a fake waste-to-energy deal on the Harare municipality. Now the government says it has adopted the financial burden to pay the contracted company, Geogenix BV, close to US$1 million every month. Money that is being paid for, in all senses, nothing. If that money had been set aside to fix street lighting, how many roads would be smiling by now?

Certainly, the decision by the government to do the Pomona fraud has nothing to with sanctions. After all, Geogenix is from the Netherlands, and the Netherlands is part of the European Union that has imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. Listening to Zanu PF, you would think that there is not a single European or western company doing business with and in Zimbabwe.

I’m raising these issues so as to show the shallowness in always seeking to lay every blame on sanctions as Zanu PF has been doing since the unicorn lost its second horn. To buttress the point, let’s then go back to Mugwadi. When he talked on that radio show, it was always going to be sanctions and nothing else for him.

As already said, towards the end of that show, he was waxing lyrical about how his president was fixing roads and what, what. Do you notice the naiveté and contradiction here? Surely, President Emmerson Mnangagwa couldn’t manage to upgrade the roads to this extent if sanctions were stopping things from happening. You will remember that, during Robert Mugabe’s time, the typical mantra was that the government couldn’t fix the potholes, let alone build new roads, because of sanctions.

Now that the Mnangagwa regime has made some modest progress in building infrastructure, the question becomes: So, where are the sanctions? Why is it that the sanctions were keeping Mugabe from building roads yet Mnangagwa is now doing so with measured success? You can’t eat the cake and keep it at the same time. It’s either sanctions make it impossible to build roads, or roads can be built with or without sanctions. Since roads are being built, it becomes a long haul to say sanctions are making it impossible to build roads, or anything else for that matter.

Going deeper, and, again, on the issue of the radio show, corruption and sanctions, Madam Linda Masarira was one of the guests. You see, Linda is deeper than what most people think. She is good at laying out her arguments. Big problem is that she is always shouting, even in a studio where mikes can pick the gentlest whisper. That could be the reason why these cynics don’t take her seriously.

That aside, Linda made an interesting and consistent—albeit fallacious and misleading—argument against sanctions and for their removal. Where she bigly missed it was when she made this bizarre attempt to explain corruption in Zimbabwe in terms of the sanctions. For her, sanctions are what is driving corruption here. It’s not as if she is saying sanctions are partly contributing to corruption, no. Her argument was polarised. Sanctions must go because they are the ones that are driving corruption. No room for a continuum.

That’s nonsense of course. It’s not as if corruption started with Zidera and the EU measures at the turn of the century. In fact, the biggest cases of corruption that have immensely contributed to the economic mess in which we are happened before the sanctions. 

The Willowgate scandal of 1989 when senior government and party officials took advantage of a vehicle subsidy to buy and resell the cars at steep prices quickly comes to mind. That the officials were corrupt is bad enough. But what’s worse are the financial and economic implications of that corruption. Perceptions on the credibility and reliability of the government went down. That scared investors.

It also affected the viability of Willowvale Motor Industries, one of the biggest car assemblies in the region and beyond. The scandal marked the beginning of a serious downslide of the company. Today, you can’t even find it on GPS. And the decline of Willowvale came with massive job losses, shrinkage of the public tax base and all the other sicknesses that go hand-in-hand with industrial collapse.

Then there was the 1997 War Victims Compensation Fund scandal. While a law to compensate victims of the liberation war was established as way back as 1980, there was no energy to do it systematically, sensibly and sustainably for well beyond a decade. Then some people like the late Chenjerai Hunzvi saw an opportunity in the late 1990s.

They used a scheme to compensate the victims to loot the multi-million fund. You may remember the case of Cde Chocha, aka Augustine Chihuri, the former police commissioner general who claimed 100 % disability but went on to take the cup for being the longest serving police chief in Zimbabwe ever. Do you know what 100% disability is like? You are worse than a cabbage. You are deader than a turkey in the freezer.

Now, there was a domino effect that came with this compensation tomfoolery. War vets were also paid millions in unbudgeted funds as gratuity. That led to a shocking crash of the Zim dollar that peaked as Black Friday that 14th day of November 1997. Good economists say this was when the Zimbabwean economy crossed the red line. The rest becomes sorry history.

Following hard on the heels of the compensation fiasco was the helpless and scandalous involvement of Zimbabwe in the DRC war in 1998. The decision by the Mugabe administration to unilaterally get into the war on the side of the late Laurent Kabila was not only corrupt, but motivated by corruption too. You are abusing your office as the president when you make such a big decision as declaring war without involving parliament as was/is required by the law.

Street economists and pub crawlers were telling us then that Zimbabwe was losing as much as US$1 million a day in the war that never brought a dime of a benefit to the people of this country. Instead, it was the military chiefs and the politicians, through Cosleg and other shenanigans, which went in to loot the minerals from that country. All this is contained in a special report by the UN, and that was well before Zidera. 

The fast track land redistribution programme was one hell of a corruption series. While many argue that the decision to take the land is what provoked the sanctions, it’s easy to see how the programme found fat opportunities for crime and corruption. Tell me, how many farms did Mugabe have by the time of his death? How many did his lieutenants have or still have? All against the principle of one-family-one-farm! And how much damage has that corruption alone done to the economy?

Of course, there are many more examples, now and then, but the bottom line is that corruption has cumulatively worked to put us in this economic mess.

l Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]

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