Economic woes cast shadow over Harare’s Sadc summit preps

The reconstruction of the 25km stretch from Julius Nyerere Way via Bindura Road has exposed government’s appetite to please delegates expected to participate at the summit.

ZIMBABWE is in a spirited frenzy to revamp roads leading to the venue of the upcoming 44th Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Summit, but critics are not impressed.

The summit will be held in August this year at which President Emmerson Mnangagwa will take over as chairman of the bloc for a year. The upcoming summit that Harare will host has a potential for global recognition and strengthening of Africa’s international relations.

The summit which comes after Zimbabwe’s August 2023 disputed election has spurred government into action, revamping some roads that did not even have potholes. The previous Sadc summit was held last year in Luanda, Angola.

The 16-member State summit will be held at the new Parliament in Mount Hampden, approximately 25 kilometres northwest of Harare. The reconstruction of the 25km stretch from Julius Nyerere Way via Bindura Road has exposed government’s appetite to please delegates expected to participate at the summit.

Instead of addressing the city's crumbling infrastructure, a patchwork of neglected roads riddled with potholes, government has embarked on a targeted paving spree.

Roads leading to luxury hotels where delegates are expected to stay and those connecting the airport to the main convention centre, are being prioritised.

Workers toil under the hot sun, hastily laying down new tar, while major arteries frequently used by ordinary Zimbabweans continue to crumble.

For years, the city's roads have been a battleground of potholes, each one a bone-jarring testament to years of neglect. But now, with esteemed delegates due to arrive, a flurry of activity has begun in specific areas.

This selective repairing of roads has sparked outrage among residents in Harare.

“They only care about these roads because they are expecting to host top delegates,” said Tinotenda Kichini, a pirate tax driver, pointing to Julius Nyerere Way which is under construction.

“I stay in Waterfalls and I drive along First Street every day, the road is bad.

“You cannot keep left when driving but you have to drive where there is a little patch of road.

“In fact, Harare roads in many locations are in a bad state, which need serious attention.

“Honestly, I do not see the reason for reconstructing Julius Nyerere Way, a road which had no single pothole.

“To destroy a good road that was constructed years ago and replace it with a bubble-gum road!”

Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga told a recent Cabinet meeting that considerable progress has been achieved in the rehabilitation of roads leading to the new Parliament. The presentation cited that the bulk of the preparatory works are underway and the project will be completed within the scheduled time frame.

“The private sector, including small and medium enterprises, is encouraged to participate in the various committees involved in preparations for the successful hosting of the summit,” Chiwenga’s presentation read.

The question remains: Will this sudden burst of road-repairing zeal extend beyond the sanitised routes to the summit?

Or will the city lapse back into its usual potholed slumber once the delegates have departed?

A survey by NewsDay revealed that most roads where top government officials live and other business moguls linked to Zanu PF were revamped.

One classic example is the 5th Extension Drive to Zimbabwe House.

The good road starts from corner Josiah Tongogara and ends exactly at the State House gate, which is about a 200m drive.

Critics mocked government's last-minute beautification efforts, citing misplaced priorities.

“The government is making a political move to try to impress the regional body just for three or four days,” said Gift Mugano, an economics professor.

“Zimbabwe has no capacity to rehabilitate the roads in a faster pace they are doing. To qualify my argument one should be aware that this year revenue inflow is quite limited because of the drought. The impact of the drought is quite massive in the sense that it reduces the fiscal space from which normally the tax base for the Minister of Finance. Drought means that there are limited transactions taking place across various value chains.

“The Finance minister is trying to put in as many taxes as possible to raise revenue.

Mugano added: “I am sure you just saw the recent one where they are charging 2% for an external payment that is above the taxes which we saw during the budget.

“In my analysis the Treasury might run a budget deficit of 10% of gross domestic product so we are talking close to US$3 billion in terms of deficit.”

He accused government of having misplaced priorities.

“If they wanted to impress anybody, they must impress Zimbabweans by putting enough drugs in the hospitals,” the economics professor said.

Mugano also told NewsDay that some of the roads that are being revamped had no single pothole.

In his 2024 National Budget, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube allocated ZWL$1,2 trillion to the Transport ministry to facilitate the rehabilitation and construction of infrastructure such as roads, ports of entry and airports, as well as the turnaround of the National Railways of Zimbabwe.

Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said: “While the quality of work is questionable what we can certainly see is that Zimbabwe has the capacity to rehabilitate its infrastructure in a record time”

“The rapid infrastructure changes that we are seeing especially in Harare demonstrates not only the availability of resources but an absence of a key ingredient of national development which is political will.”

Mukundu said the government must also revamp roads across the country.

“Where there is political will, countries extricate themselves from the infrastructure decay that we have seen over the years,” he noted.

“What should be asked is the cost effectiveness of the approach that is being used concerning the political patronage and linkages of those involved with the ruling party.

“Otherwise, there is a clear indication that Zimbabwe has the capacity to rehabilitate its roads.”

Related Topics