Moving Capital City to Gweru just some childish fantasyland

On the first leg of my flight to Bongo Bongo Land, I thought I should share my views on the moving of the capital city from Harare to Gweru.

By Hopewell Chin’ono

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

I expect to hear your views too and more importantly I expect the MDC Alliance to not just throw promises but to tell the voters how they would implement them. The same applies to ZANU PF.

This is why I wish there was a television debate where the party principals would be asked to flesh out their ideas and answer questions

As I ploughed through the ZANUPF and MDC Alliance election manifestos, a question crossed my mind. Why do politicians make grandiose promises which any reasonable person knows that they can’t fulfil in the prescribed time frames?

Only sycophants and folk with NO reputation to protect would go to war defending some of the Hollywood type of political theatrics that we have seen of late at rallies and in the main election manifestos.

I wrote about the ridiculous ZANU PF promise to build 1,5 Million houses inside five years. On average, that would mean 800 houses a day everyday for five years and yet Harare as a city only has 300000 houses.

This is something the government couldn’t do in 38 years.

Moving on to the MDC Alliance Manifesto, there is one big whooper that said that if they win, they would move the country’s capital city from Harare to the Midlands capital of Gweru.

Their reasoning is that Gweru is central to the country and that moving the capital there would help regenerate the city.

A very noble idea which can be done successfully without talking about moving the seat of government to Gweru if you ask me.

Politicians like shouting promises whilst on the election campaign trail, but they hate being interrogated on these promises and their viability because invariably, they won’t have the answers.
They also would not have researched the impact of their promises, assuming that they would even attempt to carry them through.

Moving the capital city from Harare to Gweru would mean not just moving the civil service to the Midlands capital, it will also mean moving all the foreign embassies and diplomats to Gweru.

I asked some diplomats for their views on the idea of moving to Gweru. All the diplomats that I spoke to laughed off the idea as something that will not fly for them.

They called it a fantasy which should be dismissed because they didn’t see it happening.

I specifically asked an African diplomat from East Africa where it had been tried before. She told me that Julius Nyerere had tried out the idea when he wanted to move the capital city of Tanzania from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma in 1973.

For the Tanzanians, they also argued that they wanted the capital city to be in a central region.  Nyerere argued that it would bring government services closer to the people. This was 45 years ago before the age of the Internet.

The other unspoken reality was that the Tanzanian capital city of Dar es Salaam is in a mainly Muslim area and yet the wholesome picture of the country is not Muslim.

It didn’t work for Julius Nyerere then. Fast forward to this year, the current Tanzanian President, John Magufuli has been pushing again by decreeing that Dodoma will be the new capital city.

However this grand 45 year old dream is being tempered with the realization that the Tanzanian government would need at least $583 million for infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the government’s capital city shift. Money which it doesn’t have.

Key foreign embassies have quietly told the Tanzanian President who is name nicknamed the Bulldozer that they would open liaison offices in Dodoma and move their main embassy work next door to Nairobi in Kenya.

The Tanzanian President has to balance his interests with other factors beyond his control.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the United States has just invested $250Million in a new embassy building in Harare’s Westgate suburb.

The British, the Chinese and the EU invested hundreds of millions in new embassies this side of the century in Mount Pleasant, why would they vacate their billion dollar worth of investments to start building again in Gweru?

Invariably all the major embassies own hundreds of houses in Harare and have done so for decades, they have to make a plan on what to do with them under a Nelson Chamisa led government.

Secondly, one has to know and understand why Harare became the capital city and why it wasn’t moved when the idea of moving the capital to Gweru was first mooted by the Rhodesians and later abandoned.

The major economy around Zimbabwe is South Africa. On the West of Zimbabwe is Botswana which is for all intends and purposes part of the South African economy.

If one were to move the capital city, it would make sense to move it to Masvingo because it is closer to South Africa and it is on the route that feeds from Durban to Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and the DRC.

It is a straight economic corridor which passes through Harare.

How will Gweru be central to that economic corridor which will not move because someone has decreed so?

Will Gweru not benefit from that corridor if economics instead of politics created growth which in turn will see building of rail links?

It would also make sense to move the capital city to Mutare because it would bring it closer to the sea route from Beira as it does with Masvingo via Durban.

The idea of regenerating Gweru is noble but it can be done by using more clever ways than moving the capital. You can not decree that the capital city has moved and expect all the important aspects of life to subdue and bow down to that decree.

You create an environment that encourages people to relocate to a specific area or city by creating a viable economy in and around Gweru.

A clever idea would be to declare Gweru a Special Economic Zone.

What it means is that new money coming into that city and region will not be subjected to the same heavy taxation as the rest of the country.

The goods made in that Special Economic Zone will be for export. So Sony could come to Gweru and start making their cameras for the African region and the government will give it tax breaks.

It will incentivise both local and foreign investors to plough money in Gweru, creating jobs and a vibrant economy in Gweru and people will naturally move there. Those are the basic laws of economics.

People in Gweru need industry not government and that industry will not be attracted by the presence of a President and his minister living in Gweru.

It would cost more to move the capital city there than to fix what is wrong with Harare and still create a reason for businesses to want to move there.

It is not government’s responsibility to create jobs, it should create an environment conducive for business to create jobs.

Another example that has been cited by those in favor of moving the capital city is Abuja in Nigeria. We should avoid plucking examples like Abuja and Pretoria without contexualising why it was done.

The capital city of Nigeria was Lagos which the government moved citing congestion in Lagos, but there was more to it.

The Nigerians did this because they had oil money. I have spent time in Nigeria and have a decent idea of what happened and why the capital city was moved.

The capital city moved to Abuja because the political and economic elites saw an opportunity to make money through the building of that city.

A city which has become so expensive to live in for reasons that would require a different article.
The Nigerians are also building another city for the super rich off Lagos on the ocean east of Victoria Island.

Shall we also follow without looking at why it is possible for them and why it is being done?

One has to understand the variance of circumstances between Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Nigeria.
Nigerians had petrodollars in the 80s and the elites and the military saw an opportunity to milk the tax payer.

Harare needs at the least half a billion dollars for it to function properly. It is a very small city which has room for expansion and it already has what is needed for it to be a functional capital city.

Those who say it is congested have not traveled across the world to have an understanding of how cities are planned.

Nelson Chamisa is still very young and also he was the minister of Information and Technology under the Unity government.

He should know that with technology, the idea of moving the capital city becomes not only unreasonable but costly and yet economically unproductive.

The MDC Alliance should provide their costing and show the electorate the research they have invested in this idea so that the media and more importantly business can do the costing and ask the right questions beyond political rhetoric.

I live in Chisipite and I hardly get into town but I do business everyday with entities in town.
That is why the foreign embassies in Dar told President Magufuli that they would rather move to Nairobi than Dodoma.

It would be unnecessarily costly for them and most of their work can be done remotely anyway.

The ones here will do the same and for them they will shift their main operations to Pretoria.
They have already done so with their passport and visa processing consular services.

A president Chamisa will find himself stuck with liaison officers in Gweru which defeats the purpose of government and international relations.

A Nigerian diplomat told me that on Friday many people fly out of Abuja to go to Lagos and come back on Sundays or Mondays. It is merely a home for them when doing their work but their heart is not there.

However I believe that if Gweru were to be grown exponentially using commerce, it would thrive more without needing civil servants living there.
It would become a magnet for Zimbabweans seeking to transform their economic fortunes.

Others have argued that taking the capital city to Gweru encourages devolution.

How does it enable devolution when the other argument is about centralizing government?

Ideas such as shifting the capital do come up from time to time.

Former Local Government minister, the late Enos Chikowore once proposed building a canal between the CBD running parallel Leopold Takawira from the Harare Gardens going to Mukuvisi with bridges crossing it from First street to the western side of town.

He imagined coffee shops and funky bars around and next to this canal he had in mind.

He was asked why he came up with that idea. He explained that he saw it in Amsterdam and in London where he had been during the war.

The minister forgot that these Cities were built centuries ago when these canals were used as a mode of transport.

Canals were not built for the cities, it is the cities that came to the rivers.
Typical of Robert Mugabe, he listened to the idea in parliament as Chikowore sold it to the legislators and never said NO or Yes.
Bob simply told Chikowore that he had heard him.

Herbert Murerwa once told me that it left one not knowing whether he was for your idea or not.
That is how Mugabe treated silly ideas, he simply let them die.
He didn’t see any value in arguing over an idea which he knew won’t fly.

It is a skill I must learn sometime soon, but then how do you disabuse the unsuspecting public from rationalizing fiction?
It is good fiction I must add.

Now I would like the MDC Alliance to come to the table and explain how they intend to pull this one off together with the numbers and research.

Perhaps I am the one who needs enlightenment.
Happy weekend.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.

He has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind that is coming out in June. It will be launched in Harare and Johannesburg by Graca Machel.
Hopewell can be contacted at hopewell2@post.harvard.edu or on twitter @daddyhope