Politicians do not develop countries

Tapiwa Gomo

LAST week was marked by the sad news that the Confederation of African Football (Caf) has banned Zimbabwe stadia because they are unfit for international matches. Football is part of our social fabric. It is a unifier in such a politically polarised nation. The Caf decision means that the country has lost control of its national games and ordinary citizens can no longer watch home matches of their national teams. They will now require a passport, foreign currency and transport money to travel just to watch home games in foreign land. It is still not clear if the matches will be broadcast live from foreign land and who will broadcast them. Mismanagement has a way of ricocheting, but also voters and citizens are paying for their gullibility. We have proven not to be good learners.

That was not the only bad news that week. In addition to the 2% on all mobile money transactions introduced last year, last week the government introduced an additional 2,5% for civil servants starting this month in what it described as a new loan-centred initiative purportedly to protect civil servants from loan sharks. Cacophony is the epitome of our policy positions. Instead of putting in place measures to curtail loan sharks, it is the poorly paid civil servants who have to fork out from their meagre earnings to ringfence themselves from the sharks who will continue to enjoy free reign.

These two negative developments are part of a long series of symptoms of mismanagement of the economy and must be read within the bigger picture of a gradual collapse of the State which may trigger upheaval by the poor before stabilisation. The dangers of masking autocracy under democratic practices are highlighted by Aristotle who argued that the convergence of two results in an inevitable conflict between the aristocracy and the poor may lead to collapse unless independent controls and separation of powers were enforced before implosion.

Polybius, a Greek philosopher, also stated that nations follow a cycle of democracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, tyranny and collapse.

Zimbabwe has already, over the past two decades, witnessed some of the common characteristics of a failing State. According to Max Weber, a German political theorist, a State is defined as maintaining a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders. When this is broken, mainly by the presence of mashurugwis and other political and violent gangs, the very existence of the State becomes dubious, if not failed.

The recent announcement by the government that it will set up subsidised grocery shops in army barracks to protect agitated members of the uniformed forces from the rising cost of living, is a clear sign of a centre that is no longer holding, if not disintegrating. Short-term measures are just that. Stability is an outcome of long-term measures. Mashurugwis plus an unhappy unformed force would a recipe for disaster.

One of the triggers arises when a government loses its legitimacy with its people even if it is performing its functions properly. It is vital for a governing party to enjoy both effectiveness and legitimacy. In the case of Zimbabwe, these are both big questions, which have seen a weakening or weakened nation whose standards of living have declined over the decades. The inefficiency, loss of control of its functions, the illegitimate use of physical force on destitute citizens, coups or threats thereof, the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, inability to provide public services and the inability to attract domestic and international investment amounts to a nation on the precipice of collapse.

There continues to be a complete failure or rather lack of political will to resuscitate the economy and part of the reason being that politicians instead of investors have occupied the central role thereby undercutting all known economic principles in the process. Economies are not built by politicians but by businesspeople. Politicians are there to balance and regulate the relationship between capital and power and to deliver on people’s needs which is why democracy requires that politicians are voted by the people based on how they intend to define that relationship. In our case, politicians are seen as both omniscient and omnipotent.

That endemic and chronic disregard for basic ethics has made Zimbabwe a scary destination for both domestic and foreign capital because it has become a fertile breeding ground for abuse of power, corruption, criminality and plunder. The outcomes of such a rugged scenario is a government so weak, ineffective and unable to raise enough resources through taxes or other support due to lack of trust in the formal systems.

The thriving informal economic system is a clear sign of government failure where it has little practical control over much of its monetary policy thereby hindering its ability to deliver basic services.

The inability of the incumbent authority to address or reverse these suggests that the State has been rendered ineffective, unable to enforce its laws, provide basic goods and services to its citizens because of mismanagement, autocracy, extreme corruption, an impenetrable and ineffective bureaucracy, judicial ineffectiveness and military interference in politics. And the last stage of this, if not properly managed, is a destructive revolution.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity. This article was first published by the News Day