Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Zimbabwe: Robert's Dark, Dreary Place

Barely a week after Gideon Gono's doom predicting monetary policy review statement, life is markedly worse in Zimbabwe. Since late last week, urban Zimbabweans have endured long electricity blackouts.

Some neighborhoods of the capital went days without power last week. In Mabelreign, a medium density suburb on the near north-west of the city, many homes had to resort to alternative energy forms for cooking after days long blackouts. For most people this meant cooking over an open fires, or using paraffin fueled "primer" stove. The problem with both of these is that in addition to being inefficient, they both produce unpleasant fumes which wreak havoc on suburban properties. Ironically, cooking with both the primer stove and over the open fire in the urban setting conjure up memories of the unpleasant lifestyle Africans endured in the colonial high density townships designated for them by the racist imperialists.

Reports from Budiriro a low income township on Harare's westside aren't any better. Our friend Susan(not her real name) had this to say,
"Power has been going every morning around 6:30. Sometimes there is no power in the evenings either. Last night we lost power around 7 p.m. for about 45 minutes. When came it back the lights went dim after after just ten minutes and stayed that way for the rest of the night. It is loadshedding, there just isnt' enough electricity to go around. Yet they deny this truth in the press as usual. The power outages are everywhere across Harare there's not denying that."
Just what or who is the source of Zimbabwe's stifling electricity shortages? Long story short: it is Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF led government. Let me explain. As with many other products which had potential to return high profits, Mugabe's cronies muscled government into the electricity supply market setting up the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA)as a monopoly. Predictably, this idea floundered as ZESA was frought first with corruption, and most importantly a lack of creative thinking around the supply of electricity. In a sense, it comes with little surprise that Zimbabwe's sole electricity provider does not have the creative capacity to think around the prevailing crisis.

News flash: the genius of the free market is that it unleashes the full creative potential of the human mind towards addressing the shortages and other supply side problems. If they had trusted this basic principle, Mugabe & Co. would be laughing all the way to the bank as tax revenues would have their purses bursting. But they elected not to wait, they choose not to trust a system that has been proved time and time again around the world. Not only have they forfeited billions in lost tax revenue, Zimbabwe's government must mollify the increasingly agitated public.

Sadly, this scenario is playing out in several other markets; telecommunications (Zimpost,Telone, Netone), retirement products (NSSA), radio & TV (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings). The government is the main impediment to economic freedom and prosperity in Zimbabwe. There is a place for reasonable regulation of commerce in any economy, but for government to be the main player, for them to selfishly secure all economic activity behind a wall of government involvement, that's just unacceptable. It's a deathwish.

So, in the words of Ronald Reagan,"Mr. Mugabe, tear dear down this wall now."

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  • Monday, January 30, 2006

    Eddie Cross: "Starving our Children"

    A billboard next to the road last week had printed on it the statement "Government pay's the IMF another US$15 million". I do not know what that takes us to - we must be approaching the total of US$150 million paid to the IMF since Mugabe famously raided corporate FCA's (Foreign Currency Accounts) to steal US$120 million last August to pay the IMF and stick one in the eye for Thabo Mbeki.

    The stated purpose of these payments is to prevent the IMF Board resolving to kick us out of that funny club of nations that sends its Ministers of Finance and Governors of Reserve Banks to Washington for a hugely expensive bash twice a year. For some reason that eludes me, President Mbeki seems to lose sleep over the possibility of our expulsion from this the most capitalist club in the world. Mugabe killing thousands of his people by proxy makes no impact at all - but lose our membership of the IMF Club -that would be a disaster!

    I find this whole thing rather nauseous - like the head of a family in a starving village, throwing food over the fence to baboons waiting on the outside, while the children of the village die of hunger, malnutrition and disease. Too stark an image? Just think of what we could have done with that money over the past 5 months - we could have bought enough food and raw materials to resolve all the shortages of basic foods in the country. We could have imported enough liquid fuels to overcome the persistent fuel shortages that are crippling our public transport system and pushing transports costs through the ceiling. We could have satisfied the needs of
    all our hospitals for disinfectants, cleaning materials, drugs and essential
    medical supplies.

    Instead we go on paying this money to the IMF - they do not want the money, they do not need the money, it does not change our status as a country under threat of its membership because we are not servicing anyone's debt - least of all the IMF and its sister institutions of the World Bank and the African Development Bank. What the IMF and the WB want is clear signs that we are coming to our senses, restoring our democratic credentials and the basic rights of our people. Then and only then, will they consider an integrated package of economic reforms designed to stop the hemorrhaging of the Zimbabwe economy and even then they would require an extended period of national discipline and management before they finally gave us the green
    light and restored our rights as a member.

    When we first paid that initial sum to the Fund I wrote to a staff member who watches Zimbabwe from Washington and said they should refuse to accept the cheque - send it back I argued, we need it more than you at this time; people will die because these funds are being paid to you. Needless to say I never got a reply and now they are here yet again with a small team to assess our situation and to investigate where these funds are coming from! It is bizarre to say the least.

    And what will they find in Zimbabwe. They will find a country much worse off than when they were here just six months ago. The media is more repressed than six months ago; the economy is still shrinking, exports still falling and food production, despite a wonderful wet season, set to decline. We still have no freedom - we cannot meet without police permission, we cannot talk freely on the streets or on the phone, we cannot demonstrate without fear that the armed forces will use live ammunition on us. We cannot vote for the leadership of our choice. Since they were last here three more democratically elected mayors have been kicked out of their offices and replaced by Zanu PF hacks and lackeys.

    Our hospitals are worse than they were six months ago, our schools are still sliding down hill in every department. Hundreds of thousands of children have been withdrawn from school because they cannot afford the fees. Our government is more corrupt and less competent than it was six months ago and if anything, economic and monetary policy is in an even bigger mess than when they were here last year.

    There is not a shred of evidence that the Fund is about to start helping us get out of our crisis, all that will emerge from this visit will be another depressing analysis saying that Zimbabwe continues its downward slide in all spheres including governance. The IMF Board will read the staff report with a deep sigh of resignation and frustration and decide to keep us in limbo for another six months and then get on with other business.

    We do not have that luxury. I have just listened to an interview with Mel Gibson of "Passion" fame. I have long been an admirer of Mr. Gibson since he made that marvelous film on Robert the Bruce - one of my own personal ancestors. Mel said, "Pain always precedes change". If that is true then surely we will see change this year.

    We certainly cannot take much more of this - inflation at over 1000 per cent per annum (it has been at this level for the past four months), this past week in Bulawayo we have had no maize meal - the primary staple food of our people and I see no signs of a resumption of deliveries. If anything the fuel situation is worse and this past week local bus drivers went on strike to protest low fares. The great majority of people simply can no longer afford even the basic necessities of life.

    I think it is time we all agreed "no more, we have had enough!" The restructuring of the MDC after the leadership split is nearly complete and what is emerging as the "new" MDC is certainly determined that this will be the year we see change. The MDC road map remains the same - a new, people constitution, and a transitional government followed by fresh democratic elections under international supervision.

    We are now working on how to start this process and will in February meet with our civil society partners to debate the strategies we are going to use. Zanu PF is nervous and quite rightly so, they, like us, sense the national mood is changing. The General commanding the Army said this past week that he does not want to use the army to shoot hungry, angry people.

    What he has to worry about is what happens when his army joins the people in their demand for change.

    Eddie Cross
    Bulawayo, 28th January 2006.

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  • Friday, January 27, 2006

    Fear Galore in Review Statement Aftershock

    Just days after Reserve bank governor Gideon Gono issued his fourth quarter monetary policy review statement on Tuesday, the statement has taken on a life it's own spurring controversy in almost all quarters of society.

    First and perhaps most poignantly critics were elated that on top of chastizing the government for extravagance, corruption, and continued chaos in the agricultural sector, Gono apparently gave the strongest hints of a deep seated fear of public revolt over hunger within ZANU.
    "To quote the wisdom of General Chiwenga, Commander of the Defence Forces, a hungry man is an angry man, and as Zimbabweans, we must pull together to ensure full productivity in agriculture so that hunger is alien to every Zimbabwean,"
    Gono said adding that,
    "General Chiwenga told me: make sure agriculture is revived and make food available so we (soldiers) will not be forced to turn our guns on hungry Zimbabweans."
    Critics of the regime immediately attributed this sentiment to the reality of a much shakier resolve at the core of ZANU-PF.
    "The import of his statement is that beneath the veneer of a brave face, there is underlying fear of political unrest. The fact that they are now discussing their fears in public is a demonstration of the growing anxiety,"
    Eldred Masunungure, chairman of the political science department at Harare's University of Zimbabwe said.

    Then as if this wasn't enough, Thursday's Fingaz speculated on a pervasive fear in Mugabe's cabinet in the face of an impending cabinet reshuffle. Speaking anonymously a minister in Mugabe's cabinet said,
    “Given the rate at which the economy is sliding downwards, the feeling among some of us is that the President (Mugabe) is slowly reaching a point where he might say enough is enough. He has not been happy with the quality of reports he gets from some of our colleagues and has really shown his dislike of officials who lie,”
    But among the laity, the fear is a lot more searing as they have watched prices of most goods treble over three days as opportunistic businesses exploited Gono's inflation caution. Gono said he expected inflation to peak at 800%, approximately 300% higher than present levels. Businesses saw it fit to effect the 300% inflation differential immediately. In Bulawayo, a standoff was reported between commuters and omnibus operators who had unilaterally raised their fares from ZW$20,000 to $30,000 a trip. Further, Gono has since devalued the Zimbabwean dollar on the foreign currency auction, a move that will certainly catalyze inflation over the next few days.

    In a nation weary from years of economic decline and perpetual uncertainty, it seems more uncertainty is all macro economic policy makers have to offer. So the fear, a deep, cutting, pervasive fear continues to rule the day after what many hoped would be the start of the nation's resurgence.

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  • Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    Gono Losing a Fighting Battle

    Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is ineffectively battling to cull inflation. In his most recent monetary policy review statement issued yesterday, Gono contintinued his trend of railing against corruption which he said has reared it's head everywhere.
    "Talk of gold and other precious minerals there is corruption, talk of fuel distribution there is corruption, talk of agricultural inputs, talk of distribution of national funds there is corruption, talk of export and import invoicing there is corruption.

    If we do not stamp out this growing cancer especially among people in positions of authority and influence, the so-called chefs, if we do not stamp out the indiscipline as we go about our business we will soon discover too late though that policy formulation and implementation, monitoring and decisions will be based on self interests, racial overtones, regional and tribal considerations at the expense of national interests."
    I wonder if any of the "chefs" listened closely enough to shy away from their avaricous lifestyles. As a matter of fact I wonder if Gono himself was listening to his own reprimand. He is the alleged owner of a petrol station in Malbereign at which the precious commodity never runs out. Just over a week ago the reserve bank which runs an elaborate fuel "coupon" scheme (through which they sell fuel coupons for foreign currency) was telling everyone who was buying petrol coupons that there was no petrol in the country. A window staffer at the Homelink Center at the Reserve Bank on Samora Machel Avenue speculated that it could be weeks before supplies were reestablished. Interestingly a fuel tanker was seen making a delivery to the "Gono Station" were supplies never run dry within minutes of the Reserve Bank's announcement of the absence of fuel.

    Something will have to change and it'll have to change fast. With exports slowing by alsmost ten per cent, and no indications of the IMF easing it's stance on Zimbabwe, the economy is headed for certain doom. In the statement Gono said he expects inflation to peak at 800% in March although he hopes a tighter monetary policy will help things cool off later in the year.

    I am once again reminded of that great quote from Chinua Achebe, "Things fall apart."

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  • Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Eddie Cross on the Demise of Sports in Zimbabwe

    Zimbabwe has a proud record of sporting prowess. Just after independence in 1980, we won a gold at the Olympics with our women's hockey team, we have the Black family in tennis where the two boys and Cara have excelled for many years - reaching the very top of the world tennis circuit. In motor racing we had John Love, we also had a world class motor cyclist, Ray Amm and of course our golfers - Nick Price etc.

    My own son played field hockey for Zimbabwe after independence and although they did not enjoy the same fame as our "golden girls" they were world class - certainly in the top 10 countries. In swimming we were always up there and right now we have Kirsty Coventry doing her thing in the States, breaking world records and winning medals. Then came our cricket team. Our sporting fraternity is tiny - I doubt if we have more than a few hundred men playing cricket at any one time for local clubs. Yet somehow, we were able to put together a team that qualified for world-class test status - the second African State after South Africa to do so.

    One of the reasons was my half brother, Bill Flower. Bill is a sports fanatic - he went to Cape Town University, played sport for a number of years, failed his degree programme and came home. He then spent the rest of his life in Zimbabwe pouring his passion for sport into his boys. Two of whom became the backbone of the Zimbabwe cricket squad - Andy and Grant. Both still play world-class cricket but no longer at home. Bill also now lives in Britain.

    One of the problems with all these achievements has been that most of the star players were white Africans like me. Bill put a lot of effort into the development of cricket in Zimbabwe and players like Tabu came out of his stable. In fact Bill tutored a number of the most promising young black players when he lived here. The present World Junior golf champion is a wonderful young black Zimbabwean so we are slowly making progress in this area.

    There is of course every reason why young Zimbabweans should go for sport as a gateway to the world. If you can play at a reasonable level it provides a good income these days and providing you do not ignore the need to get a decent education and some other experience it can also lay the foundation for a wonderful and fulfilling career. But for this to happen you have to have a platform. Either a family (like the Flowers, the Prices and the Blacks) who will believe in their children, pour themselves into that mould and make things possible for them to achieve what they have achieved in the world of sport. Or you need a nurturing and supportive industry that will see to it that promising young talent gets the training and the facilities to excel. This is what is happening in countries like Australia - their brilliant sporting record is no accident.

    This past week has seen Zimbabwe withdraw from world-class test cricket or face expulsion. It is a tragedy and one that could have easily been avoided and instead turned into a great morale boosting championship saga that would have improved our status as a nation and help correct our very damaging reputation as a country. On a trip to the UK many years ago I was a guest at a small cocktail party in London as a commodity specialist. Talking to an elderly businessman from the City about Zimbabwe he mentioned to me how much he admired our record in the ICC championships - not knowing that I was related to the two Flower boys. He then went on to say, and I have never forgotten this comment "There is nothing wrong with a country that can play first class cricket."

    He is so right and that is why Zimbabwean cricket with its bright stars, an excellent academy for young talent and a world class coaching system was an anomaly in this country. In all other respects we are a failed State. The spectacle of a world class team (India, Pakistan, England or Australia) playing in Zimbabwe on an immaculate green cricket field on a clear bright day was always a bit of a shock for those of us in food and fuel queues and watching the shambles that the rest of the economy was in.

    The world system for cricket meant that we received ample funding for development, perks and pay for our professional players and a real platform for development of the game. Now all gone. The local thugs and thieves simply could not keep their hands off when it was apparent that there was money to be made and spent. The fact that the majority of the key actors were white, like commercial farming, simply made it an easy target, one stripped of any possibility of protection from violence and intimidation by the racist policies of Robert Mugabe and his crew. Never forgetting that he has been "patron" of Zimbabwe cricket for many years.

    As for football - our national game, we have never got anywhere. Our team has failed and disappointed us at every turn and the main reason is not talent - we have plenty of that - just look at the players working in Clubs in Europe and South Africa, but simply a corrupt and incompetent national football administration. Again just too much money and power - the lights that attract the killer moths of Zanu PF to come in and destroy what potential there is in the game.

    Sport, like culture and music, is an important part of national life. It plays a key role in maintaining a healthy population, creates employment and opportunity and can be a great foreign exchange earner. In addition there is no better way to promote a country than through its leading sports personalities and sporting achievements.

    So sport becomes another casualty of this Zanu PF regime. This corrupt, power hungry minority who ride the Tiger and know they can never afford to get off. Lets hope their grip on the Tigers mane slips soon and they fall off and get eaten, Then at least we can start to put Zimbabwe back on the map with positive stories about the achievements of our people. Perhaps one day soon we will again be able to watch world-class sportsmen and women -some of them our own children - out there on our playing fields and in our swimming pools, competing to achieve the accolade that they are the best there is in the world. Not because they are black or white, but just because they are.

    Eddie Cross
    Bulawayo 21st January 2006.

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  • Monday, January 23, 2006

    Teachers Strike Back

    Stung by the harsh realities of a civil service employment that keeps them under the poverty datum line, some of Zimbabwe's teachers are now demanding that their children receive a free government sponsored education. Members of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe dispatched a letter with this demand to the ministry of education and are proceeding to notify school heads across the country not to dismiss teachers' children for failure to pay fees.

    Speaking to the Zimbabwe Standard , Raymond Majongwe the sectretary general of the PTUZ explained that, "we are asking government to do what it did for war veterans' children and it is not asking for too much if we ask them to do that for teachers." In 1999 when Mugabe decided to dole out "gratuity" payments to veterans of Zimbabwe's war of liberation he proclaimed that their children would not have to pay for their education. I wonder if he'll do the same for the teachers, heros in the nation's 25 year war against illiteracy.

    This interesting to me because of what I wrote here.

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  • Thursday, January 19, 2006

    Zimbabwean Children: Born to Suffer

    Zimbabwean children are the most tragic victims of the ongoing crisis in the country. Many of them have been swept from the comforting grip of the innocence of their youth by the harsh socioeconomic environment and the devastating AIDS pandemic. This generation of Zimbabwean children have ultimately been forced to assume responsibility for a fate they did little to choose or cause. They have been forced to mature beyond their years, and for many beyond their means.

    The most wrenching aspect of the plight of these herioc children is that society has turned its back on their future. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Zimbabwe's fast deteriorating education system. Plagued by a government that is unwilling mantain standards in schools across the country because that would neccesitate school fees increases (which would rile parents), and demotivated teachers who are working under paltry conditions, Zimbabwean education has taken a tragic nosedive in the last five years.

    Two weeks ago schools across the country were scheduled after the annual Christmas holiday was prolonged by two weeks because of the senate elections. There are no indications on this year's school calender that students will be granted to he opportunity make up for time lost. No one in government seems to care.

    In a space of 10 years Zimbabwean parents have gone from being able sustain subsidized tuition payments that were only a fraction of their monthly income to having to pony up school fees amounting to up several times their salaries. In an ironical turn of events, the prevailing hyperinflationary environment has stripped teachers of their ability to send their own children to the same schools they teach in. Earning anywhere between 3-10 millon, there's no way a teacher who teaches at a school charging fees of 17 million can afford to educate their children.

    So schools are fast becoming bustling centers for Zimbabwe's pervasive yet essential alternative market. Educators across the country are bringing various wares to work them in a new trend. When break time or recess comes, the school children are encouraged to buy snacks from their teachers. And since most of the teachers' time is spent refining their in school commercial enterprise, concerned parents have resorted to sending their children for private lessons after school. This has ironically led teachers to become even more languid in their classroom efforts. They know that minimal progress at school guarantees them business for private lessons after school--another source of direct income.

    It is sad to realize that Zimbabwean children not only have to bear the brunt of today's problems, but when tomorrow comes they are also guaranteed tough life. All this because of a government that does not care for anything beyond of their own appetites and propensities.

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  • Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Eddie Cross: Absolute Nonsense

    Top MDC advisor and guest commentator Eddie Cross makes 2006 debut here with his take on the latest on the MDC debacle in "Absolute Nonsense."

    Yesterday the local rag, the Chronicle, State owned and CIO managed, published a banner headline "Sibanda stages Coup in MDC". This is interesting because it follows a large article in the same group of newspapers covering Welshman Ncube. Both the fact that these State controlled papers publish such articles and their content is informative. They are having a field day over the so-called MDC split.

    In the article and in other interviews, Gibson Sibanda is arguing that he has the support of the people and commands the support of a majority of Members of arliament of the MDC. Quite frankly that is twaddle.

    Much is made by the Ncube group about the split decision on October the 12th in the MDC National Council. Since then the Council has met 3 times. On each occasion a two-thirds majority of the Council has voted unanimously to support the position of the President, Morgan Tsvangirai and to plan the way forward for the MDC. The situation in the National Executive has been the same - it has also met three times since the debacle on the 12th October and on each occasion the Executive has had a quorum and has also voted unanimously.

    The Senate elections revealed in stark electoral terms that the MDC did not want to participate in what the great majority regarded as a total waste of time and resources. The people want change - real, fundamental change, and they know that this is never going to come out of the current electoral process, Parliament or any Senate election.

    If the Ncube faction can only marshal a 2 per cent turn out in their stronghold - Bulawayo, in an election in which they spent Z$20 billion dollars, then they must understand they have missed the boat somewhere. They must stop this charade and decide if they are in politics or out of it. If they are in, then please go ahead and form a new Party with its own name and let the mainstream of the MDC get on with its own agenda.

    They have tried the legal route and got a pasting from even a Zanu PF bench. They lost the Court Case with costs and this should tell them something. The leadership of the MDC has been very careful since October, to ensure that its meetings are properly convened, attended by properly accredited individuals and conducted in the manner laid down in the Constitution. There can be no doubt as to who is in control of the Party, its branches, ward committees and provincial executives. After the Party Congress in March, we will then finish the task of cleaning up our structures and resume normal political activity.

    In business we often allude to the "80:20" principle - 80 per cent of sales from 20 per cent of customers and so on. In Politics I think we should also judge our activity by the same criteria - do we spend 80 per cent of our energy, resources and time on the goals we set ourselves? That goal, set by the Congress in late 1999 was very simple - to take power and bring real change in the way this country is governed. The answer to the question is frankly no - we have been spending 20 per cent on this goal recently and wasting 80 per cent on this nonsense. It must stop, we have a job to do and if we do not get on with it, the people we are responsible to will hold us accountable.

    At the last meeting of Council one member said "lets stop talking about how to react to what the Ncube faction are doing, lets get on with the task that lies ahead of us." I think that made a lot of sense and we are now doing just that. As far as the MDC is concerned, this spat is over, people have to decide where they stand and we are getting on with the business of securing change for a desperate and dying Zimbabwe.

    Eddie Cross
    Bulawayo, 11th January 2006

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  • Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Inside the MDC Split

    After a promising start just seven years ago, the MDC like many other political parties in African politics has, for the past year, been embroiled in it's own self destructive fracas. In just as much time as took for them to grasp the impossible (i.e. winning close to half the seats in Zimbabwe's parliament in 2000), they have managed to disappoint phenomenally and (for now) abort their role in returning the nation to the path of becoming a rising African democracy leaving many Zimbabweans distraught and wondering if there will ever be end to the crisis.

    As it has played out on the pages and bulletins of Zimbabwe's propaganda machinary, the MDC debacle has been cast as a crisis of wills: a contest between those in the party who want engage and outdo ZANU-PF through elections, and those who want to find alternative ways to become an alternative leadership. Typecasting the MDC crisis this was calculated to make the party seem infantile and fraught with immature bickering. So far this has worked, but as with most things in life there's more to this story than meets the eye.

    Insiders in the MDC are frustrated about the problems their party is going through but not for the same reasons the government is attributing their frustration to. For starters they are frustrated at state media coverage which has played off the antagonisms in the party. But even more than this superficial frustration, is the agitation of the two factions at their inability to get their perceptions of the crisis out to the public.

    Among what has been dubbed the "pro-elections faction" a seething frustration is mounting over the realization that when it's all said and done intellect and ideology alone cannot carry a political party. That is just what defines this faction from the other group in this crisis. Let me explain. When the MDC was founded in 1999, it was largely due to Tsvangirai's ability to mobilizes the working class when he was the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). So when the MDC was launched the division of tasks was as follows: Tsvangirai would devote his energies to mobilizing the grassroots base and establishing a national party structure.

    On the other hand Welshman Ncube and the technocrats were tasked with coming up with a party constitution and ironing out any institutional issues. And that's just what they did. As most intellects are prone to do, the technorats in the MDC decided Tsvangirai's contribution to the party didn't warrant any internal power in the party. So the MDC constitution was written making Tsvangirai nothing more than a ceremonial leader who couldn't do anything as simple as call a meeting (any meeting) without checking with secretary general's office first.

    People told Tsvangirai this is what was going on, but he trusted his colleagues too much and so the issue festered. This is the frustration on the "anti-elections" side. The only other time the warning bells sounded for the MDC leader was when the party produced their submission to parliament of what the national constitution should like in 2003. Precedent within the party had established that the "technocrats" would formulate such legal documents and Tsvangirai would seal it with his stamp of approval. After the draft constitution was read in parliament, it was ZANU-PF that came to Tsvangirai and told him that his own party's constitution barred him from becoming president of the country. This was because the intellects had included a clause that stated that the nation's president must hold at least a bachelor's degree something Tsvangirai does not have.

    The technocrats for their part are trying to deal with the reality that their intellectual prowess and ability to legally outmanuvre Tsvangirai hasn't yet paid dividends. They know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the one the grassroots base listens to. The senate elections proved just that. Ncube and his friends urged party people to come out and vote. In fact they went out and campaigned in the Matebeleland province where the MDC has it's stronghold. All Tsvangirai could was tell the people not to go and vote. Come election day, only a paltry 15% of registered voters casts ballots showing clearly who the people were listening to.

    The struggle in the MDC is not about elections, it is a battle for the control of the heart and soul of the party. As long democracy is based on public sentiment, Tsvangirai will for sure win out this war.

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  • Monday, January 16, 2006

    I'm back!

    That's right yours truly is back after a month long break that was well worth it and well spent.

    So what have I been up to? Glad you asked. After encountering Tom Wolfe, the great American Author some time last year, I decided that I (like he) should spend some time observing the subject of my writings: life in Zimbabwe. During the month that I didn't do any writing, I travelled the length and breadth of Zimbabwe watching, listening, and observing life. I've benefited a lot from this and so, I'm glad to report shall you dear reader.

    That said, let me understate the underlying themes of discourse among laity in Zimbabwe. The first is this:HARDLY ANYONE WANTS ZANU-PF LEADERSHIP ANYMORE. From the Kore-Kore peasants who've formed the crux of Mugabe's grassroots base in the north-east of the country to the Karanga in the south of the country, people are singing the same tune; "We don't want Mugabe anymore." How this sentiment will affect the future in Zimbabwean politicsstill remains to be seen.

    Do not miscontrue the apparent apathy among the people. It's not that they don't want change, the problem is a problem of poor leadership. The tragedy in Zimbabwe is not a tragedy of motivation among the laity for activism or even that of repression by a paranoid regime. The issue is clearly a lack of compelling leadership behind which the people can rally.

    But there's hope here. I still think when it's all said and done, Morgan Tsvangirai remains the best option for an alternative leader. He must first make it through the current crisis he's in right now. While on the subject of the MDC crisis, let me drop this quick observation which I will expound more fully in a later post: the MDC crisis is a conflict between popularity and intellect. It is a contest for control of the party between the so called "technocrats" and Tsvangirai's command of public attention. I think he'll ride out this storm and galvanize his base before it's all over. More on this later.

    The second recurrent theme that kept confronting me over the last month is that there is hunger in Zimbabwe. Starvation is not looming or threatening to wreak havoc, it is there and is everywhere across the country. The situation is really very tragic. People have no maize meal (a staple) at all. There just isn't any maize meal in the country. The government doesn't have any. Only a few relief organizations have survived Mugabe crusade against aid organizations and these are overwhelmed by the need. With the heavy rains falling right now, we're only months away from the next harvest, but these next two months will be hardest months for many in Zimbabwe.

    I hadn't realized just how bad last year's drought was. According to the rural folk it was worse than the drought of 1992 Zimbabwe last major drought. The rains dried up late in the season and the crops wilted in the fields. People's granaries are empty and there's nothing to eat the seasonal relishes that flourish during the rainy season with. It's so bad that a man in Kudyanyemba village in Mt. Darwin who slaughtered a goat for the festive season ended up eating only meat with his family because they could find no corn meal to make sadza (Zimbabwean starchy staple food). If people make tea, they drink it with nothing because there's nothing to eat with the tea. Stories like this are coming from all parts of the country. Many families are surviving on one meal a day if any at all.

    In the Midlands and Masvingo provinces where famine is being fended off by food handouts from organizations like CARE International, there's hardly enough to go around. They only have enough to feed orphans, widows and families with no breadwinners. Just last week I was at a grain handout station where I saw three families receive a single 50 kilogramme bag of maize (about 100 pounds) to share for a month. There's no way in under the sun they'll be able to make it last that long! They'll be lucky if it lasts them a couple weeks.

    With these two realities in hand people in Zimbabwe are trying to make ends meet. The newest slang term kukorokoza refers to the art of making something out of nothing which everyone has to do to survive--that's just how I survived this past month. Glad to be back with you!

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