Customers queue to withdraw money at a bank in Harare. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Would you believe that your poverty is being created by your own government? I know it is hard to believe, but here is the story.
Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their 2012 seminal book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Poverty, and Prosperity; have this answer: “Rather … opposition to economic growth has its own, unfortunately coherent, logic.”
On the face of it, it would rather look illogical that your leaders could see any benefit in keeping you — their own subjects — in poverty.
By Vivid Gwede
Do they not fear the consequences of leading a disgruntled, restless and angry population like we have seen in Libya, Tunisia, and Syria, etc?
Well, maybe, but as we saw in the August 1 killings, they still trust in their guns.
Yet, your gut-feeling still tells you, must the political leaders not feel proud, instead, to run a prosperous and well-functioning country?
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has even created an award for good African leadership, which saw former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf being awarded US$5 million recently.
But well, what is $5 million, when through corruption they can gain many times more than that?
Religion teaches us that human beings should be naturally good and inclined towards what is virtuous for a society.
The painful truth is that it may be personally beneficial for those in power to exercise it in a way that does not benefit the many, but just themselves.
Political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli rather also regard people as self-centred and evil, as much as they can be good.
Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) make a notable assertion about African countries in particular, which I will quote at length.
They say: “… leaders of African nations that have languished over the last half century under insecure property rights and economic institutions, impoverishing much of their populations, did not allow this to happen because they thought it was good economics; they did so because they could get away with it and enrich themselves at the expense of the rest, or because they thought it was good politics, a way of keeping themselves in power by buying the support of crucial groups or elites”.
With freebies such as foodstuffs and clothing items that poor people get whenever it’s election time, would not it therefore be easier for politicians to manipulate populations in their countries when poverty is rampant?
Ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2018 election, the government had just bought expensive vehicles for traditional leaders, when doctors and nurses embarked on a strike against poor salaries and lack of basic life-saving equipment such as oxygen machines.
The ruling party Zanu PF went on to buy brand new vehicles, motorcycles, and T-shirts, and putting up expensive and giant bill boards along the country’s pot-holed highways.
For 38 years, Zimbabweans have been wondering what is it about their government that makes it always stumble on the wrong policies, when the correct ones appear obvious and doable.
Well, look for a pattern in the madness!
Was it a mistake or just insanity that African rulers like Zaire’s (now DRC) Mobutu Seseko and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha heavily looted their countries? Of course not!
Sometimes these politicians do take the time to remind us what is exactly at play.
Sometime back, I was gobsmacked to watch Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni saying on television that he did not work for anyone else, but just for his family.
Did not the exiled former Zanu PF politburo member and minister Jonathan Moyo say as much, that Zanu PF will not reform themselves out of power?
He simply meant what ordinary Zimbabweans see as failure to democratise and implement political and economic reforms in Zimbabwe is a strategy by a few elites to monopolise power though it is never in the national interest.
This is the reason why the citizens must always be on the look-out and fight back.
Next time when you see your government failing, remember that it may not be a mistake after all, but a strategy to keep things the way they are, for as long as possible, so that the very few can benefit as much as they can.
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