Obama and the Zimbabwean blame game -- A sad Zanu-PF fantasy

Tafi Mhaka

Ahead of an emotional and historic visit to Ghana in 2009, then-U.S. President Barack Obama criticised the theatrical blame game African leaders employ all the time to disclaim their failings. He also debunked the extensively disseminated myth that the West -- and not Zanu-PF -- is responsible for the economic tribulations that afflict Zimbabwe.

Obama said: "I think part of what's hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we've made excuses about corruption or poor governance, that this was somehow the consequence of neocolonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism -- I'm not a big... I'm not a believer in excuses."

Yet still, whenever a ruling party in Africa faces tough electoral accountability for its economic and political failures, undue responsibility is swiftly heaped on the U.S. and E.U. nations.

While the evidence to substantiate allegations of electoral interference and secret participation in African affairs by the U.S. is characteristically scant, African leaders always paint themselves as faultless for a rash of reckless policies, wasteful expenditures and high levels of corruption.

Obama alluded to this African skulduggery when he added: "And yet the fact is, we're in 2009. The West and the United States has not been responsible for what has happened to Zimbabwe's economy over the last 15 or 20 years. It hasn't been responsible for some of the disastrous policies that we've seen elsewhere in Africa. And I think that it's very important for African leadership to take responsibility and be held accountable."

Olusegun Obasanjo expressed comparable thoughts in May at the launch of the book Making Africa Work in Durban. He said, "We have heard enough talk. We have had enough of the blame game. Yes, the colonial powers did not do it right -- but we have been independent now for almost 60 years. What have we done? The fault lies with our leaders."

In Zimbabwe, so-called economic sanctions did not stop former first lady Grace Mugabe acquiring super-extravagant properties. And Doha-based news channel Al-Jazeera has described President Emmerson Mnangagwa as a successful businessman.

Interestingly, how did a 37-year long civil servant become a wealthy businessman, anyway?

This is just it: how has the West advanced unethical conduct by state officials?

Take your pick from an appalling collection of local catastrophes that have emptied the Zimbabwean treasury over the years and decipher this: how did the West instigate the War Victims Compensation Fund debacle, the ZINARA scandal, the NRZ crisis, the Chiadzwa diamond scandal, the Harare Airport scandal and the Ziscosteel scandal?

You can blame the West for the devastating electoral woes all you want. But how did the West prevent Zimbabwe from conducting free and fair elections in the past?

Did the West sanction electoral violence in 2000 and 2002? Did the West fail to provide Zimbabwe with a credible voters' rolls in 2008 and 2013?

Did the West halt the privatisation of Zimpapers and ZBC? Did the West enact dubious laws such as AIPPA and POSA?

Before we overthink the causes behind the deplorable situation we find ourselves in, we must deal with the blame game. A few weeks ago, Mnangagwa and the self-styled Team Lacoste were the local villains on the run.

But after the November 14 coup, Zanu-PF shifted all the blame for the never-ending economic and social challenges on the so-called G-40 faction. Yet before that military intervention happened, it was all the fault of the MDC, white commercial farmers, ZUM and Zapu, in that order.

All hope is not lost, though: we can look to West Africa for electoral inspiration. Ghana has shown that holding trustworthy elections and actively supporting a functional democracy go hand-in-hand with economic growth in a post-independence African nation.

And we can refer to flawless representations of African dictatorships to appreciate what an undemocratic state looks like. Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Libya, Mali, Burundi, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic have, after celebrating military coups, all failed to establish viable states.

Although democracy is not a prerequisite for economic development, China is the only state that has managed to develop a modern, market-oriented economy without political openness. Elsewhere -- in places such as North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and the DRC -- a lack of democratic liberties has facilitated state-level corruption and debilitating poverty.

With a sycophantic state media and repressive security sector in place, corrupt and totalitarian representatives find it easy to obfuscate the incapacitating actuality of state thuggery.

North Korea was ranked 174th out of 176 countries on the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2016. Venezuela was ranked 164th. The DRC, on 156th, is just above Zimbabwe on 154th.

But that is not all.

As things stand, the despotic Nicholas Maduro has evolved to become a tougher and grimier opponent than opposition parties in Venezuela reckoned a few years ago.

So has Joseph Kabila in the DRC.

And with time, so will Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe.

People must demand substantial reforms and free and fair elections. Only the people can free themselves from the crushing weight of the African blame game.



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