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Brezh Malaba

Opinion

Looting 34 tonnes of gold while hiding behind “sanctions”

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Brezh Malaba

I watched a video clip showing a debate session of the British House of Lords this week. It was a grotesque spectacle, even by the archaic standards of that relic of feudal Empire.

Anyone who has ever bet on a wrong horse would be familiar with a sucker punch known as regret. It is—if you like—an extreme version of buyer’s remorse. The Lords are upset? Oh dear!

But how did we get here? While others are neatly insulated from the consequences of their political wager, the people of Zimbabwe are feeling the full impact of kleptocratic authoritarianism.

It keeps getting worse, does it not? Now the government wants to outlaw citizens’ ability to communicate with foreign governments. Such a naked attempt to subvert constitutional freedoms of expression and association cannot pass the test of democratic scrutiny.

I thought I had seen enough drama for a week. Nothing had prepared me for the unbelievable scenes which unfolded in Zimbabwe’s National Assembly yesterday when some Zanu PF legislators launched into a furious tirade, denouncing the British upper house for criticising the rising corruption and refusal to implement reforms.

Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo also issued a statement yesterday, condemning the Lords for behaving as if Zimbabwe is still a member of the British “extended family”, 40 years after the Union Jack was lowered in Harare.

This co-ordinated attack on the British by Zanu PF perhaps marks the end of the post-coup honeymoon which saw Whitehall entertaining the idea that Emmerson Mnangagwa is the best Zimbabwean politician to work with.

The second clip that caught my attention this week was a sleekly designed visual created for the government by a videography company founded by trendy youngsters. In the five-minute clip, President Emmerson Mnangagwa trots out a list of what he sees as the magnificent successes of his administration.

One of the cardinal rules of videography is that there is no amount of clever framing or glitzy film design under the sun that can hide the ugly underbelly of a threadbare narrative. An unconvincing story will just not fly.

Watching Mnangagwa’s video, one got the strange impression that whoever came up with the concept of such a clip was inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s cartoon-like pantomime performances.

“On political reforms, we have done away with laws such as AIPPA and POSA. We have put devolution in motion,” says Mnangagwa. Incredible! AIPPA is the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a law used by the Zanu PF regime to intimidate, manipulate, capture and punish journalists. What has changed? Journalists are still being locked up at Chikurubi Prison for exposing corruption. Citizens are abducted and tortured by state agents. Impunity is the government’s middle name.

The POSA that Mnangagwa refers to is the Public Order and Security Act, an authoritarian piece of legislation meant to lend a veneer of legality to a predatory and repressive state apparatus. What has changed? ZimRights recorded 820 human rights violations from 30 March to 9 August. The regime is at war with citizens.

The President claims to have put “devolution” in motion. Citizens on the ground will be hard-pressed to see evidence of this so-called change in the governance ethos. If anything, we have regressed from a one-party state to a one-man state. Power consolidation is the only game in town. The votes of more than two million Zimbabweans have been hijacked under the cover of a Covid-19 lockdown and parcelled out to Zanu PF surrogates. That is not devolution—it is a brazen subversion of the very constitutional foundations of this republic.

The nation was told on Tuesday that Cabinet has approved amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as presented by Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi. The intention, we were helpfully told, is to “criminalise unauthorised communication or negotiation by private citizens with foreign governments”.

At the post-Cabinet briefing, The NewsHawks asked the Attorney-General, Prince Machaya, to explain why the people of Zimbabwe are being targeted for victimisation by a government that should be serving the national interest. Predictably, his answer was unconvincing. All he could say in response was that the legislation will be very clear, “so that the citizens organise their conduct accordingly”. Citizens cannot expect equal protection of the law when the government’s chief legal adviser is seen actively defending what essentially amounts to a deep-rooted culture of state terror.

There is something tragic about Zanu PF leaders’ assumption that they can practise primitive Stone Age politics in a 21st century global community and get away with murder. Decades from now, stunned historians will marvel at their discredited methods of governance the same way an archaeologist curiously examines a rare dinosaur fossil.

The chutzpah! Half your population is rescued from starvation by foreigners. Most of the medicines in your crumbling hospitals are from foreign donors. Orphans, widows and the desperately poor are looked after by foreigners. There are countless community nutrition gardens, income-generating projects, household resilience schemes and education programmes funded by donors. All these law-abiding Zimbabweans—whose only “crime” is to receive assistance from foreigners—could now be thrown into jail on the whim of brutal and unaccountable politicians. And yet it is this same government that has looted, plundered and vandalised the economy, reducing citizens to crying paupers.

Can you imagine the grotesque irony of a government that launches a forex-denominated Victoria Falls Stock Exchange (VFEX) this week and fervently begs foreign investors to bring their money to the bourse—but by next week the same Zanu PF cabal is enacting laws criminalising interaction between Zimbabweans and foreigners? It is beyond absurd; this is utter madness.

It largely went unreported by the media that between August and September this year, foreign investors fled the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in droves, selling 80% of the shares traded on the bourse. They are running away from unworkable policies. The idea that VFEX will magically lure back these spooked investors is a dangerous fantasy.

How does such a clueless government hope to achieve the goal of a middle-income economy by 2030?

The tired tactic of attributing Zimbabwe’s catastrophic economic decay to “illegal Western sanctions” has become laughable. Under international law, there is really nothing “illegal” about unilateral sanctions that have not been declared invalid by a credible tribunal.

This nation is reduced to a laughing stock in the eyes of the world when the “super patriots” moan endlessly about “Western sanctions”, yet the biggest sanctions we face today are corruption, state-sponsored brutality and bad governance.

The country is not, in the real sense, under a trade embargo. What Zimbabwe suffers from is a governance crisis manifesting as a perception crisis—a direct consequence of the government’s discredited actions. A bad name makes it very difficult to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and qualify for credit on the international capital markets.

The government’s problematic policies are costing the country in ways that are yet to be fully told. FDI was US$345 million in 2017. President Mnangagwa came to power on the back of a military coup which the world was willing to turn a blind eye to amid an outpouring of international goodwill in anticipation of a remarkable post-Robert Mugabe transformation. Riding on this massive wave, FDI was propelled to US$745 million in 2018. But in 2019—with the government’s penchant for corruption and brutality now in full display—FDI dwindled drastically to US$280 million.

Modern economies do not rely solely on foreign capital. That would be too risky. To attain sustainable growth, they must strike a healthy balance between foreign and domestic capital. Mining and tourism, for instance, could have been instrumental in ramping up domestic capital through value-chain strategies.

Here is our nightmare: How can we realistically expect the mining sector to spearhead Zimbabwe’s economic revival when Zanu PF elites are smuggling 34 tonnes of gold every year? The joke is on us.

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