Zimbabwe: The challenge of NOW

Where do you start rebuilding a country?

I’d begin with the Great Fire of London in 1666 that gutted most of the old city.

King Charles ll commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild he capital and Wren started by laying out a plan including calculations for manpower, materials and a timetable. He also made sure such a disaster could not happen again: no wooden buildings. Cost came last, once he was sure the scheme could work.

The United Nations, Commonwealth and most of the aid agencies seem blind to what Wren could see 350 years ago, that success begins with a plan. If you want to restore capacity, democracy and hope in a country like Somalia, Burma or Zimbabwe, you need to first work out the strategy – including ways to limit the chance of a new thug taking charge – and from that comes the budget.

Aid works the other way round. The US, Britain, Australia and other GDs (gullible democracies) pledge US$10 billion or so and then the doers work out how to spend it, down to the last cent. Results are an afterthought and if, like London, it all goes up in smoke, no one gets fired.

If I were tasked with rebuilding my homeland of Zimbabwe, I’d start now.

There are some four million Zimbabweans in exile, mostly in South Africa but with substantial numbers across Britain and the EU. Yet no one has even compiled a data base.

When the time comes to revive the hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo, the first call should go to an estimated 30 000 Zimbabwe nurses working in the EU. But how do you reach them?

Start now by setting up a Zimbabwe Nurses Association in the UK, funded and with a good website and newsletter. Come the day, at least you will be able to offer the ICU chief in Manchester the chance of going home to set up a similar unit in Harare.

Not brain surgery, just common sense. And there’s more.

The police and army has been politicised and, in some cases, trained as death squads, intimidating the opposition and burning homes of those who speak out. Since the 29 March election, more than 120 people have been murdered by agents of the state.  

When change comes, you can’t sack all government workers. Many are dedicated souls trying to keep their jobs, and who can blame them when unemployment stands at 90 per cent? Others are thugs who must either be hounded out or arrested and put on trial.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and Germany was united, something had to be done with the East German police and their intelligence wing, the Stasi whose methods had come from Hitler’s Gestapo.

Selection, training  — and deprogramming years of indoctrination — spawned a new German police force, made stronger by the process.

One call to Berlin will get you a how-to kit which, translated into English, provides a starting point when Mugabe goes. Similar resources can be garnered from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia so that within days of democratic change, real transformation can begin.

There is work do be done on the daily papers – mouthpieces of the state. Plus setting up a new currency and bringing the nine million percent inflation to heel.  

Exiles must come home, but there needs to be housing for them and their arrival must not push up prices to the point where the poor are even worse off than now.

Business must be encouraged to invest. Crops must be sown on farmland that once fed all central Africa yet now lies idle. Look to Poland, once a Soviet satellite and now the 8th largest economy in Europe and see how it’s done.

Finally, there must be a national memory. Archivists and interviewers need to be trained so they can assemble and share a history of what went wrong in Zimbabwe. Their findings must be taught in schools and worked into memorials as a warning of what can happen. This is the best defence against it being repeated.

But, for all these things, we need to start today.

Then, when the templates are in, plans set, the blueprints drawn, let’s go find the money. That’s the easiest part because donors are so tired of projects that fail and funds that vanish.

Like Sir Christopher, we need a plan. The country is in flames but they will be doused and we must be ready to start our work even before the ash grows cold. – Geoff Hill is bureau chief Africa for the Washington Times and is based in Johannesburg. His latest book is titled: What Happens After Mugabe?

This article was first published in July 2008 by Post Conflict People (PCP) whose website can be viewed at http://www.postconflictpeople.org/

It is reproduced here with permission.

Post published in: News

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