OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: A letter from the diaspora

editor_170_113They are food importers where once they exported food all over Africa, now they have only imported food in their shops. They have appalling roads a transport system where conductors and drivers require bribes.

There are endless power cuts, widespread poverty and a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. All this, combined with massive corruption at every level of society makes it sound very familiar to Zimbabweans but this is a description not of Zimbabwe but of Nigeria. In size and population makeup the two countries could not be more different but the one thing they have in common like most of Africa – is huge natural resources and one in particular. For Nigeria it is petroleum and for Zimbabwe it is diamonds. The discovery of vast oil reserves in the 60s should have made Nigeria the economic giant of Africa but the black gold has seen little benefit to the mass of the population. Instead, it has led only to massive corruption and nepotism amongst the political elite. Out of the fifty years of independence, Nigeria has experienced only ten years of civilian rule with military coups and a bloody civil war marring the early years of its freedom from colonial rule. Like Zimbabwe, Nigeria has huge agricultural potential but ironically it is thirteen Zimbabwean farmers expelled by Robert Mugabe who have begun to realise that potential in Kwara province where they have grown vast acres of cassava, providing food and employment opportunities for indigenous Nigerians and improving living standards in the area. With a population estimated to be in the region of 200 millions, Nigeria has many hungry mouths to feed but the oil wealth appears to have done little either to feed or educate the millions.

Similarly, in Zimbabwe we see little evidence that the population at large will benefit from the diamond wealth. Since 2006 when the Chiadzwa diamonds were discovered, the Zimbabwe government has defied the internationally agreed Kimberley Process on human rights for diamond-producing countries while its military and police have violently abused the local population. It is hardly surprising that with the example of government greed and lawlessness petty corruption is steadily increasing; in hospitals nurses steal drugs intended for Aids patients and sell them in backyard pharmacies while police at road blocks demand bribes.

No doubt, low salaries account for this rash of petty corruption but higher up the food chain, one can only imagine the huge sums that must change hands in exchange for cops looking the other way while illicit diamond deals take place. And corruption is not limited to precious stones. The destruction of another of Zimbabwes precious natural resources, its wild life, is clear evidence that the police and game wardens are less than scrupulous in their monitoring of law breakers. 7 kms of 16 strand game fence wire was stolen in one month, 500 eland were killed and the zebra population fell from 840 to 160. Evidence clearly indicates that the police and soldiers together with Zanu PF loyalists were involved in the slaughter of 200 zebra in Beit Bridge. The moral decay that has followed in the wake of Zimbabwes diamond find or Nigerias oil bonanza demonstrates that without sound governance at the top and a police force prepared to impose law and order in an even-handed way, a country becomes totally corrupted, socially and politically. The truth is that what seems like a massive national bonanza, be it oil or diamonds, can be hopelessly misused without wise leadership at the very top with the genuine desire to benefit all of the people. Greed, political ambition and violence flourish in such a climate as corruption in its many forms eats into the body politic. Zimbabwes diamond wealth appears to have done just that. Cry the beloved country.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. aka Pauline Henson.


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