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Myths, truths about Mugabe's Zimbabwe

18 May 2015 at 13:23hrs | Views
Disembarking from the plane at Harare International Airport in Harare last week, a passenger standing next to me uttered what sounded like a Swahili word: "Tuonane." This article was first published in Kenya's Standard Media.

That prompted me to ask a Zimbabwean friend what the word meant in Shona language and my suspicion was confirmed: the word tuonane means exactly the same in Shona (see you later). Later, I came to discover Swahili and Shona share many words, showing the ancestral Bantu linkage.

After all, our Bantu brethren in Kenya are all immigrants from Southern Africa. Later, curiosity led me to ask what the word Harare (the capital city) means in Shona, and I learnt it means "no sleeping", the syllables emphasised show similitude with Swahili's "hakuna kulala" (no sleeping).

Actually, on the outside, the town looks sleepy. There was definitely no sign of a 24-hour economy, contrary to the literal meaning of the word Harare. The glamour and glitter of Nairobi is also missing in Harare.

No grand shopping complexes like Galleria, Junction or Thika Road Mall. What you have in Harare is nothing pretentious, just ordinary-looking but nice buildings. What impressed me most about Zimbabwe is its people. They are very polite and courteous.

The trauma of the economic meltdown due to the international sanctions following President Robert Mugabe's land reforms, could have taken its toll on the economy and the people as well. Nevertheless, the people are kind and not subdued.

After the Zimbabwean currency collapsed due to hyperinflation, the country adopted the US dollar as the legal tender. The perception in Kenya and other countries is that the Zimbabwean economy is on its death bed and that there is a systemic and structural failure. In particular, the western media had portrayed Zimbabwe as a basket-case country and its leader, President Mugabe, as a tyrant.

The reality on the ground is quite the opposite, well, at least in terms of infrastructure. The country enjoys a relatively well-developed infrastructure and the road network puts a country like Kenya, which boasts of being an economic powerhouse, to shame. The all-weather road coverage by far outshines our own in Kenya.

The towns are well planned and streets marked and every house is numbered, making it easier to find addresses even in the villages. Mobile phone coverage is 100 per cent and rural electrification is also more than 90 per cent. The towns are clean and the local authorities are in control of ensuring order is maintained. In Zimbabwe, the ethics of work and culture has been nurtured and little assistance from donors like the World Bank has transformed primary healthcare. Maternal child deaths have been reduced by a half in two years. Other health indicators such as immunisation and preventive health care have also shown significantly improvement.

The public health-care system in Zimbabwe is equally superior to Kenyan health services. Hospitals are clean and the sites we visited showed most of the equipment working. Even rural hospitals provide necessary services for kidney patients such as dialysis and the HIV/Aids is discussed openly without fear of stigma.

The much-talked about effects of the land reform appears to be a myth. There is general self-sufficiency in food production. Studies conducted in Zimbabwe by Oxfam GB show the redistribution of land under the Zanu-PF governments land reform did not make Zimbabwe worse off. In fact, a significant improvement in production in agriculture has been observed.

In a book published recently authored by Ian Scoones et al, Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities,  the picture presented on the land reform is quite different from what we read and watch in the media. The government of Zimbabwe has, in fact, invested in improving agricultural production in rural areas with significant progress.

In Oxfam's report, From Poverty to Power, the authors John Hanlon et al, also seem to confirm Mr Scoones findings; that the intervention of Mr Mugabe's regime has in many ways improved livelihoods in the rural areas. For investors eyeing the Zimbabwean market, the potential is immense.

With a GDP per capita of $953 (in 2013), the average standard of living in Zimbabwe is better than most East African countries: Kenya is at $1,245, Uganda ($571), Ethiopia ($505). I was at a loss at times. That things work somehow in Zimbabwe challenges the case for democracy, though Ethiopia is also not a poster child for democracy. Corruption is generally lower and insecurity is a myth.

From my visit, I realised (and I could be wrong) that the challenges facing the people of Zimbabwe are not so much due to government failure, but rather from the international sanctions that have painted Zimbabwe as a pariah state.

Source - Standard Media
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