By Pride Mkono
TUESDAY December 6, 2016, President Robert Mugabe presented the state of the nation address (SONA) in parliament as part of the constitutional dictates of his duties as President.
As expected, he said nothing reflective of the prevailing state of the country. Even by his own low standards, President Mugabe totally failed to even scratch the surface on the real challenges facing ordinary Zimbabweans, let alone tackle the commissions and omissions of his own government.
Firstly, the President downplayed the now evident economic collapse which is there for all to see. By his own government’s self-admission through its statistical department, Zimstat (2016), 98% of youths (between 15-24 years) are employed in the informal sector, 83% of Zimbabweans are living on less than US$1.25 per day and 45% of the people are living in extreme poverty. This is hardly a sign of economic prosperity!
In the 2016 budget, government had projected a low economic growth rate of 2.7% which was then revised in the midterm fiscal statement to a paltry 1.4%. The government cited the devastating drought and weak international prices for minerals as the reasons for the downward review.
Even at 1.4% such projection is still day dreaming and an illusion designed to project an image of economic reforms. In reality, the economy will in fact be deep in the red at about -2.8% having finished 2015 at -1.5%.
Unemployment continues to be very high with 90% of the country’s employable population without jobs; industries have continued to collapse amid headwinds of high costs of production and policy inconsistences from the government.
The debt question remains unresolved despite cosmetic efforts to clear arrears which is clandestinely supported by elements in the diplomatic community locally and also the IMF representatives as part of the dubious LIMA agenda. However, the efforts are all a way of propping up one faction of ZANU PF led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa which is selling the chicanery of reforms.
In simple terms, there will be no growth in the economy in 2016 and if Mugabe had any sanity in his lugubrious mind he should as chief executive of the country have addressed this with the seriousness it deserves.
Insincere civil service reform
President Mugabe in his brief presentation touched on the so called civil service reform which is meant to address government expenditure. While talk of such, and even the report which was produced after a civil service audit sounds good and meaningful, lack of implementation remains a challenge.
In fact President Mugabe has no will to re-structure the civil service by removing some 25 000 ghost workers who were put on the pay roll in the run up to the 2013 elections. These ghost workers are in the ministries of youth and of women affairs where they are being used to maintain the infrastructure of violence and thus rig elections.
As another election looms close in 2018; Mugabe and his government are focused on one goal alone; power retention. Hence the civil service bill will in fact increase as the nets of patronage are extended.
Chaotic and partisan urban housing
One of the achievements which Mugabe attempted to flag out is the allocation of housing stands in urban areas. While housing is a right which each citizen must enjoy, the manner in which it has been implemented by the ZANU PF government is completely criminal.
Firstly, the government stood akimbo and even aided criminal cartels to run fraudulent housing schemes which fleeced hundreds of thousands of home seekers off their hard earned cash. Various court cases have pointed to an organized network of thieves who carried their activities with the express blessings of elements in Mugabe’s government and party which were led by Ignatius Chombo as Minister of Local Government.
The introduction of the Urban Development Corporation while on the surface looks noble. It is in reality another scheme of looting, this time spearheaded by Saviour Kasukuwere, Minister of local government. By his own admission on 7 September 2016, Kasukuwere was running a corrupt and chaotic scheme around urban stands.
But this is Mugabe. Today he can rant about this and tomorrow he completely forgets.
In fact, there is a method to the madness in urban housing. The method is patronage and this will increase as we head towards 2018. The signs are already there as seen in the allocation of stands in constituencies where by-elections were conducted.
So the ordinary people will continue to suffer poor servicing of stands while Mugabe and his cronies preside over chaos and theft.
Dire food security situation
Mugabe murmured something about the drought and then added that his government was working flat out to ensure that no one starves and that 2016-2017 agricultural season will be a success.
However, the truth of the matter is that it is Mugabe’s government which is responsible for the over 3.5 million Zimbabweans facing starvation. His government has failed to craft robust policies to ensure food security and if people are not starving it is because of aid agencies giving out food relief under various programmes and no work of his incompetent government.
Most families are actually having one meal a day and that is starving by any definition more so 16 years after the land reform programme. The much hyped command agriculture scheme and Presidential inputs scheme are huge failures even before they start.
What should have been done is to subsidize inputs so that farmers can produce at low cost but again the idea is not to ensure food security but to extended patronage.
Bond notes and cash crisis
As Mugabe was going on and on about less and less, just behind parliament hundreds of people wanting to withdraw their money from a Steward Bank branch close to parliament were being sent away.
Across town long winding queues are on each bank day and night as people wait, hoping to access their hard earned cash. He did not even have the decency to just take notice of this suffering of our people.
His government is clueless and the recently introduced bond notes are already trading 1:7 to the United States dollar even though authorities say otherwise. Their predicted response is they will print more bond notes and we will be going down the route fast to 2008.
Deteriorating human rights situation
Since the start of this year, over 500 human rights defenders have been arrested and brutalized by the police for peacefully protesting against poor governance, corruption and general economic collapse.
As Mugabe presented his speech, human rights activist Ishmael Kauzani is battling for his life after being butchered by Mugabe’s dogs of war just a week ago.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the courts have from time to time condemned the heavy handedness and unlawful conduct of the police and other security agencies yet Mugabe was completely mum on this critical national issue.
Indeed by ignoring to touch on this critical aspect of daily lived reality of Zimbabweans, Mugabe proved once again his total contempt of the constitution and the fundamental rights it protects. But this coming from a man with the legacy of Gukurahundi is not completely shocking.
Stinking public sector corruption
Once again Mugabe proved that he is the god father of corruption as he completely skirted even a mention of this scourge prejudicing the nation billions of dollars each year.
Every day Zimbabweans from all walks of life are pillaged by financial bandits in government uniforms and offices who demand a bribe for basic services like to obtain national identity documents. The police are behaving like road pirates, robbing the motoring public off their money and Mugabe did not even mention a word about this.
Right in parliament sat people facing serious charges of corruption and abuse of office but he could not even chastise them. These range from the self-confessed Robin Hood Professor Jonathan Moyo all the way up to his hoteling Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko.
The institutionalized corruption involving the military and intelligence being carried out in the mining sector especially diamonds and gold did not even make it to his short national insult passing for state of the nation. Of course this is a sector where Mnangagwa controls and thus the whole lot of them is corrupt up to Mugabe himself who shameless employed his unqualified son-in-law to run the struggling national airline.
In the end, Mugabe is a visiting President and is out of touch with our reality. If he had cared as to just walk down First Street he would have seen a lot more about the state of our nation. A nation held hostage by a corrupt elite and whose citizens live in complete despair and hopelessness.
In 2017 we need to come together again as citizens and display people power. Mugabe is an arrogant, corrupt and cruel old dictator. Another day with him in office is a crime against humanity.
Pride Mkono is a social justice activist and writes here in his own capacity. He works with the #Tajamuka #Thisgown movements. He is also FES Alumni National Coordinator & can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @pridemkono.