By Hopewell Chin’ono
I had a very interesting conversation with two RwandAir flight attendants on my way to Cape Town from Harare yesterday.
One of them asked me if I had flown with RwandAir before, I told her that it was my second time flying RwandAir.
The first time was in 2014 when I flew with them from Johannesburg to Lagos, Nigeria I told her.
“We have since grown from those days,” she said to me with a happy smile.
“You are now bigger than us I presume,” I responded. “Bigger than Air Zimbabwe,” I added.
The other lady flight attendant responded with a wry but friendly look, “…of course we are now bigger than Air Zimbabwe.”
“It is because we have very good leadership at the RwandAir,” she added.
“Our President does not tolerate corruption and incompetence,” the other lady flight attendant chipped in.
These young ladies are in their early twenties and thankfully they already understand that corruption is bad for the country and its institutions something that departed from the Zimbabwean institutional psyche decades ago.
Rwanda has had a phenomenal growth post the1994 genocide and it is one of the places where every successful western leader and global business tycoons want to relate to and with.
Our very own Strive Masiyiwa has written extensively about Rwanda and has been invited there by President Paul Kagame as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
He wrote about that experience and how he was asked to come and name a wild animal, a naming ceremony.
“Do you know him personally, he is a great guy?”
One of the flight attendants asked me and matter of factly pronounced her view of him before I even answered.
There is no doubt that Strive Masiyiwa is the biggest straight and narrow businessman that Zimbabwe has ever produced in the last two decades.
What does it say about us as a people and the country especially our investment drive if the most successful businessman from within our midst is not made part of the investment drive or at least a roving ambassador for the country?
Rwanda has gained a lot from his network and it has showcased him including making him part of the team advising President Kagame’s work at the Africa Union.
Recently we as a country were getting advice from Rwanda and they even sent a team to talk to our political elites about investment frame works at the President’s invitation.
The irony is that President Paul Kagame of Rwanda leans on our very own brother, Strive Masiyiwa for advice and Strive has been brought into AU governance issues by Rwanda instead of the country of his birth.
Does that not show how petty we had become and how backward we could still be if we continue to celebrate mediocrity in the face of real successful stories that we ignore and sidestep?
What are we doing about reconstructing the way we think and putting an end to our aversion for talented, highly skilled and successful compatriots?
These are the issues that can help the Zimbabwean diaspora to have confidence in the new administration and be energized to come back home and contribute meaningfully using the huge body of experience that they have earned home and abroad.
Strive hasn’t been to Zimbabwe I think for over 18 years if my memory serves me right, that is a tragic indictment on our political class.
One of his companies the internet giant Liquid Telecoms which is ostensibly the biggest internet company in Africa was struggling to get a proper license in Zimbabwe under Supa Mandiwanzira.
How does that reflect to the outside investor world if a company owned by a Zimbabwean is being frustrated in Zimbabwe?
Strive Masiyiwa is a vivid illustration of the talent we have outside the country, talent that could easily transform the national fortunes overnight if allowed to do their work through deploying their skills.
Our country has many super smart citizens who are now leading lights in other countries.
Zimbabweans such as James Manyika who was one of President Barack Obama’s advisors have an immeasurable amount of skills and goodwill that can help this country release the poverty grip.
These Zimbabweans are constantly in state houses across the world giving advice and yet we could do with those ideas that they are dispensing to other nations back home!
What is the problem or do we have an idea of part of the problem?
The problem lies with the political culture that had been scaffolded by Robert Mugabe’s incompetence and political petulance!
He had become averse to smart minds & thinking and had surrounded himself with self serving senior civil servants who ruled their fiefdoms with iron rods whilst destroying everything in their way.
Anyone who was competent became an enemy and the quickest way to appeal to Mugabe’s paranoia was to call any skilled talent and ZANUPF outsider a CIA or M16 agent.
This is something that the late Edson Zvobgo told me had its roots in the liberation struggle during the Mozambican days.
Anyone who was despised or was a threat to powerful ZANU politicians in Mozambique was called a CIA agent.
In some cases they were even killed or imprisoned in the jungle without recourse to proper justice.
This was easy then and it is still the case to this very day because our systems are not yet sophisticated enough to dismiss such tripe for what it is.
The current president was also a victim of that kind of smear campaign during Mugabe’s last days in power.
Even in the opposition movement, the quickest way to dispatch of an adversary is to call them a CIO agent.
“Unosvibiswa mukoma ukangodzi urimutsegu,” (“You will be tainted my brother if you are labeled a CIO agent”) Job Sikhala once said to me when we met at Beit Bridge border post during the GNU days.
Now how do we call ourselves the most literate nation in Africa when our thinking is still rooted in the 1970s?
Incompetence and corruption is now masked by cheap racism, ethnicity, nepotism, cruelty and hatred!
Corruption and incompetence were the hallmark of Mugabe’s patronage system that is still to be properly dismantled.
These evils are still with us today and they should be fought if we are to transform this country genuinely!
No amount of foreign investment will change things if we still have the same pair of incompetent and corrupt hands on deck as we did under the Mugabe era.
The President has done well bringing in people like Mthuli Ncube and George Guvamatanga but he needs to let go of people like John Mangudya, people who are associated with the inability to turn around the economy.
Literacy assumes the ability not to only write but to also read and understand issues!
Is it not evident from the discourse on social media platforms that there is less reading and more thoughtless writing going on?
Compatriots are spending the whole day on gossip twitter feeds where political opponents are denigrating each other instead of discussing great and big ideas.
How do we grow as a people and how do we distill ideas if we are consumed by such trash?
Shouldn’t we be discussing about how to attract and get on board folks like Strive to lead a powerful investment drives for Zimbabwe?
Other Presidents travel with powerful business teams who will be selling the country whilst the president is engaged in political stuff. We need more of that.
The senior civil service under Robert Mugabe had become so corrupt that nepotism, hatred, anti business attitudes and a strong desire to work with buccaneer business people like Philip Chiyangwa had become the norm.
The President must dismantle this corrupt network if any of his plans are to see the light of day.
So much crooked folks have been forcing their way into the system to loot the very few dollars left under the pretext of bringing in investment.
We need solid heads that are in it for the love of their country not to loot the central bank and treasury coffers!
It is a pity that our media is consumed in chasing silly political gossip instead of playing the proper role of national oversight!
This president can set a foundation that can transform the country’s fortunes if he throws away the very criminal minds that were part of the economic destruction.
We know that Mugabe was the brains behind the ruinous rule but those who were with him that refuse to transform must be gotten rid of.
Zimbabwe has one last chance to transform itself from being a political pariah and economic basket case.
In 1980 Mugabe inherited a country that was working with solid and thriving institutions, he destroyed all of them.
This president will go down in history as a great political and economic transformer if he can take us a quarter into becoming what we were in 1980.
If he allows those that are self serving to continue blocking the progress route, he will be remembered as an inconsequential president and the skilled Zimbabwean diaspora like Strive Masiyiwa and James Manyika will not come back home.
We will remain a Kiya-Kiya Republic where the crooked thrive and the best brains emigrate away from the motherland.
We need to see less of the Ginimbis of this world in those state occasion VIP tents and more of the Strives and Manyikas.
That will give the president and his team stature and it will instill confidence, a currency that is in serious short supply at the moment!
We need a balance between politics and competence otherwise with more politics, we are headed into an abyss with no option for any political purgatory.
Currently we simply have a very thin talent, skilled and properly experienced base in the government bureaucracy and parastatals.
The nepotistic and incompetence architecture is still intact as it was under Robert Mugabe.
Maybe if something radical is done about it immediately, 24 years from now an Air Zimbabwe Flight attendant will talk about how the airline has grown, and how their President does not tolerate corruption and incompetence, just maybe.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film coming out which is looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind. State of Mind has been nominated for a top award in Kenya. You can watch the documentary trailer below.
Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope