By Hopewell Chin’ono
Last night I was speaking to a billionaire global media mogul, who has an interest in investing in Africa, he is a man of simplicity who grew his media empire out of a bank loan with the assistance of progressive media laws in his country.
He called me because he wants to invest in Ethiopia in both television and radio through partnering with locals in that country.
So he wants a bunch of African media experts to do some consultancy footwork for him in that country and see how best he can leverage on the new Ethiopian administration’s call for foreign direct investment in all sectors.
I asked him whether he would consider coming down to Southern Africa since the audiences are predominantly English speaking, and as such he can simply transfer popular programming from his vast global media empire to terrestrial television stations in Southern Africa.
He laughed at the thought and added that, “certainly but not in Zimbabwe, your government is a bad joke, they don’t understand economics and modern business methods, and they are not serious about creating an identity different from the old man (Robert Mugabe).”
It is one thing for such a damning analogy of our government to come from us Zimbabweans out of frustration.
However it is totally different when a man who has the ear of almost every important President in the world says it too with nonchalance.
We don’t realize that the world knows much more about ourselves than we think it does, and at times it even knows much more than the Zimbabwean citizen knows of themselves, we live in an interconnected world which is light years away from the 1980s.
This brings me to the issue of REFORMS that should turn around our economy and also our government from being seen as a joke, to something mildly dignified.
If the government fails to deliver on political reforms, then there won’t be any need for the MDC to take part in the 2023 elections.
Without electoral reforms there won’t be any need to go into an election simply to give it a legitimacy it doesn’t deserve by rubber-stamping a pre-determined and fraudulent result.
The world is fully aware of what is happening in Zimbabwe and as such, a charade of an election will not change Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes or its global political perception.
We will remain a pariah State with a broken economy not fit for purpose, and we will remain a nation with a suffering and broken people who survive on food handouts from well-wishers.
Zimbabweans are suffering and desperate up and down the country, vanhu vari kutambura and anyone who doesn’t feel for folks in such a state has no heart!
Short of serious reforms, the government will remain a joke to the rest of the world and particularly investors, and nobody takes seriously a government that subjects its people to so much pain.
As the USAID Chief John Taylor said recently, our government has simply failed to convince investors that their investments would be safe in Zimbabwe.
This is due to lack of reforms that President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised when he took over after the military coup that removed his former boss Robert Mugabe.
The world has moved on from what it was in 2000 and yet our government is still applying a template from the 1980s where they would say one thing and yet go on to do the opposite openly and without any sense of shame.
Even North Korea tries to play game for its own sustenance by trying to do certain things that will ensure that its government doesn’t collapse.
Why are we being called a joke and why is our government constantly pushing towards the wrong direction?
We have a situation which independent parliamentarian Temba Mliswa noted recently, where government ministers very close to the President are implicated in invasions of private properties and businesses.
We have the case of Gaika Mine right at the doorstep of the President’s farm in Sherwood in Kwekwe in the Midlands province where the majority of our rulers come from.
The Gaika Mine invasion was ruled illegal by the Zimbabwean courts and yet the Minister of State Security Owen “Mudha” Ncube sanctioned a re-invasion, this man is extremely powerful and very close to the President.
What message does it send to the international investor community when such disregard for the rule of law happens?
It simply says that we are a joke as the media mogul mentioned in our conversation and that all our promises are bogus!
The media businessman asked me a very serious and yet rhetorical question as we now spoke generally about the investment climate in Zimbabwe.
“How conceivable is it that a country’s State Security Minister would write such a letter without the President knowing about it, considering that the mine is near his farm and that all the people involved are his mates?”
Such legitimate interrogation makes those harping on about Sanctions look like circus clowns because part of the demands on the sanctions list is the respect for property rights, something that the President and his Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube continuously say they will respect!
As the world-renowned Economics Professor Steve Hanke said recently, it is not what Zimbabwe says about property rights that is important to an investor, it is what it does on the ground that the world looks at, that is what matters not the government propaganda.
As Temba Mliswa mentioned, consequent to Gaika mine’s invasion, there is Battlefields and Eldorado mines which have been invaded too.
We have a useless corruption framework system not because we couldn’t tackle corruption, but because those at the top are the most corrupt, so it is not in their best interest to have corruption dealt with decisively.
So they created ornament corruption watchdogs that have comically watched and stood by making empty noises whilst the national prosecution authority botched case after case and at times blatantly deliberate so.
Can such a government argue that it is not a joke to the outside world, at least other governments try to be seen to be doing something about corruption, ours doesn’t care at all unless you become a perceived enemy and threat to their individual and group interests!
Now we have been told that the President is taking his witting political “puppets” who participated in last year’s Presidential elections to a so called dialogue summit on the 17th of May at the Rainbow Towers Hotel.
How low and farcical does he have to sink before someone genuinely concerned says to him, “No Sir you can’t do that for your own good, history will remember you for all the wrong reasons?”
It simply shows that the President and his government are not yet serious about solving this country’s deep political crisis that continuously manifests itself through terrible economics.
Instead of rising above the fray and leading from the front, the President and his team are busy coming up with laughable political tricks to hoodwink the electorate and the world!
This man has 26 dedicated advisors in his Presidential Advisory Council, is this what these men and women are advising him, is this the best they can come up with?
A dialogue between their man and 21 politically inconsequential 2018 Presidential candidates!
Regardless of its flaws and emasculation by the State, the official opposition is the one that any meaningful government should be sitting down with to come up with a political solution that can fix Zimbabwe’s problems.
It has an unarguable mandate and its leader got over 2million votes, now that is two million people being disregarded by the President when he seats with the 18 Presidential candidates and as we already know, no deal out of that vacuous process can solve an of our problems!
As such the 2018 presidential candidates should just be seen as another set of mouths on a feeding trough, hungry for relevance, and they should simply be called his other set of advisors, nothing more, nothing less!
They have NO political, electoral or moral mandate to be dialoguing on the nation’s behalf and that process would be another Rhodesia Zimbabwe, futile and costly for nothing more so at a time when our people need basics in hospitals.
Anyone who would have paid a thousand dollars to participate in the Presidential election would have been on the dialogue table on the 17th of May with the President at his summit at Rainbow Towers.
Do you now understand why his government is being called a joke and why those of us who thought he would make a difference are thoroughly disappointed?
My record for despising Robert Mugabe’s tragic misrule is consistent and well known, but at least Mugabe created logical parameters to justify his actions be it through ideology or liberation politics, this lot has nothing except a hammer.
Anything looks like a nail to them and as such, they hammer on any dissenting voices contrary to the message they pushed as a caring and being a listening government.
This government simply doesn’t have it in them to think of their actions through logical lenses, it is simply about power and not ideas.
This country is desperate for real solid leadership, and it can only come out of a legitimate election and as we know, the conditions are not there for such an election to take place in 2023.
So instead of trying to appeal to the voice of reason in government, a voice which is obviously insignificant as the hawks are having the day, the opposition should change strategy and demand immediate Reforms.
Our people are suffering, our government is being labeled a joke, our hospitals have no medications, latex gloves and even bandages, the cost of living is ridiculously high, tobacco farmers are being ripped and the story goes on.
The cost of living has gone through the roof and every ordinary citizen is groaning under the pain of bad policies authored by this government!
We know that only genuine political and economic reforms will unlock a better life for all Zimbabweans and not just the political elites, so it is imperative that the opposition abandons everything else and focuses on forcing the government to reform.
Short of that we are headed further into the abyss with no hope of coming out alive!
To show how serious our President and government are, they reappointed John Panonetsa Mangudya as the central bank Governor at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
Need I say more?
In 2008 I had a conversation with another billionaire media mogul, CNN founder Ted Turner at his global headquarters in Atlanta, I was there as part of CNN’s global network of television fellows.
He told us something that stuck with me, you can do and apply your mind to anything that you want to pursue in life, don’t let borders constrict your.
I have had to ask myself if I have really used the tonnes of education invested in me starting at Harare Polytechnic, City University, Brunel University and fellowships at Harvard University and University of Oxford?
Was that education only meant for me to collect awards, get a job and become a reputable name in journalism? Many of you who are highly qualified should be asking yourselves such questions too.
The answers have a direct correlation to why we are a failed State because for any country to prosper, it must do so on the back of its people, they are its biggest investment.
I am now looking forward to my trips to Ethiopia because at least I will be in an African country that has a leadership willing to see its people thrive economically. It is a country with a 42-year-old Prime Minister who is putting his people first before self-enrichment.
As trained experts it doesn’t matter where we apply our knowledge, as long as it will benefit the continent and its people!
My dream was always to build a media empire, something that folks like Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner have done, however I was born in a country where such dreams can’t be entertained because of the limited aspirations of our political leadership!
I never wanted to be known as a renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker only, that was meant to be the beginning and foundation to a transformational and entrepreneurial journey.
The ones that will come after me will do it, and do it better!
Today I have to be content with being a media consultant, my big dreams that I had of turning a part of my country into a media city all gone into a dream deferred.
The time that I spent in many years of media training investing in a solid media education gone to waste thanks to my accident of birth.
I am not the first and will not be the last, and I am not unique in anyway, I am just an individual statistic of ZANU PF’s misrule replicated millions of times.
We have become a generation that can only thrive outside our own country of birth due to ZANUPF’s refusal to allow Zimbabwean citizens to reach their full potential!
The Alex Magaisas, the James Manyikas, the Farai Chideyas, the Sifiso Dabengwas, the Peter Moyos, the Merna Cremers, the list goes on, these are the direct victims of an incompetent government that sees little value in its people.
What we are asking of is not impossible, it is simply to be allowed to take our country with us into the future using the special skills that we have acquired.
We hate to see our country remain in the past as we are today with only one television station that was set up in 1960, and yet Nigeria which together with us pioneered television in Sub-Saharan Africa now has 113 television stations.
Two months ago President Paul Kagame of Rwanda got in touch me on a separate matter that I had written about, we then discussed about my film on Mental Health, State of Mind.
He told me that his office would be in touch with me regarding the Friendship Bench Mental Health treatment model which is in the film.
His office did actually get in touch an hour later through his communications director, and a discussion with Professor Dixon Chibanda the psychiatrist in my film ensued.
We are not even Rwandese, but here is a President who understands that his country should come first and is willing to get the required skills anywhere in the world.
Contrast that to Zimbabwe where the government refuses to give us licenses to start media businesses that would create thousands of jobs and pay millions in taxes all because of paranoid advisors around the President, the same people that fed Robert Mugabe garbage conspiracy theories!
We are the only country of significance in Sub-Saharan Africa with only one television station, even repressive regimes allow media and broadcasting plurality, not in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s turn will come, the political curse will eventually disappear, nothing lasts forever!
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker.
He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow, CNN African Journalist of the year and CNN Television Journalism Fellow. He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
The late superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the soundtrack for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France, in the UK at the Heart of England International Film Festival and in Texas at The US African Film Festival (TAFF).
You can watch the State of Mind trailer below. You can contact Hopewell at [email protected] or twitter @daddyhope