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Farai Gwenhure: ‘Only a failing State allows vigilante groups like ‘Mashurugwi’

By Farai Gwenhure

The Ogygia is a notorious Yemen prison in Season 5 of an American television series Prison Break. In this facility former structural engineer and fictional main character Michael Scofield is incarcerated in a period when there is an impending and inevitable ISIS takeover.

Some of the seventeen suspects arrested in Kadoma reported to be members of the gang known as "Team Barca".
Some of the seventeen suspects arrested in Kadoma reported to be members of the gang known as “Team Barca”.

The storyline depicts a failed State whose thin line of military buffer is only holding ISIS a few miles away from the Ogygia where apparently some ISIS kingpins are being held.

All the principles of bureaucracy are already falling apart, typical of failing and failed States. It is at this point when Scofield’s brother Lincoln Barrows is faced with an uphill task to rescue his brother before the total collapse of the Middle East State.

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I and my two colleagues were at Chikurubi Maximum Prison a few weeks ago, visiting a friend incarcerated at the super-max facility, the short trip out of the city centre only reminded me of many other signs of a failing State. Cry the motherland.

Just like in Prison Break, where the prison is eventually taken over by corrupt warlords who line their pockets through bribery and extortion, Chikurubi also smells of lots of greedy officers who seek bribes from visitors.

A quick chat with my friends will give you a confirmation that at least three times we were asked for bribe in return for varying kinds of “favours”, including something as petty as permission to handover cigarettes to an inmate. We found this despicable.

Certainly, the officers are not warlord equivalent of the Yemenis, but there are sufficient ingredients of a vigilante takeover in the event of a not-far-fetched implosion.

The corrupt gatekeeper behaviour we saw at Chikurubi, however, is a reflection of a deeper problem; It is indeed a tip of an iceberg. One of the bribes Barrows had to pay included letting go of his US passport, the middleman purporting to broker a deal for the release of Scofield equated the document to gold.

Harare’s Makombe Building aptly reflects a gold equivalent of a document in respect of the Zimbabwean passport.

At the Registrar-General’s Office, bribery begets bribery, corruption begets corruption and chaos begets chaos. George BN Ayittey in Africa in Chaos locates this kind of chaos in the failure by the former liberators to reconcile the two Africas, one modern and one ancient.

In the motherland, crocodile liberators are not only dwelling in the past, but they also thrive in chaos, they are like catfish they muddy the waters before hunting for prey in the murky pool.

They look away while chaos continues and pretend to solve the problem by worsening it, half the time tinkering with the deck while the titanic is sinking.

Quack revolutionaries deny any State of fragility yet fragility is already brewing State failure, but who cares the so-called leaders are Swiss bank socialists whose friends were even fingered in Panama papers. If the worst happens they will fly with their diplomatic passports to the safe havens and enjoy their lives sipping the best of wines and tiger fishing off their offshore accounts.

Far-fetched or alarmist or exaggerated some would say, but the benefit of hindsight is the highest level of wisdom.

On November 14, 2017 tanks and guns were brought to the street of Harare. Some would say it was not a military coup, others said it was a military-assisted transition and many rely on what the Generals said, Operation Restore Legacy, while some would rely on Justice George Chiweshe’s pronouncement that everything was done above board.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and flies like a duck then it is a duck. More importantly, once soldiers bring their tanks and guns to the streets of the capital, it is just a matter of time before they come back again.

Our brothers in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of Africa will confirm this thesis. Coups beget chaos, they breed warlords and eat into the soul of modern civilian civilisation and construct.

In a country like ours where ammunition is uncounted for by the government’s own account, the Libyan crisis is a possible risk, patriotism would mean active policy scenarios of creating a buffer against an implosion.

Just look at how Mashurugwi are wreaking havoc in the motherland, the notorious machete-wielding gangs are a menace, they have just claimed the life of an innocent sacrificial cop (think of his family).

Five poor policemen deployed to contain machete-wielding thugs compared to a whole SWAT-like brigade deployed against unarmed civilian demonstrators. Something is fundamentally wrong with the thinking.

Only a failing State allows a vigilante group of Mashurugwi’s ilk to make consistent headlines of invincibility.

Even worse, what sort of chaos can they breed in the event of an implosion?

The masses are agitated, social indices have collapsed, the centre is no longer holding and the economy is in constant decay. It is a dog’s breakfast and recipe for extremist reaction, a temptation for unconstitutional means of redress. Just like in failed States, there is a shocking over-reliance on donors and international development agencies, it is utter chaos.

The State has been captured by a very dangerous group of people, national institutions are emasculated for personal benefit, serving selfish personal interests some as petty as mere divorce disputes.

The State has been reduced to an arena of self-aggrandisement in which the political elites are using patronage to enrich themselves, their friends and clans at the expense of everyone else just like what Ayittey says.

Bread occasionally disappears from shelves, electricity blackouts are a norm, fuel is usually unavailable, there is a satanic return to days of hyperinflation and living costs have gone beyond the reach of many.

There is a unpalatable suffering of the ordinary folk, a majority are living in abject poverty while the elites continue to fly Swiss jets urging the masses to endure the pain for never to be seen better days.

To all intents and purposes the economy is far from recovery. The underlying assumptions point to the contrary while structural challenges compound the problem.

Inflation is the second highest in the world, there is no plan to resolve the debt crisis both domestic and sovereign, stock of Treasury Bills continue to rise, deficit financing continues — all these are accompanied by an incoherent fiscal policy and a chaotic self-contradictory monetary policy.

Put simply it is a long ball, kick and rush approach to economic management.

One with no respect to principles of public finance management, US$3 billion can just disappear in the middle of a transfer from one ministry to another and nobody takes responsibility neither is anyone arrested.

The rulers are now patrons, everyone else in the system is a client unable to question criminality, in any case they are enablers waiting for their share from the patron’s feeding trough.

There are no consequences of any form, society is lethargic, non-State actors seem radarless, the church is a captured community and the citizen is on retreat, watching while the motherland straddles from one crisis to another.

Think of Somalia, a government just as powerful as the end of Mogadishu, is that not motivation enough to do something, reclaim Zimbabwe from the hijackers or at least hold them to account. When the time comes, our children will spit on our graves for at the very least being complacent, but in the main aiding and abetting State failure in the motherland.

This is 2019 ending on a cusp of fragility and State failure.

 Farai Gwenhure is a journalist based in Harare. He writes in his personal capacity. This article was originally published by NewsDay.