Tendai Biti, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance, spoke of his country as a “failed state” to a crowd at the National Endowment for Democracy on Monday. While things in Zimbabwe are beyond bad, Biti said that current realities must be viewed in a broader context. He pointed to the high levels of violence and anger seen in his country’s recent past: brutal killings surrounding land appropriation, election related beatings and the destruction of whole communities by Operation Murambatsvina. This pattern of violence speaks to the lack of state support given to Zimbabwe’s citizens and reflects Zimbabwe’s potential to turn into the next Somalia.
However, Biti claims that the ascension of the opposition MDC to a place in government, despite the odds and the unjust apportioning of positions, signals a shift. He argues that the dissipation of violence is giving the government an opportunity to take steps to ensure that Zimbabwe does not sink into the lawlessness seen in Somalia. (For more on Somalia’s governance system, see the Global Integrity Report: 2008)
Biti spoke of the need to rid the government of what he calls “catfish,” those members who have long reaped the benefits of the systems of patronage and clientelism that have characterized Zimbabwe’s government. Similarly, Global Integrity’s reporter for the Zimbabwe Corruption Notebook: 2008 calls out the “big fish” in government and discusses the enduring economic impact of grand corruption and theft on the country:
“Indeed, vice has been so endemic that Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) startled the country when he told journalists in January 2008 that he knew that many top officials were engaged in corruption. Specifically, Gono charged that corrupt government and business officials were responsible for cash shortages which forced the RBZ to introduce six sets of high-denomination notes early in the year. In short, the scale of official thievery was so significant that it contributed substantially to the debasement of the national currency.”
This is especially important considering that success of the coalition government is essential to secure a stable future for Zimbabwe. Biti actually criticized the pact made between President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and MDC, the opposition party of which Biti is a member. The vagueness in the agreement was essential as a short-term truce, but Biti acknowledges that in order to form a more stable government structure, this document must be amended. While acknowledging the need for more oversight in government, he envisions a government with a more hands off role in its dealing with citizens.
In acknowledging the laundry list of challenges facing Zimbabwe, Biti urged the aid and development community to recognize the lessening of violence as a sign of opportunity. Biti drew parallels to Rwanda’s recent aid-based progress, claiming that similar levels of success can be achieved in Zimbabwe with the right investments. The take away message was that while Zimbabwe has already made incredible strides considering its weak capacity, foreign aid is necessary to secure a solid framework for Zimbabwe’s future.
— Norah Mallaney