A nation committed to majoring in the minor

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By Hillary M Chindodo on March 29, 2013. No Comments

OPINION (Zimbabwe Investor) – Zimbabwe is a nation of admirable people who resiliently went through some of the most traumatic experiences of recent political and economic history yet chose to remain contained in their suffering rather than take to violence as has recently been witnessed elsewhere in the world.

Many people outside or with little understanding of Zimbabwe’s post-independence political matrix have even labelled Zimbabweans as docile, a nation given to cowardice preferring to run rather than fight for their rights and freedoms. After all an estimated 4 million people, that is 25 per cent or the population, skipped the country during the period now referred to as politically the “crisis” and economically “lost” decade.

As already proffered, that Zimbabweans are a people of admirable resilience is beyond questioning. The question that begs an answer then is: Why has the country failed to progress meaningfully, politically or otherwise, in the three years following the political settlement that gave birth to a coalition government between the main protagonists of the previous decade?

There cannot be any one answer to the cause of Zimbabwe’s stagnation but an analysis can point to a major contributing factor being the ability of the country to be easily distracted from important matters to focus on issues of little or no relevance to the developmental and economic wellbeing of the country. Far too many issues of little importance at their best and pointless at worst occupy the people’s minds and discussions far too often and for far too long.

In the same week that that the treasury reported it had only received 9% of the US$456 million proceeds from diamond sales, the Prime Minister’s marital affairs instead occupied the majority of discussion forums and front pages of all newspapers. It has to be pointed out that it is of paramount importance in any normal democracy that the Prime Minister should conduct himself in a manner worthy of his office and title both in his public or private affairs. A society elects leaders into office to make decisions on their behalf and live by a certain but perhaps unwritten moral code of conduct. However, in that normal democratic society, all matters of national significance are given the prominence befitting their importance in the development and progress of the country. As such for a country like Zimbabwe, battling so many socio-economic ills, to give prominence to the PM’s private affairs ahead of more pressing and current affairs is societal negligence.

The public fight between a former senior Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) officer and his boss is another example of a case where people are choosing to look for the less important but juicy bits in a story full of more serious matters. Issues of both economic and social significance have emerged from the exchanges but these have become sideshows in a play where the actors’ personalities and characters have taken centre stage. Personalities and characters of those trusted with public office are of importance and should stand scrutiny, but should not be given more prominence than the manner in which public duties are being discharged by the same. Such an approach blinds the public from holding the officers to account for their actions in their entrusted duties.

A society which is easily swayed and is incapable of sifting through rhetoric and sound bites to derive information relevant to make appropriate conversations will remain at the mercy of politicians. In the modern world, information exchange has been made most fluent by internet technology especially through social media platforms. There is no reason why society can struggle to quickly separate reality from rhetoric.

The public must be alive to quickly pick out the eloquent but incompetent fool in its leadership. Since independence, Zimbabwe has suffered from glaring incompetence both in the public and private sector because society chose to hold on to individuals’ command and mastery of the English language as a determinant of intelligence and capability. For all their resilience and sheer toughness in the face of adversity, Zimbabweans are often too given to majoring in the minor, a state of mind whose default setting is to shy away from seemingly complex aspects of a subject and choosing rather to find comfort in discussing the “intellect-free” bits.

Someone once point remarked that when a poor young rural boy is mauled by a dog whose gate has been left open by the owner in an affluent suburb of a city, the question should never be what the boy was doing in that neighbourhood for the rich. That unfortunately will be the question that many in Zimbabwe will likely ask and conclude that the young man should not have strayed.

To give a sporting analogy, if Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans were defenders in a soccer match against an opponent like Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal, the coach would insist that they keep the eye on the ball and not be distracted no matter how many step-overs the nimble-footed striker does. Similarly, no matter how strong the argument to justify their importance is, the society must stop giving premier league status to matters that should be relegated to the little leagues.