Accountability is something I have always wanted to explore and discuss, particularly within the Zimbabwean context. Accountability seems to have lost its meaning and has become alien to some. In the immediate aftermath of the gamatox-weevil-cyanide era, it is prudent that we discuss what accountability really means and how, if at all, it can be entrenched in Zimbabwe.
In doing so, it is worth reflecting on a few questions:
- What exactly is accountability?
- On what levels does or should it manifest itself?
- What can we as individuals and/or a collective do to ensure that a culture of accountability is fostered?
From the outset, I must clarify that I am not a guru on accountability and therefore do not purport to provide any solutions herein. However, I hope this article serves to stir, stimulate and/or add to the debate on how we can better our country.
At its very basic, accountability means “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” An important aspect of accountability is that there must be a person, entity or authority to which one should be accountable. For example, ideally politicians and elected officials should be accountable to the electorate. Accountability has many facets. I will, however, limit my discussion to accountability at personal, corporate and public levels. In my view, a lack of accountability at these levels has adversely affected Zimbabwe.
It can be argued that in our constant struggles to put food on our tables and earn a living we have forgotten that we are accountable to ourselves, our families, and the society we live in.
Unlawfully policing the personal, but not being held to account
As 2014 neared its end, a young woman was stripped and harassed by touts for being “indecently dressed” (whatever that means). Some condoned the abuse that this woman suffered. As a father, brother, son or husband how do you tell yourself and others that abusing and humiliating someone’s sister, mother, daughter or wife is justified? Which leads to a more pressing question: Do we as individuals hold ourselves accountable for our actions or thoughts? When doing these things do we ever imagine our own sisters, mothers, daughters or wives in the same situation we put those we abuse daily? What would we do if someone else abused our own? Will we sit back or be outraged?
Another example is of a worrying video that was recently circulated on social media. In it mothers of identified abusers wear disguises and walk past their sons, who, without knowing the identity of their victim, harassed them. On finding out that the women were indeed their mothers, the men suddenly became mortified that they had catcalled and said such demeaning things to their own mothers.
These two recent events offer examples of how the rights of women are infringed with little or no regard to the law.
If the law is enforced effectively and people are held accountable for their actions, the certainty of prosecution and punishment is an effective deterrent to crime. It follows that if it is certain that if you abuse a woman you will be prosecuted and held accountable rather than being egged on, people would be deterred from committing such acts. Sadly in our patriarchal society it seems acceptable to blame the victim for their abuse. It also seems acceptable for the police to launch a campaign telling women to dress “appropriately.”
It is reported that three of the touts in the first incident above have since been apprehended and are facing prosecution. Let’s hope that the rest (for there are many) will also be apprehended and face justice.
May such incidents not occur in 2015 and beyond.
One bad egg spoils the lot: Corruption and entrenched lack of accountability
On another front, in 2014 state media was aflutter with reports on routing out corruption by some government officials. Leading this new “fight against corruption” was that swashbuckling epitome of honesty, Grace Mugabe (or Dr. Amai, as she is now popularly or infamously known). This new drive makes as if corruption is a new thing in Zimbabwe. It isn’t. The very existence of an Anti-Corruption Commission that dates back to 2004 suggests that it is a problem that government has been aware of. Indeed, incidents of corruption and bribes being demanded by, and paid to, police officers and other public officials have been rampant for a long time. It would seem that some of the people whose job it is to safeguard and enforce the laws of the land have been breaking them with impunity. How then can members of the public be expected to respect the law and expect to be held accountable?
Exacerbating the problem are corporates. These corporates, whether state owned or private, have, in my view, been at the forefront of abusing the general populace through exorbitant pricing that has left some basic commodities out of the reach of most. The struggling economy since 2000 helped foster an environment of unscrupulous corporate activities. While many other factors contributed, the role of corporates during this period should not and can not be ignored nor understated. Remember all those commodities that you could not find in the shops but were readily available on the black market at exorbitant prices? Who was supplying the black market? The answer is plain for all to see. Has anybody bothered to investigate and where possible prosecute them?
Recently, Percy Zvomuya tweeted about how a pack of 20 refuse bags now costs $18. Assuming this is true, that is over seven times more than the price for the same pack in neighbouring South Africa. How does a retailer sell products at such an exorbitant price and get away with it? You guessed it: Lack of accountability to self and society.
Don’t get me started on the various municipalities and parastatals that have for years failed to provide the most basic of services to their residents or customers. Whatever happened to the erstwhile Goodwills Masimirembwa-led National Incomes and Pricing Commission or the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe? Surely they should be holding producers, retailers and service providers accountable?
In Zimbabwe some prominent people are never held to account despite allegations, statements and proclamations made regarding their corrupt activities. A case in point being the aforementioned Goodwills Masimirembwa, who was “fingered” (please forgive me for the use of this word, I lay all blame on The Herald) by President Mugabe for corrupt activities allegedly committed during his tenure at the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. Nothing came of those accusations, not even an investigation. Instead Masimirembwa is now heading another parastatal, the Central Mechanical and Engineering Department, after being “exonerated” by the president. If justice is not seen to be done, no one will respect the law and the effects are there for all to see: rampant disregard for the law and a lack of accountability by all and sundry.
Again in 2014 was the salary-gate issue, which despite lots of airtime dedicated to it in the media, seems to have ‘disappeared.’ The salary-gate issue brought to the fore lack of accountability at most state-owned or related entities. The boards of the relevant state entities and the government failed in their duties of oversight. In my view it may be futile now for anyone to pursue criminal charges against the so-called “Cashberts.”
Just as we, the citizenry, have rendered accountability alien, we have also abdicated our responsibility to hold our elected officials and government to account. Arguably because of the highly polarised nature of our politics and our political affiliations, we have shied away from holding our leaders in government and opposition to account. In government we have continued to applaud the recycling of the same old faces (save for the gamatox crew), who have failed at the job before. What then do we expect to happen? It’s about time we used our collective voice to let the powers that be know that they serve at our pleasure and that we can replace them if they do not deliver. The same applies to the opposition. If Tsvangirai, Ncube or anyone in their leadership structures does not deliver, that person should be held accountable for his/her actions. Some of the excesses that have been occurring in government are due to the fact that we have an inept opposition who, when presented with an opportunity to actively participate in government (during their tenure in the Government of National Unity for example) spend most of their time lining their own pockets and forgetting the reason they were in government. The opposition has dismally failed to keep the ruling party in check and accountable or, at the very least, to keep it on its toes.
Related to this, I am tired of our leaders always attributing all our problems to the West as if they themselves are clean, have no faults and have not made any mistakes along the way. Zimbabwe has been independent for close to 35 years and prides itself in being self-governing. Furthermore, while some argue that targeted sanctions are the cause of the country’s economic decline, it did not start when they were imposed. For as long as we always look outside for the cause of our problems we will never diagnose and deal with the problems because some of the fundamental problems are to be found in our leadership both in government and opposition. The opposition have, in my view, for a long time been pre-occupied with the “Mugabe must go” mantra they forgot to debate and propose policy.
A few weeks ago Eleph Gula-Ndebele wrote about the massacres of the 1980s, which President Mugabe chose to call “a moment of madness”. I will not rehash what was discussed in that article, save to say that Gukurahundi and its aftermath are an example of how our leadership lacks accountability. Those who were, and are still, affected by this sad chapter in our history, as well as all Zimbabweans who sympathise with them, require someone to step up and acknowledge responsibility for the atrocities and apologise. This is an instance where a lack of accountability has divided our great nation. Until this is addressed we will likely always be a divided country
It is time we started holding our fellow countrymen and ourselves accountable. From the physical abuse of fellow Zimbabweans to corruption, exploitative practices by corporate Zimbabwe, the scapegoating of the West for every single problem we suffer, and government’s continued reluctance to address the Gukurahundi issue, we continue to fail to hold others and ourselves to account. These examples and many others are an albatross on our nation. Our continued failure to account and hold accountable will be our ultimate downfall. The longer we do nothing, the deeper our problems will get and the harder it will be to salvage our country.