By Tafi Mhaka
A great leader inspires the masses by overcoming hardships and working for the greater good of society. Strive Masiyiwa almost sold the shirt off his back as his 5-year legal battle against the government of Zimbabwe for a mobile network operator licence exhausted all his financial resources. He sold his car and house and begged well-wishers for money until the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled in his favour on 30 December 1997. But he left Zimbabwe for good in 2000.
Like millions of Zimbabwean migrants who have been compelled to live and work abroad, Masiyiwa, who is Executive Chairman and Founder of Econet Wireless, a global telecommunications company, found life in his homeland volatile, unsafe and inhospitable for political and economic reasons. So he moved abroad.
Imagine if Bill Gates had been compelled by circumstances to leave the United States of America for a life in France and he had founded Microsoft there. Whose loss would it have been in that unlikely scenario? Zimbabwe can only but dream of what may have been had Masiyiwa not left his homeland. Masiyiwa sits on the Africa Progress Panel, alongside illustrious members like former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, Graca Machel, Olusegun Obasanjo and Bob Geldof. He is a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation in America. Forbes Magazine named him one of the 10 most powerful men in Africa in 2015. He supports 40 000 orphans and has funded scholarships for over 100 000 students from Africa through his foundation.
The Pan-African Liquid Telecom Group, owned by Econet Global, finalised the acquisition of South African Telecommunications Company, Neotel, last month. And Kwese TV, his latest enterprise, is the first competitor to DSTV across Africa. Masiyiwa is so popular; his Facebook page has two million followers. Forbes Magazine estimates that Masiyiwa, who studied electrical engineering at the University of Wales, has a net worth of US$600 million. But Zimbabwe has lost the man – all because he had a vision and refused to bankroll politicians who demanded bribes and free shares in his business before he could get a licence. Look at where Econet is today. Could these corrupt politicians ever in their wildest dreams conceive of achieving so much success in business?
When Zimbabwe loses businessmen like Masiyiwa and professionals like Mthuli Ncube – chief economist and vice-president of the African Development Bank and former dean and professor of finance at Wits Business School in Johannesburg – to foreign lands in numbers, who will formulate and implement a much-needed Marshall Plan for the Southern African nation? The economy looks set to come under further tension as electioneering for general and presidential elections next year gets into full swing and this will possibly have an impact on neighbouring South Africa.
Zimbabweans who are desperate to earn a living might be heading south of the Limpopo River to find work very soon and that should increase competition for jobs in an environment where the jobless rate is currently about 26.5%. Ominously for millions of unemployed graduates and youths who live in Zimbabwe the prospects for economic change are bleak at best: Zanu-PF has chosen 93-year old President Robert Mugabe as its candidate for the 2018 presidential elections and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will field erstwhile leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
But I wonder if Tsvangirai holds the exclusive right to stand for presidential elections on behalf of the MDC? Although he has excellent credentials from his time as Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) and virtually two decades at the helm of the MDC, nominating Tsvangirai for the presidency for a fourth time is absolutely absurd and immoral for a party that supposedly champions transformation. Tsvangirai could have chosen to copy Ed Miliband. He resigned as leader of the Labour Party in Britain a day after losing the general election of May 2015 to David Cameron. Miliband had led the Labour party for only five years.
Tsvangirai has however led the MDC for 18 years and lost three presidential elections to date. He may have strong reservations about whether he lost fairly, but he did lose. So for all the superlative values Tsvangirai and his coterie of sycophants stand for: change is not their strongest dynamic. The MDC has manufactured a seemingly ghoulish cult of personality around Tsvangirai in a move that is reckless and not in the spirit of democracy at all. The MDC should know that extreme egocentricity has been the bane of African politics since Ghana attained independence from Britain in 1957. So the struggle in Zimbabwe is not about Tsvangirai.
No. It is about the doctors and nurses who are on strike. And it is also about 75% of the population in Zimbabwe who are living below the international poverty line. It is about economic migrants from across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe risking their lives to cross the Limpopo River to find menial jobs in South Africa. It is not about Tsvangirai. Perhaps he does know that. He has in the past expelled leading political figures like Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti on dubious grounds and Zanu-PF has banished Edgar Tekere, Simba Makoni, Didymus Mutasa and Joice Mujuru for challenging Mugabe.
This hideous spectacle of electoral Jammeh-ism overwhelming Zimbabwe does little to suggest constructive change is nigh for its long-suffering populace. That is the daunting reality in the making right now. Perhaps Pastor Evan Mawarire can pull off a Donald Trump-like surprise victory on the back of his #ThisFlag movement. Voters in Zimbabwe may well be growing weary of supporting liberation war heroes, securocrats and lifelong legislators who do nothing but lust for authority and big money in elective office. The gulf in fortunes between the impoverished masses and party-aligned elites is growing bigger by the day. So an activist like Mawarire needs to up his game a grade higher: he should write a manifesto and collaborate with businessmen and professionals like Masiyiwa and Ncube.
Times have changed and the economy is the new battleground in developing countries around the world. Zimbabwe requires people who have displayed robust leadership in humanitarian affairs and business to lead the wars on poverty, unemployment and social injustice. Whereas the leaders of the 1970s fought for freedom and equality for all races – that is now a given. Yet economic emancipation for the masses remains ever more difficult to secure. Zimbabwe is drowning in a sea of disparity and deprivation to no end. Given a choice between Mujuru, Tsvangirai or a businessperson like Masiyiwa: who has what it takes to haul Zimbabwe out of this marshland it has been floundering in for so long? Do not believe the propaganda out there. Zimbabwe needs a fresh lot of heroes.