I always hear Zimbabweans asking why the Zimbabwean government spends so much money on imported vehicles for its politicians and technocrats. However, I think some questions just require the application of a bit of common sense and one would see that it’s not exactly rocket science.
Oxbridge & Ivy League Brains Cost
Zimbabweans have an affinity for technocrats and very highly [paper] qualified people in government and institutions.
We believe in paper over competence despite the fact that these paper qualifications have not shown an empirical correlation with output. Nevertheless we demand these papers all the same.
What this means is we demand colonially trained minds with very marketable CVs, but, we forget to consider the cost of these choices and the inherent traits of this caliber of skill.
In general the most educated of our colonial thinkers are motivated to get highly educated because of the ability of education to give access to comfort and opulence: luxury cars, palatial homes, expensive clothes, watches and foreign bank balances.
It’s A Competitive Executive Market
This is why when our government needs their skills, it has to entice these types from global multi-nationals at a very high price.
To attract someone from New York, London, Perth, Joburg or Tokyo and retain them. Government needs to incentivize them, and those incentives need to include lifestyle downgrade pay, perks like luxury housing and cars for them to return to a country without the trappings of a western center. Keep in mind, we are talking colonial minds like most of us here.
Civil Servants Are Not Charities
These technocrats like most other self centered Zimbabweans do not join government for patriotism. They join government for the purse and I don’t blame them because in a nation where everyone is looking out for number one, why should a morally decadent capitalist be any different.
Now, once the talent is employed in government. Government has got to maintain the salary and perks as promised. Otherwise they risk losing it again to the private sector or they are stuck in a cycle of countering offers made by very wealthy global companies.
Government Must Honor Employment Contracts
This then translates to: if government promised them a new car every 3yrs with the option of the bureaucrat buying the old car at book value for private ownership. That is precisely what government must deliver, irrespective of economic conditions because the bureaucrat doesn’t stop working because of economic conditions. Neither do they stop being poached by headhunters for some multinational.
The fact is they probably work even harder to keep the nation going in times of turmoil.
This is why you see our government having to buy those cars when it doesn’t make sense to you the lesser skilled worker. It’s because of the pressure exerted by the international labor market for technical skills.
That’s the cost of retaining executives and capitalists, and these are trappings offered by Multi Nation Companies and even local blue chip companies in Zim.
Technocrats Work Under Nasty Conditions
Not only that, its perfectly logical to expect that this is what you need to retain those technocrats because they work under some of the most difficult conditions in a nation with sanctions; indifferent childish citizens; low government budgets and so many other less than optimum employment conditions.
Politicians Must Be Happy For Stability
On the other hand we have influential politicians who don’t fall into the category of technical minds but they are usually strong charismatic types with following and strong political voices. It is critical for a nation to embrace these people and placate them to manage friction. The case of ANC and Malema is an important case study.
These strongmen need to be kept happy for them to stay in line with the national compact. These are the type of people who can mobilize a “bhora musango” that leaves a political party standing strong with a fallen political head. We are all too familiar with this in Zimbabwe.
Unhappy Politicians Are A Threat To Peace
At worst the ones with liberation or military credentials can cause coups or even martial their own militia to topple governments. So there is a thin line between them being influential politicians and being warlords.
That distinction must be well heeded by political principles. Africa is not America where their civil war and such power dynamics ended 240yrs ago because we are still settling into our democracies so fights for power will be with us for a while to come.
In a reference to US history, when the American civil war ended, Southern slave owning generals had to be appeased by Jim Crow and black prison labor as a compromised continuation of slavery for 100yrs.
Better Cars Than Blood On The Street
It’s easy to assume that these “we-liberated-you-types” don’t matter because they are not papered, but they actually matter more than the former. Particularly if the cost of neglecting them is civil unrest that will scare the technocrat back to London.
These people can make a nation ungovernable if neglected. All nations with civil unrest: Congo, Central Africa, Libya all made the mistake of ignoring this highly influential stakeholder.
The same was the cause of our post independence Matebeleland unrest and some could say its what happened when Mugabe was influenced by Grace to poke a crocodile.
In many ways Zimbabwe’s peace over the decades has been an indication of how our government has done well to manage and placate would be warlords.
Therefore if giving them a car is the cost we Zimbabweans pay for peace. I say it’s a small price to pay. I’m happy for them to have their cars than the opportunity cost of human flesh eating militia roaming the streets raping man and woman alike.
At least they are not asking for control of Mzarabani as we have seen in other nations where people ask for the control of Katanga as a precondition for cession of hostilities.
Running Government Is About Juggling Interests
Running government is not child’s play so it’s important to appreciate the balls that need to be juggled to keep the nation going. Also appreciating how our individual self-centered, materialistic, colonial mindedness manifests in the demand for these opulent luxury vehicles for government officials.
Albeit, considering that these same bureaucrats maintained Zimbabwe’s education as the best on the continent according to UNESCO. While our health department has been used as a benchmark in a number of HIV management studies on the continent and them having kept the nation from being a failed state under sanctions. Maybe their output warrants the price tag.
It’s too bad we don’t have a real effective communication department in Zimbabwe but if things were explained more we would see that our government is not as insane as it appears.
Rutendo Bereza Matinyarare for Frontline Strat Marketing