Politicians and the eye of the needle

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FROM Cape to Cairo, our ancestors must have known that obscene wealth was not right. So, they were not entirely amazed when the white missionaries came and told them about the gathering of wealth and the eye of the needle and the camel not entering heaven.

So, there is no way we can say that our ancestors condoned the obscene gathering of wealth.

Of course, polygamy is another matter.

But I doubt that they encouraged their people to gather as much as they could, regardless of who it hurt.

Similarly, I doubt that our ancestors condoned murder or theft or adultery.

They had their own rules —perhaps not cast in iron.

But before the white people came to our shores, they had a way of running their lives, which was not so different from the white man’s — except perhaps that nothing was written down.

Corruption may have existed, but I doubt that it was condoned in any way. So, today, nobody can tell me that corruption in our countries is not peculiar — that we have always, as Africans, been prone to corruption.

Even if that were so, I do not believe we did not institute measures to punish the corrupt.

Yet the way corruption is being practised all over the continent must make you wonder if it is — the African way.

As long as we have corruption on the large scale that we have it now, there will be very little development in our countries.

South Africa is a case in point: without wishing to libel anyone in that country, you have to point out that there are very important people who have been caught with their pants down.

One of them is now sick, but in jail probably because it never occurred to him that his friends in the government would stand the sight of him actually breaking rocks in prison.

But there have been other instances: it’s scary, in fact.

Unless President Jacob Zuma decides to define corruption rather than Julius Malema as South Africa’s No. 1 Enemy, the Rainbow Nation could be in real trouble.

Imagine it ending up like the DRC.

We don’t want to be entirely “unAfrican” and call the government of that country “a bunch of so-and-sos”.

I know that there are many Africans who will excuse the corruption in our countries on the grounds that it all started with the colonialists.

Yes, they may have taught us many dirty things — how to exploit your neighbour, how to underpay your worker and make him love it.

But we are not like that — so easily pliable. We fought these people for our independence. Millions of our people died so that we could be free.

Free to rule ourselves. But the widening gap between the rich and poor on the continent is not sustainable without taking into account how the poor are likely to respond to their misfortune.

To respond to corruption in high places — that is almost where it always resides in Africa — the people themselves must decide what to do.

In many countries, housing —in both the urban and rural areas — is almost worse than it was under colonialism.

Little action is being taken for one reason: there is not enough money, we are told.

But all you have to do to respond to this baloney is to point to the obscene wealth of the people at the top — including the politicians.

How on earth do they justify their opulence in the face of children without schools, families of six or eight without enough food for the day because the breadwinner has no job and that is because there is not enough foreign investment in the country to create jobs — mostly on the basis of some political jiggery-pokery conjured up by the ruling party on the basis of some “ideological” fantasy?

Now, it is probably a tired cliché by now to refer to recent events in North Africa.

But there is a legitimate reason for that. People did die — killed by their own governments, governments whose existence was largely made possible by the same people that the government killed.

Yet an equitable distribution of the country’s wealth is not difficult to achieve: forget about old-style, wholesale nationalisation of key industries: concentrate on creating jobs for the people, with a policy that encourages investors to invest in the country.

An “investor friendly country is one which doesn’t present the potential investor with a jigsaw puzzle of rules and regulations to conform to before even one step is taken to conclude the deal.

What must be borne in mind is that the investor is mostly interested in making money.

To mistake him for a Father Christmas searching for the most deserving child to give a gift to is a horrible and disastrous miscalculation.

Bill Saidi is a veteran writer based in Harare.

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