What happens when the centre can no longer hold?

Source: What happens when the centre can no longer hold? | Theindependent (Zimbabwe)

Candid Comment…Brezh Malaba

WHEN Somalia was a lawless gangland with no central government, many Africans often wondered how it must have felt to live in a failed state controlled by marauding warlords.

How on earth did people survive in such a violently chaotic hell-hole (it could no longer be described as a country), with no central authority, no security, no public services and no semblance of civilised society? There was no better definition of utter anarchy.

In 2007 and 2008, Zimbabwe came very close to becoming another Somalia. One could argue that, in many respects, we were much worse than Somalia those days.
If we agree that the calibre of a nation’s governance ethos can be judged by entering its public hospitals, then Zimbabwe is now a broken society. The death of citizens after failing to access health services has gone beyond the realm of negligence and has reached criminal proportions. Will the victims ever find justice?

As service delivery continues collapsing at an alarming pace, we are beginning to see ordinary citizens at community level mobilising and devising alternative means of survival. We have witnessed—in recent days—the launch of a citizen-led network of medical clinics in Harare and Bulawayo, highlighting the tragic destruction of the health delivery system.

After realising that the government is too incompetent and too corrupt to run decent public hospitals in the 21st century, people are taking matters into their own hands. They cannot just sit and watch while poverty-stricken Zimbabweans perish like flies.

Frustrated citizens are organising their own public services and they have every right to do so, but an important question arises: Is it fair for Zimbabweans to continue paying taxes when the authorities are failing dismally to discharge their responsibilities?

The idea of the social contract teaches us that power is derived from the consent of the governed. In other words, the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual is based on an implicit undertaking by the central authority to deliver certain public goods.

The refusal or failure to deliver those public goods is tantamount to tearing the social contract to shreds. To the law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes, this amounts to monumental injustice.

On Wednesday this week, the Masiyiwa family through Higher Life Foundation offered a ZW$100 million kitty to complement the salaries of public hospital doctors. While this is commendable, it is not a sustainable solution. What Zimbabwe needs is not charity but an accountable government that respects its constitutional duties and responsibilities.

One of the biggest scandals in the debate on Zimbabwe’s health crisis is that the ruling elite do not use public hospitals. They seek treatment abroad—and at taxpayers’ expense. Perhaps this explains why they lack compassion. A caring government would be guided by Solomonic wisdom—sparing the baby’s precious life and desisting from scoring cheap points — because the lives of millions of long-suffering Zimbabweans are at stake.

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