Ahead of President Robert Mugabe’s state of the nation address (SONA), his critics predicted that it would be non-event. When he delivered the address, it was a non-event.
Never mind the isolated and lame pockets of propaganda that tried to sanitise it, the address was nothing but a sorry articulation of the Zimbabwean situation.
One good way to assess a statement by the head of state is to look at the reaction of the stock exchange. When the speech contains positive signals, the stock market jumps upwards. When the opposite happens, stocks shed value. It is rarely any other way, especially in a context where the president has not delivered a SONA in a long time. When a SONA attracts diffidence, something is very wrong. It means no-one is listening. Various inferences can be made from this indifference. The first set of interpretations has to do with the message and the other with the messenger. Mugabe’s SONA was much ado about little, if not nothing. The highlight of the speech in parliament was the 10 point economic “rescue” package.
While the state-controlled media tried to make a lot of noise about it, it was in essence a weary cut and paste job. There is nothing new about cut and pasted stuff, just a change in syntax and position of ideas. The 10-point plan was simply faded repackaging of ZimAsset and convoluted borrowing from past economic blueprints. All the material that stood outside the plan is what we have always known.
Even then, the speech should have attracted some reaction from the bourse, despite its new oldness. We should have seen it at least shrugging its shoulders or shedding a tear or two. But it simply went on with that unmistakable business-as-usual attitude. That means there is something wrong with the messenger, the head of state.
The bourse and the Zimbabwean citizenry have fundamentally lost faith in Mugabe as a bringer of good news. They have stopped assuming that anything of essence can come of him or his government. For the better part of his 35-year rule, we have heard him make high-sounding promises that initially tended to jolt us with excitement. But the promises have come, gone and died.
For instance, we have had a string of economic models that, when they were crafted and presented to the public, were hailed as the panacea to our socio-economic woes. One by one, those models collapsed, only to be replaced by even more high-sounding blueprints.
In a rut
Chances are, therefore, that even when Mugabe does say something sensible, people will dismiss it as one of those old fables. It would take a lot of positive practical results for us to start paying attention when he talks. When citizens pretend to be listening, it is because they are only interested in hearing how much of the old stuff he will repeat, never with a sense of hope.
To make worse, Mugabe, as the messenger, is stuck in a rut. He lives in the past and has therefore lost touch with modern reality. He is always seeing the shadows of sanctions and regime change agendas. He thinks all value must be defined in the context of the liberation struggle and the war of liberation from colonial rule.
Granted, we must not neglect the past, but we must know where to stop with it in the endeavour to shape the future and understand the present. Maybe it is natural that Mugabe, being a very old man now, would always reminisce about the “glorious” past. The plain truth is that he should be spending his time at the national archives rather than in the office of the president. He is now outdated and must leave the modern world to be ruled by modern ideas and memories.
While there is a sizeable number of people who clap their hands and ululate loudly whenever Mugabe speaks, it is not because they are paying attention. They do it because they have to be heard and seen to do so, otherwise they will lose all the largesse they have accumulated on the basis of the Old Man’s patronage. – To comment on this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org