When a leadership exists to serve only itself

by Taona Moto

“I believe doctors who yesterday perhaps used crude instruments, now they are going to use sharpened instruments, very modern, modern indeed. Then also as it performs that improved functions, it also enhances psychologically the performer, the hander and gives him greater confidence. That’s what sophisticated equipment does to its handler.” This was President Robert Mugabe speaking in Harare on March 5 when he commissioned some medical equipment sourced from China for what is obviously an inflated figure of US$100 million.

Ideally, this should have come as sweet music to Robert Kamonera, a young man from Mutoko, whose face is now distorted as a result of a medical condition called squamous cell papilloma of the mouth, for which he has been struggling with fading hope to raise the $3000 that a surgical operation costs to treat it in local private hospitals.

But because Kamonera is a Zimbabweans, he should by now know never to trust anything that Mugabe and members of his government say, because they just say things for the mere sake of saying it, never meaning any of it.

Barely a week after commissioning the so-called state-of-the-art medical equipment that he wanted Zimbabweans to believe would not only transform the country’s health sector, but also trigger what he called “medical tourism”, Mugabe and his wife Grace were on a charted Air Zimbabwe plane to see their trusty Singaporean doctors for whatever secret ailments they suffer from leaving Kamonera and hundreds others in his hopeless situation waiting for sure death.

The official explanation—repeated so often that it now sounds like a voice recording—is simply that the government has not money. Everything is blamed on “the illegal sanctions imposed by the West”.

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However, this is exposed for the mere excuse that it is when it comes to Mugabe and his family as well as members of his inner cabal. When it comes to their health, money is suddenly no longer a problem. They can get all the medical attention that money can buy— and taxpayers’ money for that matter.

Shortly Mugabe and his wife (the foremost medical tourists) would be back in the country looking “distressingly fit” (to borrow writer George Greenfield’s phrase) giving full justification why the lucky Singaporean medical experts have earned the faith of the ageing but choosy ruler.

Last year former Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa was quoted in the local media bragging that he was back to full health after being airlifted for medical treatment in India. He was to take his wife there in December last year.

This leaves the ordinary Zimbabweans asking the now shop-worn question about what is wrong with the local health institutions which form part of the statistics that Mugabe and his party wax lyrical about as part of their track record of “achievements” around election time… moreso considering the fact that leads a government that is preaching the gospel of indegenisation and black economic empowerment. If the leadership cannot trust local health institutions, let alone indigenous practitioners, who then do they expect to trust them?

Mugabe and members of his inner circle count themselves among extremely lucky Zimbabweans as they have the privilege of seeking specialist treatment abroad, insulating themselves from getting a feel of how it is like to live in a country where social services are falling apart.

While it is the democratic right of every person to get health the services from a provider of their own choice, especially when it is sometime a matter of life and death—as could be the case here—sadly this is not the same for many Zimbabweans, the bulk of whom cannot enjoy the luxury of deciding where they would want be treated, let alone who would treat them as health facilities available locally have—despite political slogans like Health for All—deteriorated to state-certified mortuaries.

The amount Kamonera needs to access this life-saving operation is a tiny fraction of the US$8 000 that it reportedly costs Mugabe to be seen (only) by doctors at the Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore. I will not try to be “unpatriotic” as to try and calculate the cumulative costs of repeatedly chartering a plane to Singapore.

It might also sound rude, if not unpatriotic, to suggest that the fact that some of the services that our leaders so desperately need cannot be sourced locally means there is something the same leadership has neglected to avail in the three-plus decade it has been in power, but this is the truth.

Only recently, there was a loud debate about how much the country was loosing in foreign exchange through the importation of second-hand vehicles largely from the Far East. The same argument also holds true when it comes to medical related expenditures abroad.

If Mugabe’s life is that important, then ideally the life of every citizen of Zimbabwe should be equally important. Unless there are some citizens whose lives are suddenly more important than those of others… in which case the country’s constitution should be amended to clear this ambiguity once and for all.

What country is it whose health needs are largely funded by donor agencies? If the donors do not provide equipment, then there is nothing; and if the donors do not follow up to maintain that equipment, sooner rather than later the equipment would be decrepit.

Where equipment is there, drugs are in serious short supply… and the biggest drawback is a demoralised staff at all levels.

This is the tragedy of a leadership that exists to serve itself ahead of everyone else. This trend is not confined to health services only, as it is the same story in every other sector. The country’s leaders send their children to exclusive private schools and foreign tertiary institutions while public institutions at home—which are staffed by thoroughly demoralised personnel—are left to crumble. This week the country’s university lecturers were on strike over non-payment of salaries when Mugabe, who is just coming from a multi-million dollar birthday, was splashing several millions of dollars more on a junket to the Far East. He left a disaster in his own backyard ironically to attend a conference on disaster risk reduction!

It might sound rude, but the truth is that for prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum Prison to start a violent protest against a poor diet to an insensitive government like Mugabe’s would be like asking for stars.

While I am sure I have no right to tell adults—let alone powerful political leaders for that matter—where they should be treated—I am definitely sure if the people of Zimbabwe had been told during the war of liberation that the new order would be such that there would be some citizens who would be more important than others (the same way it was during the colonial era), some of them would have made informed decisions and they would not have supported that war with the same brio like they did.