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Zimbabwe: Was the ministerial retreat necessary?

Zimbabwe is in a transformative stage that needs a paradigm shift in the country's policies. In realisation of that fact the Zimbabwe coalition government officials went for a Ministerial Retereat recently at Victoria Falls whose aim was for them to come up with a 100 day Action Plan for the implementation of the Short Term Emergency Economic Recovery Programme (STERP).

The coalition government felt that the retreat at Victoria Falls was necessary for the leaders to concentrate on strategy and policy formulation in a relaxing atmosphere devoid of disturbances.

Was the retreat a waste of public money or a necessary step in healing the nation? A controversial political figure in Zimbabwe, Prof. Jonathan Moyo was concerned about who was footing the bill for such an event when the govenment is unable to adequately and fairly remunerate its civil service:

How is a financially bankrupt government that is unable to adequately and fairly remunerate its civil service be as self-indulgent as to splash scarce foreign currency on itself at an expensive tourist resort such as Victoria Falls with reckless abandon?

There is something rather sinister afoot here.

To be sure, the funding of the Victoria Falls cabinet retreat this weekend has not come from or through Treasury and the same is true of the various summits and dinners that some ministers have hosted in the name of the coalition government in recent weeks.

Apparently, the funding is coming from some donors who preach transparency and accountability during the day and practice the opposite at night.

These donors that have decided to sidestep, marginalise and undermine government structures in favour of creating parallel processes, are working through some well known individuals, Jill Day and Eddie Cross, who have been active in coordinating the summits and ministerial dinners that have been hosted in the name of the government without involving it.

Tanonoka Whande writing on Zimbabwe Times in an article entitled, “Slowly getting scared of the MDC,” sarcastically likened the retreat to a Catholic priests retreat. This is what he said about the retreat.

When Catholic priests are under pressure and need invigoration and renewal they go on a retreat. Listening to and carrying the transgressions of all the sinners can leave any priest drained and powerless. It seems the Zimbabwe coalition government officials are tired already and needed to seek renewal, hence the Ministerial Retreat at Victoria Falls. Or as the Oxford dictionary says, a retreat is “withdrawing from confrontation with enemy forces”. It is also “a withdrawal to a quiet or secluded place” or just “a period or place of seclusion for prayer and meditation”. Which one of these descriptions best fits Zanu-PF and the MDC in Victoria Falls? Was it prayer and meditation; withdrawing from confrontation with enemy forces or simply the first stop of the GNU gravy train? Less than sixty days into office, the work horses of Zimbabwe’s government of national unity are so tired that they need to go on a retreat. And they did it at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s most expensive tourist destination. What is wrong with the Masasa Training Centre or the Quality Inn in Harare as venues for such a meeting? A weekend retreat, they call it. What can be achieved in a weekend that they have failed to achieve in two months?

However, Gilbert Muponda thought that the retreat was a critical step in the national healing process:

The on-going Zimbabwe Ministerial retreat conference in Victoria Falls is an important step in trying to create a normal environment for Economic recovery. It is important to note that this was facilitated by the World Bank. Whilst the people are understandably angry about a gathering at a major tourist attraction area this is a gathering which forms part of the national healing process and creating a national unity of purpose sense. The politicians have to lead by example of being tolerant to each other and it is when people see such gatherings that they will believe MDC and ZANU-PF can really sit together without being forced by Mr Thabo Mbeki or Mr Ian Khama and discuss how they want to re-build their country and ensure that the Zimbabwe Economy recovers.

The Zimbabwean leaders by meeting without the presence of foreign leaders or being arm-twisted are showing that its indeed possible for Zimbabweans to develop a Zimbabwean solution to the Zimbabwean problem. The foreigners and neighbors have played their role. Now is time for Zimbabweans to engage each other and start confidence building measures which will ultimately result in a normal society and economic prosperity.

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