The free ones are not yet born!

Masola waDabudabu

IN 1968 a Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah authored a novel titled The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.

– Masola wa Dabudabu

A naïve and uninitiated approach to the title of the novel compels one to think that the author was decrying the prevalence of aesthetically challenged offspring.

The novel is not about skin-deep beauty, but something more than the title suggests. It is about corruption!

The storyline in the novel is about an unnamed character “the man” who finds it difficult to understand the way things work in post-independence Ghana.

In his self-assumed moral perfection, “the man” refuses to accept a bribe at his workplace at a railway station, leading to further humiliation and derision from his wife.

The theme of the novel continues to be played, replayed and over-played by African countries after attaining independence from colonial powers.

Zimbabwe was not any different from other African States. Our country’s independence gave us a political elite who ransacked State coffers after ordaining themselves as the custodians of wealth.

The political elite turned this adventure into public funds as business ventures born from business acumen.

The culture of corruption got ingrained in our way of doing things as soon as we got our freedom from colonialists. There was a lot of money floating in State coffers as a result of soft loans and grants extended to Zimbabwe by donors and financial organisations.

Hungry and lanky ministers who had just returned either from exile or from the bush found themselves tasked with making sure the funds were put into use.

There were so many tenders that were floated by the government for this or that capital project.

Foreign bidders, especially from overseas, used financial inducement to win the tenders.

Where a dam could be realistically constructed at a cost of say $45 million, the bidders factored in $5 million as sundries for a winning bid to make it $50 million.

The sundries covered the costs for ministerial and permanent secretarial bribes.

The foreign bidders were very clever indeed as they bribed Zimbabwe’s top brass using Zimbabwean funds.

They greased the palms of Zimbabwean top brass with funds made available through State coffers.

This malaise changed not only the complexity of the game, but also the appearance of the beneficiaries.

Man who had faced hardships during the war started to shed off their rough skins and acquire smoother ones.

They became rotund and pot-bellied.

They built mansions everywhere, married younger wives and drove in sleek wheels.

They became detached from the people. The people below then held them in awe and admiration.

The occupants of the middle class in Zimbabwe soon discovered that there was easy money.

Those involved in the tender processes at lower levels discovered that they could also dip their thumbs into the national pie.

They positioned themselves for a piece of the action too. This time the targets were locally-based companies.

Well meaning business concerns found themselves having to pay hefty amounts to public officials.

As time went by, this culture of corruption and pilfering permeated downwards.

Ordinary people got frustrated by playing the game safely and honestly.

Now as we speak, corruption has become endemic! It is now considered normal.

There is no feeling of shame or guilt by those who practice it.

Corruption is the bad oil that drives the wheels of Zimbabwe’s makeshift economy.

Very few people can safely deny engagement in corrupt activities, either as instigators or as victims.

The extent of corruption went out of control when those with a mandate to police the country from criminal activities tasted the sweetness of easy money.

The army too quickly produced multi-millionaires from paupers this way. Police and army chiefs could not resist the graciously large sums of money from struggling entrepreneurs.

The rot kept on growing. It filtered down to the streets and the highways. Police officers found it profitable to mount roadblocks and find fault with every car they stopped.

The police discouraged themselves from issuing any penalty notices, but instead negotiated an escape fee with the offender. This is why unlicensed drivers and ramshackle vehicles cause mayhem on the roads.

The normalisation of corrupt practices by the police actually made the virus of corruption pervade society like a wild bush fire in winter. The police should take responsibility for allowing corruption to spread.

Now, thanks to the police, corruption is now Zimbabwe’s worst pandemic ever. If the police had concentrated on limiting corrupt practices by the elite, all these corrupt practices the people endure in their everyday lives would not be as pronounced.

The people are doomed as they have to pay for the original sin of the ruling elite.

The question we ask is: Who will stop this corruption?

Are we really as free as we claim? How can we wallow in such misery brought by corruption and claim to be free? Are we not in bondage due to corruption?

There is discrepancy in our claim to the born free.

No one is born free. With all this corruption around, it can be concluded that the free ones, just like the beautiful ones, are yet to be born.

 Masola wa Dabudabu is a social commentator