One of my favourite words, after the word why is context. I love that word context, because it gives real meaning to various conversations and/or situations. Tendai Biti spoke to some journalists yesterday and this is what he said “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 in government coffers”. I spent most of the earlier part of the morning on social media trying to add my own context to this story. You see, we prefer to hear and/or read negative stories when it comes to Zimbabwe and when we hear stories like this especially from a government minister, we are extremely alarmed and we share that story with others like our lives depended on it. The reality is our government needs the money – desperately actually but we also need context so those who don’t fully understand or appreciate the Zimbabwean landscape can understand such alarmist statements.
To illustrate my point, I go back to the very beginning of our multi-currency era. The government started off with zero pretty much like how the majority of the country did and yet, government had to pay civil servants within a matter of weeks. They made a plan and the civil servants were paid. It has since been widely reported that we have often missed our income targets and our expenses, well….our expenses (mainly salaries) gobble up a large percentage of our income. The government has struggled since the very beginning to address this imbalance. There is nothing new about this situation. We survived then and I have every confidence that we will survive this.
I believe Biti may have wasted an opportunity to fully explain his concerns and his concerns are very valid by the way. We don’t have sufficient funds to get certain things done – we just don’t! We the people want to know why and yet we don’t ask as often as we should. It is common knowledge that we plan to hold a referendum and the much anticipated elections this year. The main issue we seem to have is the funding for such an expensive and vital exercise. Where will the money come from? If this was Biti’s way of expressing these concerns and perhaps frustrations, then he didn’t give us the much needed context nor did he articulate himself in a way that we the people understood. Instead, the international media fraternity ran the $217 story all day and sadly we the people shared that story with our network without asking if this story actually makes sense. Sadly we the people didn’t really ask what the real issues at play are.
While I was actually writing this article, I stumbled across the Business Day article where Biti ‘rubbished reports that there was $217 left in government coffers’. Now I wait to see the reaction over the next couple of days.