Cost of Conflict

Cost of Conflict
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The late Ian Douglas Smith, he served as Prime Minister of the then Rhodesia now Zimbabwe

Godwin Chigwedere

FOR its sustenance, since the beginning of time, humanity’s lofty thinking and ingenuity has seen generations master most adversities.
The current technical sophistication of the world is evidence of the power of the human mind to conceive and create awe-inspiring inventions.
Yet, in spite of these advancements in technology, humanity has not applied itself with the same zeal on mastering human relationships.
While complex technical systems link up and perform sophisticated operations, humanity blunders through its relationships, oftentimes with disastrous consequences for itself.
The world today, as has been the case in history, is reeling from all forms of destructive conflict.
Nations are up in arms with each other; states are torn down the middle in intractable conflicts.
Institutions, organisations and groupings are in endless mortal intra group combat.
And, instead of moving forward, other states are regressing and even those that are seemingly moving forward are not doing so at the rate they would otherwise be capable of.
The greatest tragedy is that the cost and burden of these conflicts on people, whether directly involved or remotely connected, are never fully considered, quantified nor appreciated.
And indeed it is an almost impossible task.
When the nationalist sentiment developed in Zimbabwe back in the 1950s, the colonial powers refused to cede power. Neither did they want to accommodate the needs and concerns of the majority of the people.
The result was a protracted armed struggle that destroyed such human capital and infrastructure that the country is still struggling to rehabilitate today, if ever.
From the days of Winston Field to Ian Douglas Smith, the antagonists centred their positions on narrow values.
Ian Smith believed that the black nationalist push was a communist attack on capitalism and that he was the chosen one to protect the world from such “evil”.
In his article on the war of independence in Zimbabwe, Peter Baxter describes Smith as: “A trenchant and somewhat deluded character, (who) was nonetheless a man of unshakable moral rectitude and a clear believer in the sanctity of his mission.”
Emboldened by this belief, Smith refused to budge and Zimbabwe or Rhodesia then, wasted 20 years of potential development.
After 1980, Zimbabwe entered a new socio-economic and political phase of internal squabbles that culminated in what is generally referred to as the Matabeleland disturbances.
From around 1980 to 1987, this war ravaged both the Matabeleland provinces as well as the Midlands.
One can argue that for these years, development stood still both in the affected areas and also in other geographical areas as resources that could have been deployed were re-deployed to finance the war machinery.
And this cost, too, has not been quantified.
From around 1999 to date, Zimbabwe has been locked in another bitter conflict, this time pitting the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party: A conflict that followed drastic changes in the economy, whose modus operandi had shifted from using socialist ideology to pure capitalism through the implementation of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme.
While Smith believed that he was fighting a communist attack on capitalism, the ruling party today believes it is fighting the western imperialistic agenda to re-colonise Africa.
Just as Smith believed in the sanctity of his mission, the present establishment also believes in the same.
This has not been an armed conflict, like the previous instances, but the impact has been equally devastating, if not worse.
One can argue that Zimbabwe lost 16 years of potential development from 1964 to 1980. Then another seven years from 1980 to 1987. Another 16 years have been lost, to date, since 1999.
Effectively, Zimbabwe has lost 39, if not more, of the 55 years since 1960 of potential development to conflict.
It is disheartening to note what could have been achieved if these had been years of real peace and continuous growth.
Effectively, therefore Zimbabwe has only used 16 out of its 55 years in focusing on issues that matter.
If one factors in corruption, incapacity and other failings, the 16 years are further whittled down.
How does an economy embroiled in conflict survive when it lost 70 percent of productive time over five and half decades?
One view of it is that, if an individual is 55 years old today, 39 of those were missed growth opportunities, wasted energy, translating to their children whom they could not adequately provide for and who, now, have to scrounge around, not knowing where their parents missed the mark.
The following statistic is staggering.
Without factoring the cost of other infrastructure and services, it is believed that the cost of putting land mines along the Zambian and Mozambican borders, to stop ZANLA and ZIPRA fighters from entering Rhodesia, gobbled up R$2 298 million (Rhodesian dollars). (Note that at this time the value of the Rhodesian dollar was twice that of the United States dollar).
How much development could this amount have generated then for the benefit of the nation? Add to this, the military hardware and software, the opportunities lost, the traumas, the emotional and physical scars, the mistrust and anger built up that still drains us emotionally even today.
Now the internal squabbles within ZANU-PF and the many MDC formations are nibbling away at our resources and energy, further holding us back from moving forward.
Interestingly, most Zimbabweans laugh all this away as internal party matters that have nothing to do with “us”.
But is that the case?
I beg to differ.
The time ZANU-PF takes to deal with those internal fissures amounts to Zimbabwean business time being lost and resources being re-deployed away from the national agenda onto another battle front that does little to address the myriad of challenges Zimbabwe is facing.
By the same token, the conflict in the opposition is weakening the pillars of State, Parliament and by extension, robust policy framework for national development.
So, thousands of lives have been lost to conflict today. These are people who could have contributed immensely and variously to the development of this nation.
Billions of dollars have been lost in our conflicts. While amounts of money lost and numbers of people killed are important indicators to measure the cost of conflict, we also need to measure conflict by assessing opportunities, unquantifiable, that escape from us as we focus our energies in destroying each other as Zimbabweans, as ZANU-PF and as MDC.
A look at our roads, railway and air transport systems; a look at our education and health systems; a look at our housing delivery and other social amenities; a look at power and water supply systems; and a look at the amount of mistrust and hate amongst Zimbabweans paints a picture of the true cost of conflict.
There is no doubt in my mind that we would have been in a very different, but much better situation as a country and as individuals today, if we had managed our differences constructively.
How many more years are we prepared to waste away in fighting each other overtly or covertly? How many more resources are we determined to pour down the drain by misdirecting our energies into unnecessary ego-centric conflicts? And how many more opportunities are we willing to miss out on in our pursuit of our shallow agendas?
It is time to take stock of the cost of the never ending conflicts and show leadership.
Zimbabweans look forward to a day when we shall stop all this nonsense because the beat has changed and the dance must, of necessity, change!
I write for peace.

Godwin Chigwedere is the programmes manager at the Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation.

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  • The Observer

    In as much as I support the view that conflict retards growth and development, I don’t believe Zanu pf would hve invested in development in the absence of conflict. The party has time and again proved that it lacks the capacity and willingness to contribute to the growth of the economy.

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