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Once-colonizing Britain gets a taste of ‘colonization’ and surprise, doesn’t like it

Posted by CM on October 24, 2009

It’s fascinating to watch the uproar in the UK over the wisdom of giving a platform on a BBC TV program to Nick Griffin, leader of the controversial British National Party.

Griffin and the BNP are not afraid to flaunt their anti-immigrant, pro-‘indigenous white British’ basic platform. The furore has been on whether allowing Griffin on to a popular BBC interview program was simply in line with accommodating all viewpoints and with free speech, or whether doing so encouraged hate speech.

There seems little doubt that while the BNP may still be a fringe party with no representation in the British parliament, it has definitely struck a sympathetic nerve in a section of British society that feels inundated by immigrants from Asia and Africa. Many white Britons who would never admit it publicly may well agree with Griffin quips such as that London ‘is no longer part of Britain. There is not much support for me there because the place is dominated by ethnic minorities. There is an ethnic minority that supports me: the English. But there’s not many of them left. London is no longer a city my grandparents would recognise. It is changed beyond all recognition. Many of the ancestral Londoners have left over the last 20 years because they can no longer call it home.’

Griffin’s opponents react with outrage to such comments and point out that London’s increasingly multi-cultural nature is one of it’s strengths, and that the immigrants whose numbers there have been growing for decades have given as much or more to the society as they are perceived to take from it. All this may be true, but I also have no trouble at all understanding the misgivings of ‘indigenous white Britons’ to the speed and scale of the changes that have been caused by the influx in recent decades of immigrants, legal and otherwise, from ‘strange’ cultures.

Compounding the tensions is the fact that the nature of British political-correctness, perhaps influenced by sensitivity to charges of discrimination and racism from Britian’s colonial era, is such that even new and illegal immigrants to that country can claim societal ‘rights’ which would not be expected or granted in most other societies. One result of this is that some groups of immigrants there seem to feel less of an obligation to fit into the mores of the society than would be the case in other countries. So instead of feeling a need to fit into the ‘British way of life,’ many of the immigrants instead demand that their host society go out of its way to accommodate their cultural, religious and other practices. I can well understand how many Britons feel that this politically-correct, bend-over-backwards accommodativeness has gone too far, and that in sections of their society they feel increasingly like the strangers rather than the hosts/natives.

Yet a lot of this is colonial chickens coming home to roost. Many years ago during what used to be called a ‘race riot’ by immigrants protesting some ill-treatment or other, to the question of why the immigrants were coming into a Briton where their reception was then at best mixed and sometimes hostile, replied, “We are here because you were there.”

What she meant was that the links that were now drawing many of the new immigrants to the UK were formed during the heydays of Britain’s colonizing mission, when it dominated and ‘owned’ a good chunk of the world. What the protester was in effect saying was that in a way the tables were being turned and the once-colonizing British had to put up with the waves of immigration as one consequence of their once having ‘ruled the world.’ To different extents, other former colonial powers like France, Portugal and Italy are facing the same issue of large numbers of people from their former colonies regarding their capitals as magnets for achieving life goals which it is thought are difficult to impossible to achieve at home.

There is obviously indisputable truth to “we are here because you were there,” although the fact of that truth is hardly comfort to a Briton who feels that ‘the natives’ (of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, etc) are ‘taking over’ places like London.

I don’t know whether Griffin and his BNP have an official position on ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis.’ But it is a pretty safe bet to guess that they are nostalgic for Rhodesia and are sympathetic to ex-Rhodesians like the white farmers who have borne the brunt of Robert Mugabe’s fury. Yet one irony is that Griffins’s message of representing what he says are the ignored interests of white Britons is very similar to that of Mugabe’s ‘Zimbabwe for the black Zimbabweans’ message. Yet the British right wing loathes Mugabe for his treatment of Zimbabwe’s white farmers in the name of black empowerment and of correcting the ills of the colonial era.

Another irony of the resentment of that section of white Britain at the ‘colonization’ of places like London by African/Asians/Middle Easterners/etc is that there are many ways in which the British colonization of the ancestral homes of today’s immigrants was similar. Griffin speaks for the white Britain that is worried not just about the numbers of immigrants, but about how they often stick to and propagate aspects of their culture more than they learn and take on the ‘British culture.’ Yet there was rarely ever any question of British colonialists feeling the need to learn the languages of ‘native’ peoples or bend to their cultures, let alone adopt them. As a matter of course the natives simply had to learn the language, culture, religion, etc of the mighty colonizer Britain, case closed. In this regard then, the new African/Asian/Middle Eastern/etc ‘colonizers’ of the British are much more benign: at least they speak English, many of them have taken on European religions and so forth. So the new colonizers are being much more accommodating of their British ‘subjects’ than the once-colonizing British were of theirs!

It will be interesting to see how the British debate on immgration progresses, and to observe how the BNP influences it. But it seems clear from a historical point of view that what the uneasy-at-immigration Britons are experiencing is a version of “what goes around, comes around.”

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Ambassador-designate Trudy Stevenson reveals the political incongruities of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on October 15, 2009

While in Harare in August I was startled to read that Zimbabwe was to open an embassy in Senegal. I understand the two countries had embassies in each others’ capitals some years ago, but both had been closed.

African countries tend to put more stock in their relations with their former colonizers than they do with each other, so of course it is a welcome development when they resolve to change this. My surprise was on several grounds:

*The Zimbabwean government makes no secret of it being broke, and the signs of that are abundantly evident all over the country. There have been reports of diplomats in its embassies going unpaid for months at a time. Given all the pressing problems at home for which there is no money, it therefore seems odd that new embassies are being opened up at this time.

*There are few or no economic ties between Senegal and Zimbabwe and that is unlikely to change any time soon. The physical distance between southern and west Africa is vast, and in the case of these two countries there is an even more daunting gulf: language. While many educated Senegalese can communicate in good English, the number of Zimbabweans who have any knowledge of French at all is negligible. So while the politicians and diplomats may be able to address each other at their cocktail parties, these barriers do not bode well for the prospects of any wider and deeper links between the two countries in the short term.

*In recent years Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has made some abortive good-faith efforts to intervene in “the Zimbabwe crisis,” going as far as going to Harare to meet with president Robert Mugabe before those efforts quietly fizzled out. And new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has made a visit or two to the Senegalese capital, presumably to explain his case to the leaders of a country with a good African and international reputation politically, and widely acclaimed for its democratic credentials.

So perhaps the new embassy is being justified on the basis of political links. But is this enough basis for establishing an embassy, particularly at an especially difficult time for Zimbabwe economically? Could whatever diplomatic or political function it is thought the new embassy will serve not have been just as well served from nearby Ghana or Nigeria, where Zimbabwe already has embassies? It will be interesting to see how the new embassy justifies its reason for existence.

According to the Sunday Mail of August 30:

The MDC-M has moved to take up its allotment of diplomatic posts under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the three principals to the inclusive Government by nominating former legislator Mrs Trudy Stevenson for the position of Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal. Mrs Stevenson, the party’s secretary for research and policy and former Member of Parliament for Harare North, is already undergoing training with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as she prepares to assume her new role in the West-African country. The decision to second Mrs Stevenson to the position came after the party’s
first nominee and House of Assembly Member for Insiza South constituency Mr Siyabonga Ncube, declined the ambassadorial post last week.

One interpretation I heard was that the original nominee felt slighted that he had been nominated as diplomat to a ‘lowly’ country like Senegal instead of to a Western country! Unfortunately, if true there would be nothing at all surprising about such colonial thinking amongst the MDC elite!

Ambassador-designate Stevenson has just given an interesting inkling of her thinking. She attended some talk shop in Prague, Czechoslovakia and was interviewed by a newspaper there.


Q: Recently there has been much talk about the EU sanctions. Should they be cancelled or should the EU wait a bit longer?

A: The (EU) sanctions have not achieved a lot. The regime has continued, the violence has continued. In my personal view I would say get rid of the sanctions because then Mugabe does not have anything to beat the EU with. He uses the sanctions as an excuse for everything.

True enough, but it seems very odd for the ambassador of the government run by Robert Mugabe, whose government she will be representing in Senegal, to be continuing to talk as a party official than as a diplomat of the government! If the ambassadors who have agreed to take up these positions (in this case one report claimed Stevenson actually volunteered for the Senegal ambassador-ship after Ncube declined it) are going to continue to talk as representatives of their parties or factions than as envoys of the government, how on earth can this work?!

I have no trouble at all understanding Stevenson’s feelings about Mugabe. But would it not have been more consistent, honorable and tenable to decline to be representative of his government in a foreign land than to accept/volunteer for the appointment and then continue to bad-mouth the appointing authority you have willingly agreed to be answerable to?!

This will be a very interesting appointment and relationship to watch.

Q: What is your experience as a white woman and an opposition politician working in Zimbabwe?

A: It has been a bit lonely, I must say. As you know, I was beaten up (in 2006 until now by unknown perpetrators) but I would have been beaten up whatever my color was. To some extent being white protects me. Because I am more visible. I am certainly more protected than a black woman. Male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more. Because they don’t know how to deal with me. They deal very roughly with a black woman politician in their traditional way where the black women are down. I love politics and it is a like a drug – once you have been bitten by the drug politics, you cannot let go.

Oh boy, I don’t know where to start with this.

If being white protects her because she is ‘more visible,’ and if  indeed she iscertainly more protected than a black womanand if Zimbabwean ‘male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more,’ that is a terrible indictment; proof of the colonial mentality and inferiority complex that must still exist amongst those male politicians.

And how would this special treatment that she says she gets because of her whiteness have affected her? Could this perhaps explain the confusion of accepting a position in the government headed by a man you then expect to keep on attacking in a very partisan way, but expect not to be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency? Does the special treatment Stevenson intimates she gets from her colleagues because she is white perhaps blind her to the awful inconsistency of her current position?

My goodness, how this funny yet sad little story reveals so much about the messy unfinished business of Zimbabwe’s torturous political and racial history, and of how complicated fashioning a new thinking and reality from it is proving to be.

Q: The Czech embassy may close soon because of savings. have you heard about it? If yes, what was your reaction?

A: I was horrified when I heard about this. Any embassy, particularly Western democratic embassy to pull out now when we are just starting to move forward gives us a very bad impression. It removes a bit of our courage. It makes us a bit nervous: Have we done something wrong?

The presence of the country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage. It seems illogical and to me immoral for the Czech Republic to abandon us particularly as Myanmar is going to set up an embassy and the Czechs are pulling out. This is bizarre.

I found Stevenson’s answer as bizarre as she says she found the Czech decision to close their embassy in Zimbabwe. As the interviewer made clear, the given reason for the closure is a pragmatic one: affordability, to effect savings in government expenditure. In other words, they make decisions on where to have embassies on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, not any kind of mushy sentimentality as suggested by Stevenson’s ‘The presence of a country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage.’

Surely it is an example of the worst kind of dependency mentality to expect the Czech Republic or any other nation to keep an embassy in Harare to give the Zimbabweans courage!!! How many Zimbabweans are even aware that there is a Czech embassy in Harare?!

If the Zimbabwean government made its embassy-locating decisions on the same pragmatic basis of affordability and cost-benefit, would it have made sense to open an embassy in Dakar, or would it have perhaps made more sense to open a Senegal section at one of its other West African embassies?

And Madame Ambassador makes an interesting allusion to part of the courage-imparting presence of a Czech embassy in Harare being from the fact that ‘you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime…

Fair enough, but if Stevenson is suggesting there is an authoritarian regime in Harare to be overthrown Czech-style, I fail to understand why she has just signed up to be it’s representative in Dakar, Senegal!!!

Please don’t call me cynical. Zimbabwean politicians are far more so than I could ever be.

Posted in Mind set, Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The price and the promise of Zimbabwean recovery

Posted by CM on February 27, 2009

A lot of loose figures are beginning to fly around about what it will cost to revive various sectors of Zimbabwe’s economy. I recognise one must have working figures and estimates, but a lot of the throwing around of figures strikes me as being pretentious. One reason is that they are efforts to quantify the unquantifiable.

What does a statement like, “It will cost US$300m million to revive education, the health sector, agriculture, etc” really mean? You can cost the repair of physical infrastructure, the paying of salaries and so forth, but it is impossible to put a cost on work culture, business confidence,  motivation and so on, which are all integral part of functioning systems.  These attitude-linked traits take a long time to build up where they don’t exist or where they have been severely damaged, as in Zimbabwe.

A danger of quantifying recovery in purely monetary terms is what we have seen with the racket of so-called ”development aid” all over Africa over the last 50 years or so: billions of dollars expended, but no abiding change in the fortunes of the continent.  A few thousand “development experts” from the aid-giving countries do rather well for themselves but the overall condition of the claimed target groups is continuation of wallowing in poverty.

It could be the same with the feeding frenzy that Zimbabwean recovery efforts are likely to be. Millions of dollars will be donated and borrowed, NGOs will spring up at every corner, those with the right connections will suddenly get a new line of access to easy money for conspicuous consumption while the systems the money is supposed to fix continue to flounder. We have seen it all many times before, in Zimbabwe and countless other places in Africa.

This is not an argument against making budgets or against raising money for Zimbabwe’s recovery efforts. It is instead to say that our problems go deeper than can be fixed by merely spending money on them. They also require fundamental attitude change and unusual  leadership commitment to rebuilding the whole national ethos. I am not optimistic that there is any sign of this kind of spirit amongst either the old or the new politicians who have come together in the new unity government.

As a related aside, it has become deeply ingrained in the African mind that “we cannot do without aid from the West.” So you have contradictions such as a country claiming to need aid for inexpensive cholera medication because it is broke, but that same country has no problem at all somehow finding the money for expenses such as luxury vehicles for its top few hundred governing elite! When the things we think we ‘need’ in order to run our affairs include lifestyles that some even in rich Western countries that became so in a different age are questioning, of course we will find our low productivity cannot fund them and we have to resort to debt and being beggars. The idea of lean and mean cabinets or business management units who have to work their way up to whatever perks they enjoy by performance is unfortunately foreign in an Africa where we desperately need ruthlessly-evaluated, results-based politicians and businesspeople. But no, some members of the bloated new cabinet are already receiving their new Mercedes Benz sedan (the most prized perk in all of Africa) before they even have offices to operate from! If this is the sort of way that recovery costs are being calculated, any recovery will not match the extent of the money spent on it.

It is interesting that new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s first ports  of call to seek financial assistance were South and SADC, rather than the Western capitals to which he has long been considered beholden. This surprising development is no doubt partly out of the criticism Tsvangirai and his MDC faction have received, of being “stooges” of the West.

There is an interesting dichotomy in Western attitudes about aid. One the one hand there is discussion about how ineffective and wasteful it often is, and as well as about donor dependency and corruption on the recipient end. And yet a unpopular as the idea of aid sometimes is amongst ordinary Westerners for these reasons, their governments have reasons to continue it, and those reasons are not always humanitarian or development considerations.

Aid is quite clearly also a powerful means to exercise influence on the recipient country. Given how Robert Mugabe has framed The Zimbabwe Crisis is being essentially a result of the West preferring a dispensation in Zimbabwe which favored the white minority, especially the farmers, Tsvangirai’s perceived closeness to the West remains a hot potato for him, even as it also provides him with at least the potential to get various kinds of support.

But what if Zimbabwe sought and got most or all of its recovery costs from the southern Africa region; from SADC? Early intimations are that Zimbabwe might well get significant such support, in what would be an unprecedented case of African countries pulling their own resources to help one of their own. In this case if Zimbabwe was indeed economically and politically stabilised this would be money very well spent for the region. The significant regional “contagion cost ” of Zimbabwe’s  troubles would be eliminated, and a once-again strong Zimbabwe would have many other benefits to the region as well.

But how would the Western “donors” take such unusual fledgling efforts at African self-sufficiency? Surely they would be relieved and happy to not be expected to exclusively or even mainly fund Zimbabwe’s recovery? Not necessarily! I suspect some would like to be asked, to then loudly grumble about those troublesome, always-begging Africans but then be seen to be oh-so-reluctantly but generously giving in to the requests (purely out of humanitarian concerns for the oppressed, impoverished Zimbabweans, you understand.)

“Ah, but in return for this generous aid we are giving you, what are you going to do about that little matter of the white farms that were taken? What about your too-aggressive indigenization laws that we are worried will affect the operations of our nationals’ companies? What are you going to do about all those mining and other concessions that have recently been going to the Chinese in a country that we have always considered to be under our sphere of influence?” And so on and so forth.

You get my drift. So don’t expect that our Western friends will necessarily be happy if SADC or others prove to be the main source of ‘recovery funds!’

Such a development also has the potential to radically alter African thinking about what it can or cannot do for itself. When the current economic and political dust has settled, the lessons of Zimbabwe, not just the obvious negatives but the positives that will become more apparent with time, will reverberate far and wide on the continent and beyond. Ironically, that may be precisely why the very possibility of an eventually powerful, successful and independently-acting and speaking Zimbabwe causes such hysteria in some circles!

It is to present the image of an African country that breaks the mould of the continent’s mostly pathetically weak, donor-dependent and donor-compliant banana republics. It is to begin to no less than re-shape the African psyche against economic and psychological domination and control by The Other, and to positively and fruitfully, profitably take control over one’s resources and destiny. Unfortunately we simply have not seen this yet in Africa, and for some such a prospect is frightening.

Posted in Economy, Mind set | 1 Comment »

Hell, they’re just Africans

Posted by CM on February 3, 2009

On Bloomberg:

Starving Piglets Fed to Zimbabwean Crocodiles, Weekblad Says

By Carli Lourens  Feb. 3 (Bloomberg)

A farmer in Zimbabwe fed 700 piglets to crocodiles and slaughtered 250 breeding sows last week to prevent them starving after he ran out of animal feed, Landbou Weekblad said, without saying where it got the information. Farmers are struggling to find food for their livestock in Zimbabwe, which has suffered a decade of recession, the Cape Town-based magazine said, citing Deon Theron, deputy chairman of the Harare-based Commercial Farmers’ Union. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate that was last estimated at 231 million percent in July. At least 6.9 million people, more than half the population, need food aid, according to the United Nations.



Dear Carli Lourens,

Thank you for your sad, interesting Bloomberg story about the starving piglets who the Zimbabwean farmer had to feed to crocodiles.

Too bad none of the many who have written about this have chosen to ask: what about the starving people who would have been happy to have pork for a day, or even just a meal?

Oh well; hell, they’re just Africans.

Posted in General, Mind set, Politics | Leave a Comment »

On the passing of Ian Smith and Africa’s post-independence challenges

Posted by CM on November 25, 2007

Not at all surprisingly, a central theme of the many features on Ian Smith’s death has been comparisons between his time in power and the situation today under Robert Mugabe.

A New York Times report said, “Zimbabwe’s troubles only fed Mr. Smith’s unwavering white supremacist views, his unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.”

Black Africans, Mr. Smith said, were not ready for self-government. He and his followers justified their repression by saying they were “resisting the chaos” of newly formed black nations.No African rule in my lifetime,” he said. “The white man is master of Rhodesia. He has built it, and he intends to keep it.”

Mr. Smith never apologized for leading the country into war and never came to terms with what he depicted as inevitable decline under black majority rule. “We gave Rhodesia 15 wonderful years extra.” he said in 1983. If he had not declared unilateral independence in 1965, he said, “then this sort of scene would have come earlier.”

Indeed, as Zimbabwe slid into corruption and decline under Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Smith sensed events had vindicated his refusal to dilute white dominance. “There are millions of black people who say things were better when I was in control,” he said in 2004. “I have challenged Mugabe to walk down the street with me and see who has most support. I have much better relations with black people than he does.”

And on Altermedia, which features “World wide news for people of European descent,” there is Zimbabwe: Racist whites wanted back in charge.


…many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970’s. “Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job,” said Solomon Dube.

Makupila Muzamba said that hunger today is worse than ever before in his seven decades or so, and said: “I want the white man’s government to come back. … Even if whites were oppressing us, we could get jobs and things were cheap compared to today.”

Firstly, it is an indication of how what is considered politically correct has so radically changed in recent years that the New York Times can lead a story with a reference to Smith’s “unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.

There was a time when this would have been placed in a different, more subtle context than to appear to almost give open credence to such revisionism. That it is no longer considered controversial to start a story with a quote that will get lots of people upset is a sign of the attitudes emanating from the public and not so public discussions taking place about the general state of Africa.

On one hand this shows a welcome new open-ness about honestly tackling the issue of why Africa continues to fail to work for the general benefit of its people. On the other hand, an unspoken/unwritten but very much lurking addition to the line used by the Times’ summation of Smith’s philosophy about African majority rule is the implication that Africa “has not worked” principally because whites are no longer in charge.

Most people have their minds already made up about this thorny question. To those who think like Smith, it is obvious: Africa “does not work” because Africans now run the show! Nor is this thinking limited to African-despising racists, as quotes attributed to some Zimbabweans in despair about the country’s present condition show.

On the other side are the many who would give a litany of all the reasons they attribute to Africa “not working”: colonialism and its lingering effects, previous and present exploitation and so on. They rail in outrage at Smith’s bold assertion, now increasingly implied in many other circles, that the central problem is a basic deficiency in African ability and character.

Whatever one’s opinion, this has become a hot discussion topic because Africa has not lived up to the high hopes of majority rule. Those hopes, the time span given to them and what was required to bring them to fruition may have been unrealistic, but they are still the parameters by which African and non-African alike judge the continent’s performance in the post-independence era.

The doubts about basic African ability expressed by the likes of Smith, and by some Africans disillusioned with the post-independence era, will not go away until Africa steps up to the plate by providing its own models of successful countries. No amount of justification about the reasons for Africa’s state will do as much, or as effectively, to counter the thinking expressed by Smith than having many such models of African success.

This success need not be defined by Smith’s idea of workability. If there was broad agreement that Zimbabwe was clearly working today for the benefit of the majority of its people, rather than a small elite, it would not matter if it resembled or met the “standards” of Rhodesia. But what is more important and tragic is that by most indices of well-being, Zimbabwe is not functioning to the benefit of the ordinary people by what should be its own standards, let alone those of bygone Rhodesia.

The likes of Smith, as well as those who bitterly oppose his views, tend to focus on the visceral racial elements that excite a lot of emotion on all sides, but contribute nothing to solving Africa’s very real problems.

In examining “what has gone wrong,” particularly in a country with the promise of Zimbabwe, the fault is usually put on factors such as corruption and mismanagement, with those of Smith’s ilk going on to claim that these qualities are endemic to African character, and that therefore post-majority rule decline is inevitable. More recently the reasons for the country’s failure to thrive have been placed on everything from occasional drought to the current official mantra, “illegal Western sanctions.”

What is not discussed often enough is whether the many examples of post – majority rule decline were not also largely because the models that most African governments have tried to follow were simply inappropriate, and needed more and better kinds of modification than any country has so far successfully done. Trying to answer this question must surely be part of Africa’s learning from mistakes to try to find new ways forward.

Rhodesian society and economy were not just a result of the technocratic application of laws, technologies, rules and procedures to be merely copied by a new set of post-independence administrators. These were in turn merely the manifestations of a Western-based, Rhodesian-modified cultural framework built up over decades. That cultural framework is a whole mix of group influences that go much deeper than can be reduced to its elements, such as “how to run Rhodesian farming or industry.” So even if the desire had been to essentially continue “Rhodesia” under the name of Zimbabwe, with just white to black personnel changes, it could not have simply been a matter of things working as before by applying those same laws, technologies, rules and procedures. Just the fact that the personnel applying them came from a different social and cultural orientation would have made the result different, even if many other things ostensibly remained the same.

In the current realm of how the world is dominantly structured, there are many basic rules of how to successfully run a country that no nation can avoid mastering. But we have also seen that successful emerging countries are those that are able to find the right mix between learning and adhering to what have become the “rules” of the dominant world economic paradigm, and modifying them to their particular situations.

In Zimbabwe, and arguably in much of Africa, our early post-majority pride was not in finding our own successful middle ground between these “universal” rules and our unique situations, but in being seen to be copying the dominant reigning system “as is.” According to this model, the success of Zimbabwe was to be judged by how well we simply copied and continued Rhodesian systems of administration, technology, farming or whatever, but particularly of consumption. To people like Smith, as well as to many Africans in the early excitement of independence, this was a large part of what “maintaining standards” was all about.

But there was no reason to expect that “standards” that served a tiny, wealthy minority steeped in a Rhodesian-modified Western cultural framework would work un-adulterated in an African, non-Western social, cultural and political framework that was also required to serve a much larger group of not so wealthy people.

So there was the basic problem of running a new country with a once successful but no longer workable model. To that was added the problems of political cynicism, repression, corruption and all the others that have brought Zimbabwe to its present pass. But even if we were somehow able to miraculously get rid of these maladies today, we would still be faced with the fundamental issue of coming up with a model of successfully running Zimbabwe’s affairs that could not simply be a copy of the one that served Rhodesia’s peculiarities so well.

While a person like Ian Smith could not be expected to spend any time thinking about this, having already dismissed Africans as incapable of self-rule anyway, it is strange that the new African nations themselves paid scant attention to such a critical issue. The tragic result was that for many of the rulers, living in the presidential palace, being ferried to and fro in expensive cars and even the power to rigorously enforce colonial-era symbolisms were sufficient signs of “independence” than whether the country’s systems were benefiting the people or not. It was to put more emphasis on the forms of nationhood, and often embarrassingly inappropriate ones, than on the substance of whether the nation was structured to serve the people’s needs.

Africa’s inability to even seriously pose this question to itself may be a greater failing of the post-independence era than the usually focused-on issues of why pre-independence “standards” have not been maintained. All the effort at initially trying to run Zimbabwe exactly on a once-successful, but no longer applicable Rhodesian model meant little effort beyond the cosmetic was put into conceiving of a fundamentally new model.

As a result, the “standards” that were focused on were the relatively easy ones of consumption patterns. “Doing well” was according to the model of how many more elite Africans had access to the “European lifestyle” in terms of the houses they lived in, the cars they drove, the work perks they enjoyed and so forth.

No attention was paid to whether this could work for Zimbabwe, and at what eventual cost, and whether this shift in the composition of the elite represented enough of a difference to justify what the whole struggle for a new society had been really about. Little attention was paid to the less glamorous, more important concomitant elements of increasing overall national production in order to, for a time, continue to fund an economic model that was simply inherently unsustainable in many ways.

Everybody now blames Zimbabwe’s present state on Mugabe’s populist, self-preserving method of land reform. But even without it, there had to be an eventual crash, perhaps many years later than Mugabe brought on, because of how Zimbabwe largely continued to try to operate on the old Rhodesian model. It might have worked “well” in its time and for its stated narrow Rhodesian purpose (Smith’s clear cut, “The white man is master of Rhodesia and he intends to keep it.”), but it could not work for long without radical modification in Zimbabwe. The new nation was an environment of vastly increased expectations from a much larger number of participants expectant of the “good life” of increased consumerism, but on a stagnant or declining production base.

But “production base” goes far beyond the dry, technical issues that the term may imply. It is not enough for a national unit to merely adhere to basic global rules of production like efficiency, yield, competitiveness, good infrastructure, effective bureaucratic organization and so on. It must do all these things while taking into account its own peculiarities, and their positive or negative influences. Without doing so, then an adopted system of organization that might work very well somewhere else, or in the same place under different conditions, can flop miserably.

By “new model” I do not mean to imply re-inventing the wheel, rejecting Rhodesia’s functionalisms or romanticising pre-colonialism African customs. I simply mean looking for a fresh template of how to run the country that took into account old and new, different and more comprehensive concerns than was necessary in a Rhodesian dispensation that was mainly intended to serve a tiny group. This would have meant a mix of elements that would have very much included the many lessons and successes of Rhodesia, but thoughtfully incorporated in a new social, cultural and political reality. Only then could they have had a chance to work in the in many ways vastly different-from-Rhodesia landscape of Zimbabwe.

This unavoidable, still necessary task is a difficult process partly because it involves moulding the new out of old elements that do not necessarily easily or comfortably fit together. It involves some trial and error. When it doesn’t work very well, it means being ridiculed for trying something new in rejection of an older tried and tested model, even if that model simply could no longer work unchanged in the new situation.

Looked at from this view, the on-going problem with economic transformation in Zimbabwe is not so much the discarding of an old system whose continued existence threatened future stability. The flaw has been to throw out the old without any real holistic vision of a new system. The picture that has emerged is one of haphazard, day to day national management by crisis.

Africa simply has no choice but overcome these difficult, uncomfortable challenges and to create systems that work for it. This is necessary primarily for the benefit and future stability of Africa, but it will also be the only really effective argument against Smith’s “unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.

All the scholarly articles about why Smith is wrong, racist and should have been hung long ago are largely a waste of effort in countering his assertions as long as Africa has so few examples of national organizational models that serve its people well, even if they are quite different from any other models. But the picture now is of a continent that does not effect imported or colonially inherited models well, and has all sorts of reasons for why not, but then also fails to come up with its own successful models, again with a whole litany of excuses for why not.

Actually Mugabe, even if for cynical self-serving reasons, has shown unusual boldness for an African leader in daring to question and upset the old colonial system, and much of the thinking that underpins it. But he has then confused the issue by seeking to simply and ineffectively re-apply most of the elements of the old system to new beneficiaries, rather than to present something well thought out and essentially new! The result has been a throwing out of many of the lingering positives of the Rhodesian system of doing things, but without a better, or even merely minimally functioning, Zimbabwean system in its place.

The current mess could be seen as a golden opportunity to conceive and effect a new system, but too many things have gone too horribly wrong at the same time for that to happen in the short term. And it would need a completely different type of thinking by the group at the helm of the country than is likely among the stuck, unimaginative, panicked and tired old ruling team in place now. Whatever gifts they may have, it is not apparent that they would even be interested in the kind of contemplative work required to conceive a fresh model of a successful Zimbabwe. Threatening, beating, jailing and impoverishing people they may be proven masters at, but deliberately planned nation-building does not appear to be their strong point.

Large parts of Asia continue to seemingly be very effective at finding blends of indigenous /imported, old/new, pre/post-colonial systems to deal with challenges of today in a way few, if any, African countries have put effort into doing.

The effects of the failure to deliberately think about these issues may be most starkly in display in Zimbabwe because of how Mugabe has seen it fit to turn everything upside down with no cohesive alternative plan in place. But it is an Africa-wide phenomenon, particularly evident in countries under-going the most recent and rapid transformation.

For example, in both Namibia and South Africa land reform is also a hot issue, with increasingly Zimbabwe-like complaints that its pace is too slow, although both countries are eager to avoid comparisons with their mutual neighbour’s reform process. But where it has been implemented, in both Namibia and South Africa are disturbing reports of a high incidence of failure: low productivity, abandoned farms, greater poverty after receiving land than before, denuded landscapes from poor land management, etc.

Smith would have had an easy answer to why this is: to him, that is just one would expect when an African takes over, end of story. But those of us who are required to contribute to Africa’s progress must dig deeper to find what is so commonly wrong and try to fix it.

The reasons for so many new farmers’ failure are complex, of course, and many of them are common to emergent farmers under similar circumstances anywhere. But let me just pick one example from Namibia to illustrate my point. Largely desert, the country is more suited to rearing livestock than to cultivation. But the parcels of land that many new farmers are getting are too small for them to sustainably graze enough sheep or cattle to be economically viable. This means even before you factor in issues of management skills, capital, markets, efficiency and prices, many of these new farmers are almost destined to fail.

So why parcel the land into pieces that are too small for commercially viable livestock rearing? Why not encourage and assist these small farmers in other more realistic areas of agriculture, or find a different livestock model more suitable for the new reality?

The answers are as complex as the questions, but basically, it comes down to failure to appreciate that the farming model that worked for the white farmer with thousands of hectares of grazing land cannot be applied to a new farmer with a miniscule proportion of it, and with no capital, experience, infrastructure and all kinds of other supports. Also, his whole cultural orientation to keeping cattle may well be vastly different from the white farmer’s.

Simply put, he is being presented with a cultural-economic model of farming that is not suitable for him, and that in all but a few limited situations, no longer fits the new Namibian reality. Part of that new reality is that it is no longer politically tenable for a few farmers to own vast tracts of land, even if some would argue that it makes more macro-economic sense for a few such experienced, “super-productive” people to be allowed to do so.

All these issues have to be taken into account in creating a new model of agriculture for Namibia. My point is that thinking about all the angles of issues like this is key to Africa finding new models that work for it. The off-the-shelf models from the pre-independence era, or from the World Bank, have not worked very well for Africa for many reasons, including the fact that their application has not been properly modified for the new situations in which they are to be applied. The blame for this lies more with the Africans who fail to see the need for these modifications, than it does with those who present such models as they have seen them work elsewhere in very different economic, technological, political and cultural contexts.

It may be understandable, but the practice of eagerly applying various models of organization based more on anxiously wanting to be considered “just as modern as anybody else,” rather than on the basis of modification for suitability, has been disastrous for Africa.

We know all the things about Rhodesia we detested. But even in looking back in nostalgia at the ways in which it was also a highly functional society, it was naive to think Zimbabwe could be a merely modified version of it. When Smith said, “The white man is master of Rhodesia. He has built it, and he intends to keep it” he was talking at a much deeper level than the obvious one of harnessing Rhodesian-modified Western technology and cultural organization, along with African labour and resources, to create an exclusive island of prosperity primarily for a small, identified group of people.

Rhodesia under Smith was unapologetic about the society it sought to be. It was also ruthless in mobilising the available mix of resources required to bring about that vision for its primarily target audience. Zimbabwe never quite went through a similar process of deciding exactly what kind of society it sought to be, how to bring it about, what human and material resources were required to do so, and what factors promoting or impeding that vision had to be dealt with.

Instead, there was the amorphous, general wish for things like “universal health and education” and other desires which it is impossible to fault, but which without a specific model of national organization in mind cannot be achieved or sustained. They can also be mis-directed. For instance, by “more education” do we have in mind more degree holders (“see, we are just as ‘sophisticated’ as you Westerners”) or do we have another vision of universal education more relevant to our needs and current reality?

By “health for all” do we mean the greater availability of pills (“see, we are just as ‘sophisticated’ as you Westerners”) or do we have a definition of health that is more in keeping with not just bodily state, but that encompasses social, cultural and other indicators of well-being; of what it means to be “healthy.”

Because the idea of Rhodesia was largely steeped in Western principles of orientation, “health” would have largely entailed the use of pills and technology, although today even many Westerners are questioning the appropriateness of this orientation. And because the society was geared to primarily serving a small target audience, even if there was spillover to non-target groups, the society could have been organised to ensure any target group member had access to any pill they desired.

But if Zimbabwe had then simply taken on this philosophy of health, how would it meet “the pills/health technology for all requirement” of a vastly expanded target audience? In this example, the real failure may not be so much in not being able to supply pills to everyone who wants them, but in an approach to health that unrealistically, unsustainably emphasises pills over prevention, for example. It is another example of a prescription that might have worked in one particular situation, but can no longer do so in a vastly changed one.

If one extrapolates this practice of trying to force square pegs into round holes without the necessary modifications to all across Africa, then we can see one important reason why Africa never seems to measure up. A part of political maturity must be the ability to say “this particular thing worked very well in the unique environment of/for the requirements of Rhodesia, but in order to get similar benefits in the very different scenario of Zimbabwe, these are the changes we will need to make.” Part of this process could be even to selectively forgo some of those Rhodesia-era “benefits,” on the basis that their costs in the new dispensation out-weigh their advantages.

Perhaps Zimbabwe’s current mess is its own way of dispensing with the old that served another time and purpose well, but is no longer suitable for a new situation with new needs. But apart from all the many indications of early failure, the current mess is at the very least surely an inefficient, expensive way of trying to mould a new model of national organization. What is required of us is the hard job of applying thinking to problems, than the easy one of sloganeering and political intrigue that so much more effort has been expended on in Africa in the last 50 years.

Smith’s criticism that Zimbabwe failed to live up to the “standards” of Rhodesia is not the worst criticism that can be made of the post-independence era. If anything, there are many ways in which in hindsight we should now be embarrassed that we tried to continue the old Rhodesia, just as we should be ashamed that we have failed to maintain so many of its functionalities.

The more serious shortcoming of Zimbabwe, and of Africa, that still needs to be addressed is the failure to articulate a new vision of nationhood that does not ignore any part of our history or world realities, but that is tailored to maximising the opportunities of creating an Africa that serves our interests and works for us.

As regards the lessons of Rhodesia for Zimbabweans, therefore, it is not for us to pine for a bygone reality and national model that could not have worked for us. We can instead take a leaf from Smith’s Rhodesia, on the importance and benefits of carving out our own vision of what would be a successful Zimbabwe, just as he was quite clear and focused on what a successful Rhodesia meant for his target group.

Doing so would not mean all the current problems would disappear or that the conditions for realising that vision would suddenly materialise. But without that clear vision of what kind of society we want to work towards, taking all the many influences on us and present realities into account, we are a rudderless ship. We condemn ourselves to being forever compared unfavourably to a Rhodesia that will never return, but will always haunt us as an oppressive but “successful” past, in contradiction to an “independent” but “failed” present.

The pining of some Zimbabweans for an unsustainable, oppressive but functional Rhodesia is an expression of frustration at not just present hardships, but at the lack of any articulation of a new vision of nationhood that those hardships can be said to be leading us to, and how we hope to get there.

Zimbabweans have previously stoically endured hardship during the war of independence because it was not only clear what was being fought against, but because of a generally shared hope of what life would be like when that fight was won. Today’s Zimbabwean reality is a very far cry from that hoped for vision. And rather than suggestions that this is because we are in a difficult but transitory phase, there are instead too many signs suggesting that we are now completely lost and directionless; the rulers cynically raping the land rather than leading us to anywhere but further decline and hardship.

There is not only the absence of a new hoped for vision by which the present hardship can be explained and endured, but the current rulership simply no longer even has the credibility and moral authority to mobilise the population into working for one.

The pining for Rhodesia by some is simply because it is the country’s “last known working configuration.” It is Africa’s main challenge to find new working configurations for itself, mixes of many of the elements of success others have used to overcome oppression and exploitation, but put together in ways that fit the times and the environment. It is a shocking indictment of us all that no modern African society has yet been up to this challenge.

The reminders on Ian Smith’s death of his view of Africans, and other kinds of racist revisionism increasingly being heard, tell us that this unfinished task will not go away. It will remain until we and the world see Africa overcoming all the many obstacles and excuses to build examples of societies that need not be duplicates of anything else, but that clearly work for the benefit of the mass of people in a way we have not yet seen in modern Africa.

The naked, provocative racism that Smith so proudly and unapologetically wore all his life unfortunately enjoys currency from the poor state of the Zimbabwe that has emerged from his Rhodesia. If Africa is forced by the sting of the attitude of people of the ilk of Smith to think hard about what we have had to endure under both the Smiths and Mugabes, we will eventually develop our own models of success that need no explanation, and that speak for themselves. We would then have salvaged something positive from all the many decades of bitter and on-going lessons that Zimbabwe has to offer about the challenges and pain of transformation.

Chido Makunike

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Digging beneath the surface of Zimbabwe’s “diaspora syndrome”

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

The levels of unprofessionalism to which The Herald has sunk makes me tend to dismiss many of its opinion pieces as government propaganda. But an article by Stephen T. Maimbodei on October 2 about the whole recent phenomenon of a large Zimbabwean diaspora had many good points to cause all of us, at home and abroad, to think about our situation:

Zimbabwe is losing a valuable and highly skilled human resource base. It is difficult to ascertain how many Zimbabweans are in the Diaspora as economic migrants. What are their attitudes about home, especially those who left the country and applied for political asylum, wherever they are scattered the world over? Was it worth it? How does Zimbabwe, the real home, compare with their new homes? Maybe my musings about motherland and the search for a Zimbabwean identity will say something.

Those of us who … remember the “been-to” syndrome that was prevalent among people who had studied in Western countries, especially the UK and the US. In West Africa, it is called the “when-we’s” syndrome. In former Portuguese colonies, they are called assimilados.

The term “been-to” was coined because people would always hear persons who had been overseas saying, “When we were in London (or whichever Western place), we used to…In French-speaking Africa, it was Paris, and in Lusophone Africa, Lisbon. “Been-to” also referred to someone who had gone to a far-off land, a land with better opportunities in all spheres of life…It also meant that the person’s preferred language of communication was English, and not the vernaculars.

The pull … the search for “greener pastures” has meant that many of Africa’s sons and daughters are willing to be economic migrants in Western countries by any means possible. Almost every month, you hear and read tragic stories of young men from West Africa who risk their lives, trying to illegally enter Europe through Spain. The millions of dollars in foreign exchange they spend trying to be illegal immigrants is mind boggling.

This writer … realises that missionaries … to Africa colonised it, pillaged and plundered, and enabled the construction of the fantastic infrastructures that we all go for.

The irony is that the “when-we’s” syndrome never referred to people who had been in developing countries such as China or India. My father, who worked as a migrant worker in Malawi and South Africa, was never called a “been-to.”

“Been-to” was seen as a mark of achievement, success and prosperity. It commanded a lot of respect for the educational qualifications attained in those far-flung places were supposed to be superior to those obtained from local institutions.

The syndrome affected many of us.

It was also sometimes easy to see the “been-to’s” because of the inter-racial and/cultural marriages, especially in a Rhodesia where inter-racial marriages were legally prohibited.The “when-we’s” syndrome was also accompanied by the “diploma disease” where pieces of academic papers from overseas institutions were considered more important than productivity. Even amongst themselves, the college or university one attended in those Western countries also mattered. It was common to hear people claiming that those who had studied in the US had phony degrees.

The “when-we’s” syndrome has now taken a new look. It is now the Diaspora syndrome. It is a syndrome that looks good on the outside, but when one digs deeper; there is so much dirt and rot underneath.

At the peak of the MDC heat wave, many Zimbabweans went to Western countries, claiming to be asylum seekers, when in actual fact they are just economic migrants.

They claimed torture and harassment from Zanu-PF and the government. That these so-called refugees had to go through the rigorous processes of getting passports and visas, and then claim political asylum, are some of the twists and turns of the matter for Zimbabwe in the new millennium.

However, the price some of them are paying is immense for family values, as most of their families have been thrown to the dogs. Is it a wonder that we have so many dysfunctional families among people whose dollar power is so strong? A majority of them are unable to return to Zimbabwe. Some of them died in their “new” homes, and their remains are now interred in those far-off places, being buried with very few friends and relatives present to bid them farewell.

Is it worth it?

The glorification of the Diaspora and condescension of homes that give us succour are ironies that mean that we have mindsets that need deprogramming. And some minds need to be installed with totally new programmes, programmes that should realise that when we go into the Diaspora, we are following the pillaged and plundered national assets.

We go over to make them refined products that will only be sent back to us with labels “Made in the UK”, etc, and not made “Made in Zimbabwe.” But they will be beyond the reach of ordinary people. Look at the gold necklace, earrings and the diamond ring you are wearing, and you will know that it brought very little value, let alone wealth to Zimbabwe.

It is a syndrome that has outlived its usefulness. More than ever, a lot of people, especially among the young generation, would rather be living in the glitzy cities and towns of the Western world than in Africa, even if it means doing menial jobs.

Diaspora, which has replaced the “been-to” syndrome, is now so rife, and the worst part about this is that whereas the “been-to’s” of the past did not have immediate economic benefits for their families and themselves, it is now a different kettle of fish. Today’s “been-to” or Diasporan is bringing immense economic benefits to their families.

In Zimbabwe’s harsh economic environment, you hear many claiming that if it were not of the family members and relatives in the Diaspora, they would be suffering more than they are doing right now. Diasporans are now the new buyers and owners of property, and they are doing it at unprecedented levels. For a nation which is going through such an economic crunch to have roads littered with the latest vehicles from all over the world, most of them fuel-guzzling 4 x 4s, is a wonder.

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation is good news to their ears. The parallel economy they have created is an institution that they would do not want to see disappearing. Modern information technologies make it easy for them to peg the hard currency at any level they want.

As if the colonial propaganda and brainwashing were not enough, the “been-to” or Diaspora mentality has created a class of people who do not have confidence in themselves, let alone confidence in their capacity to transform their conditions at a national level. It is a mentality that has created the derogatory terms of such as zvaanaMuseyamwa, meaning products and services offered by indigenous people. It is a mindset where 27 after independence you hear people always saying: Dai kwakanga kuchine varungu zvinhu hazvaimbodai. (If whites were still running the show, goods and services would not degenerate like this.)

You also hear people bragging that they are now British, Australian, US and/or South African citizens. It is their right, but if the Rhodesians were comfortable with dual citizenship, there was a place they always knew was home, no matter what.

Almost 10 years since the economic migration started, Zimbabwe still has to benefit from these migrants, for economic migrants in countries such as India and the Philippines contribute substantial amounts to the national GDP since they make their foreign exchange remittances using formal channels.

As a caveat, it is Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe only, where issues of national security seem to have little significance since we do not care where eventually the hard-earned US dollar, pound sterling or rand will end up.

Socially and culturally, there are attempts to decolonise the minds, but to what effect? But for how long will we continue to search for a Zimbabwean or African identity, especially at a time when capitalism seems to be rearing its ugly head through the much-touted globalisation mantra? Africa has been independent for more than five decades now. Transforming ourselves to suit international norms is not a problem, but we cannot be a people that always look up to others to define our identity and destiny.

Our social and cultural norms are littered with Western templates. Our clothing industry has been reduced to nought. The beauty care and fashion business for black women the world over, for example, is pouring in billions of dollars of foreign currency into foreign industries, while basics such as food, health care, housing, water and sanitation are neglected beyond any measure of understanding. So is the entertainment industry.

The domino effect of the “been-to” syndrome is so overwhelming that it has not escaped the elderly generation. So often, you hear cross-border shoppers always wanting to compare Zimbabwe with neighbouring South Africa, economically in particular. True, South Africa has an advanced infrastructure compared to most African countries, and it is the leading economy on the continent, but who owns and controls that economy?

The Diaspora effect also opened windows of opportunity of travel for most elderly parents of people living in the Diaspora. It is a very commendable thing that the elderly are getting to travel and be exposed to other cultures and viewpoints.

However, the colonial mentality seems to be a curse that will live with us for a very long time to come. As a people based on an oral culture, we like to talk. The street corner Press has always been our major source of information. Writing and reading are alien to us. If this is the case, what do these children in the Diaspora tell their elderly parents about their “new homes” vis-à-vis Zimbabwe, for one would expect them to return from these visits wiser and better teachers of our young generation?

This reminds me of Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The African psyche needs emancipation and redemption. For, although globalisation is being force-fed on most developing nations, there are marks of our identity that should never be traded for anything.

Some of it was over the top, such as the insinuation that Zimbabweans ignore formal channels of sending money home out of a lack of patriotism. He rather conveniently ignores the little matter of Zimbabwean formal channel exchange rates that are a fraction of the street rate! No one who battles for their dollar in the diaspora is going to be willing to lose a cent by exchanging it at a far less than its real value, a universal selfishness imperative that is far stronger than more abstract ones like “patriotism,” regardless of how one defines this word in today’s bitterly politically fractured Zimbabwe.

I got a little uptight about “As a people based on an oral culture, we like to talk. The street corner Press has always been our major source of information. Writing and reading are alien to us.” Not because it isn’t true, but because Maimbodei seemed to almost celebrate how “writing and reading are alien to us.” As long as they remain so, we will be stuck even further behind the rest of the world than we are now as a people! Changing this should be an important part of the “reprogramming” he talks about, but I accept that this is not the theme of his article. I just get alarmed at any suggestion of comfortably wallowing in accepting factors, cultural or otherwise, that put Africans at such a competitive disadvantage in the world as it is structured today.

But this is nitpicking on my part, these are all points more appropriate for another time. The fact of the matter is that Maimbodei has done a good job of digging deep to analyse our collective psychological state of mind in regards to an important phenomenon of our reality today.

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The ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome*

Posted by CM on September 8, 2007

by Chido Makunike

One of the lingering effects of the great clash between the western world and Africa since the days of slavery and colonialism, has been how the formerly oppressed have interacted amongst themselves, and how they respond to their former oppressors. In one way or another, that has been the theme of several articles I have written recently.

One of the most fascinating manifestations of the strong, lingering feelings of the black world towards its hitherto mostly unfriendly relations with the white West, is what I refer to as the ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome. In it, one’s ‘revolutionary’ status is measured in terms of how strongly one expresses animosity to the white western world, and in terms of strong identification of one’s blackness with a state of victim hood.

If either of these clash with the reality of the life of the ‘revolutionary,’ well, it is hoped that it won’t be noticed. An African minister will express great pride and joy at the marriage of his child to a white westerner, but because of the political environment, he will feel the need to utter the most rabid, racist drivel against the race of his new in-law to prove his ‘revolutionary’ credentials. An African businesswoman will talk in the most crude but currently politically correct fashion, about her desire to violently “taste” white blood, hoping the public will forget that as the former wife of a white westerner, it becomes a little awkward and unconvincing for her to play the ‘blacker than thou’ card. A minister who for many years did rather well for himself while working for western donor organisations, now finds it politically and personally convenient to pose as the great gate keeper of his society against the dangers of interaction with western donors.

It is necessary to bend over backwards to distance oneself from his/her former benefactors to prove one’s new political credentials. Many people loved the hot anti-western rhetoric of Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma in Johannesburg recently. Yet both men almost entirely flaunt their power and prestige using symbols of the white West they never tire of telling us are diabolically evil in both intent and action.

But perhaps the most bizarre recent example of the ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome was of Anne Matonga, a white British woman recently arrived in this country, who is married to the new chief executive of public bus company Zupco. This couple had the good fortune of being granted a farm for free, and Mrs. Matonga, having quickly learned the rhetoric that will go down well with the natives, justified her windfall and the eviction of the white occupiers on the grounds that they were racist colonisers who had stolen “our” land. I must admit that it was the first time I had heard of a white person so brazenly using the ‘blacker than thou’ ethos to such cynical advantage, and getting away with it too, because absurd as it sounds from so many angles, it fits the times!

There are two central issues in my arguments about the task facing blacks in their efforts to overcome the long legacy of subjugation at the hands of the West. One, that economic strength is key to blacks having the power to match their numbers, and two, that the regaining of lost dignity and pride can only be done through black effort. The various ways that are found to flex rhetorical muscle at conferences, summits and other fora may be very effective for temporarily letting off steam, but they mean absolutely nothing if Africa, and blacks in general, remain as economically weak as they are.

I therefore find little benefit in the rantings of old school African leaders like Mugabe and Nujoma while their economies become steadily weaker. Rant and rave all you want, bask in the glow of the applause as long as you like, but if your rhetoric is not backed up by economic power, it means nothing. This is why we experience the embarrassment of African leaders breathing anti-western fire one day, only to sheepishly accept handouts from the targets of their fire the next day.

A writer calling himself ‘Joseph Neusu’ ripped into me for these sentiments a few days ago in the The Herald (1 October). The immediate cause of his ire was my column in The Standard’s edition of 15 September, but I’ve been making these kind of arguments for a long time and in doing so have probably left poor Joseph absolutely apoplectic with rage, if his article is anything to go by.

In The Standard article in question, I talked about the accolades many African American youths get from their peers when they behave in a way which shows defiance of ‘the man,’ even if that behaviour is harmful for them, and I drew a parallel between this and the rhetoric of some of our aging former revolutionaries in Africa today. I made the point that because of the deep seated resentments among the formerly oppressed, these shows of defiance could sometimes mask the more meaningful means of regaining one’s dignity.

The point I was making, of course, was that after 22 years of being at the helm of a country, ostensibly to move it forward from its colonial legacy, Robert Mugabe’s rhetorical posturing while his countrymen’s standard of living continues its steep decline neither fools nor impresses me. It is time to refuse to be hoodwinked and blackmailed into silence by the possibility of being called ‘Uncle Tom’ and all the other choice names the failed African rhetoreticians regularly hurl.

Says ‘Neusu’ of me: “…outrageously contemptuous of the black race…feels trapped by his non-white skin….exhibits ethnic self-hatred” and the coupe de grace, “his desire is to see the world purged of all forms of blackness and the colour of Africans.”

Ouch, ‘Neusu’, I had no idea I was that messed up!

He accuses me of putting the blame solely on African Americans for some of the destructive behaviour that still plagues many poor urban neighbourhoods in the US. He was so blinded with indignation at my sentiments that he missed the point of my article-that it actually transcended the whole concept of ‘who is to blame.’ It went beyond the mere issue of blame, to state that whatever the source of the problem of the American black underclass, or of an Africa that is getting poorer under the Mugabes, no amount of time and energy spent on telling the white westerners how sore we are at them, regardless of how pleased we are with ourselves for having done so, will make one bit of difference to our fortunes.

The “perpetual bouts” of self-pity that he alleges I suffer from, for not being impressed with leaders who can’t run their countries in such a way as to make available to their people such basics as bread, mealie meal, sugar and petrol, is exactly what disgusts me so much about the likes of Mugabe. Always whining about the past, while failing to correct it to the benefit of people they are supposed to serve; never owning up to one’s own shortcomings but finding scapegoats for failures, and when challenged, simply bringing out the old “we are the original liberators” jargon, which is yet another manifestation of the ‘blacker, more African than thou’ attempt to silence criticism.

No, Joseph Neusu, there is no “dignity, humanity and manhood” in talking strongly about the evil coloniser-neocolonialst-imperialist white man and then having to go back to him three days later for handouts to stave off mass starvation. The best way Africans can stand up for themselves is by moving out of the kind of social and economic indignity that we have been reduced to by failed rhetoreticians like the fierce and tough Mr. Mugabe.

If ‘Neusu’ was moved to vent such steam in response to that particular article, I shudder to think what he must have thought of the following week’s one in The Standard, in which I continued with my misguided efforts to examine the present pitiful state of Africa, and look inwards and forwards for solutions, rather than outward and backward, as many of our loser politicians urge us to do.

Looking forward to your next response in the The Herald, Joseph! I grudgingly admit that you throw some good insults, I wonder who your coach is.

Finally, I thank my fellow scribes and comrades at the The Herald for not only allowing ‘Joseph’ to vent his spleen, but in the process, helping to spread my message about the failures of the Mugabe regime further and wider, including to those parts of Zimbabwe where The Standard may be banned. Thanks for your support!

*first published in The Zimbabwe Standard, October 2002

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The psychology of blacks’ support of Mugabe

Posted by CM on September 8, 2007

I am using this site to feature perspectives about Zimbabwe that I think are interesting and important, but that for one reason or another one are unlikely to find featured on most Zimbabwe-dedicated sites. This consists of articles I run across from across the world, some of which I will comment on, and others that I will feature without comment.

In addition to new articles I will sometimes write, I am also going to use this site as a repository for old articles of mine previously published elsewhere. This is not merely about my ego, although a part of recycling these articles is to begin the process of compiling them for myself, and for old and new readers who may still find them interesting and relevant.

Another reason for using this site as a repository for them is that some of those still-relevant or interesting articles (a great advantage of a blog is that one gets to decide for himself what qualifies as relevant and interesting!) are no longer available in the online archives of the publications that first featured them.



Zimbabwe Standard (Harare)
May 10, 2002

by Chido Makunike

JUST before the presidential election, and since then, we have seen and heard many non-resident Zimbabweans, and blacks from various parts of the world, being given space in the state print and broadcast media to go to town in defence of President Mugabe while trashing those who disagree with his policies and methods.

Whether they are hired guns or volunteers to the cause, I have been fascinated by blacks who vociferously defend Mugabe, without qualification, for his recently adopted anti-Western stance, while showing all the signs of personal enjoyment at what the West has to offer. What motivates these “revolutionaries” of afar?

We often hear from them ringing denunciations of the West for all sorts of things-slavery, colonialism, trade practises, racism, you name it-they spout it. What then keeps so many of these long distance “revolutionaries” not only far from the scene of action, Africa, but cocooned in the West, a place they attack so strongly?

I often chuckle to myself when I read how such and such an eminent analyst, journalist or “revolutionary” based in Europe or elsewhere in the West has blasted his adopted home and come out in support of “comrade” Mugabe for his “defiance” of the West.

Why don’t more of them have the courage of their convictions and come back to Africa to put their expressed beliefs about the ‘revolution’ into action? Why are they so fervent in their verbal support of the Mugabes of Africa in their fight against what they say is attempted recolonisation by the West, while enjoying the comforts of that same West? Does this not compromise the effectiveness of their defence of the excesses of Mugabe and others?

There are very few blacks anywhere who do not feel some kind of emotional pull towards restoring the dignity of blacks elsewhere. The history of the often unfriendly interactions between Westerners and non-Westerners, blacks in particular, is well documented. So to the extent that Mugabe’s words and actions are designed to remedy the inequalities resulting from colonialism and its after-effects, all blacks will support them.

But how is it that some blacks who chaff under the often hostile and racist conditions of the West, find it so easy to excuse all sorts of brutalities against the very intended beneficiaries of the ‘revolution’ back home?

I believe that the psychological state of siege that being black in the West often entails provides part of the answer.

No matter how educated, wealthy or prominent a black person in the West becomes, in most Western countries they are still very much ‘the other,’ with all the associated humiliations. Yet the West also offers the kind of freedom and material comforts to even the rank and file of its inhabitants, including the ‘second class’ immigrants, that would be unthinkable back home.

So on the one hand, the black person in the West suffers the daily psychological wounds of not being fully respected there, but continues to be lured into continuing to stay there by the many inducements and advantages of Western life. Generally speaking, the West can be a very cold, hostile place for a black person, particularly an African, but one that is also very seductive materially and for the freedoms it offers.

Whether the seductions of life there make up for the humiliations is a question many feel they can not afford to spend time pondering, and the answer differs from person to person.

One way to compensate for this contradiction is to adopt a more radical attitude than all those around on all issues involving differences between Africa and the West. So you find Africans and other blacks firmly ensconced in life in the West physically, or steeped in Western traditions back in Africa, but verbally expressing a hatred of the West and all it stands for!

So an African comfortably based in London, and enjoying the freedom to bitterly attack virtually everything about his host adopted country, will defend the anti-Western posturing of Mugabe partly because it gives him a carthatic release from many of his resentments about his treatment in the West. If that defence of Mugabe means having to support him even when back home, he limits the freedoms the pro-Mugabe defender so cherishes in the West, well, so be it. But while you may have the freedom to scream your head off about the frustrations of being black, African and foreign in the West, you do not have much power to change conditions there.

A person like Mugabe with his anti-white rhetoric of recent years, and the generally torrid time he has been giving whites, gives a black person in the Diaspora the vicarious satisfaction of knowing ‘blacks are on top,’ in a way they cannot be as a group in the West. Black empowerment in the West ultimately depends on the acquiescence of the white majority. Even if those whites tried to put themselves in the shoes of a non-white person, it is unlikely that they would sufficiently understand the reasons for, and the depths of blacks’ multi-faceted grievances.

In Mugabe, blacks resident in the West see a black man who is aggressively pushing the black cause without asking for the the blessing of whites, a necessary condition for any change in the situation of blacks in the West with their minority status there.

So even the fact that Mugabe’s version of aggressive, spite-the- whites black empowerment actually hurts and disadvantages many of those same blacks can be ignored. They are seen as mere ‘collateral damage’ in the process of the revolution. If some people have to starve, be beaten up, raped or killed in the wonderful cause of telling off the West, well, oops, sorry, ‘you gotta break some eggs to make an omelette.’

Except it is so much easier to defend the breaking of those human eggs while enjoying the comforts of London or New York, far away from the line of fire, and from the hardships that will accrue to those least able to fend for themselves in the upheavals that ensue. Despite their anti West spoutings, Mugabe and his aides show a rather enthusiastic appetite for things Western, while hurling insults at that West and those of their citizens who would like to afford those same things.

As long as the West, and by extension local whites, have been shown ‘who is boss in Zimbabwe’ a way that it is impossible to contemplate in a group sense in any Western country, then according to the thinking spawned by this psychology, Mugabe can do no wrong.

Any blacks who support the general cause of empowerment and correction of historical wrongs, but disagree with methods that seem to result in the continued suffering of the intended beneficiaries, can be dismissed as being short-sighted, squeamish or lackeys of the West, even by our intrepid revolutionaries whose very lives would suggest rather deep involvement with the West!

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