“I’m a man of my times.” – Frantz Fanon
For years I have “stressed” about our dear country and continent. We have seen the damage that our leaders have wrought on our people and nations and the sense of hopelessness that has come with that. Despite the occasional despair that ends with one throwing one’s hands in the air, I am, nevertheless, the sort of person that also asks what we have done to try and stop this culture of impunity. For while it is true that the despots who have been true to their character in wrecking our countries and people’s lives have just been themselves, it is equally correct to say that we have not been as true to our characters by standing up to speak against their excesses. In the process, we have confirmed Martin Luther King’s claim that “for evil to triumph, all it takes is for good people to do nothing.” This is the first of many letters to come.
For, as Fanon says, I too am a man of my times. With specific reference to Zimbabwe even though this could apply literally anywhere in Africa, I have seen families torn apart by forced self-exile from the countries of their birth, grandparents unable to celebrate grandchildren’s birthdays because families are living on three separate continents. From being deprived of simple every day joys like this to the real horror of violence, rape, destruction of homes and chronic poverty, our people have been subjected to conditions that should have ended with World War 1.
The African people must act, take power back from the big men and big parties that ride roughshod over our lives instead of providing a values-driven transformative leadership to our people for the benefit of our people.
I do not accept that we can just continue to “live our lives” while our continent continues to be a case study in unfulfilled potential. It is no longer good enough to stand on the side lines pointing fingers and muttering in to our choice of drink.
This letter is, therefore, addressed to people who I believe will pass it on to others or reflect on its contents themselves as a possible call to action. My thoughts below are just that, my thoughts and together with yours, should you choose to join us in conversation, we can start a journey that will hopefully lead to action on the ground in our beloved country, Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent, for the benefit of all. We owe it to ourselves and to the generations that will come after us long after we have left this earth. Our job is legacy.
14 March, 2016.
During my days in human resources, there was a new wave of human capital development solutions that probably replaced the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at the top of management trends. It was called Emotional Intelligence and one of its leading proponents, Danel Goleman offered a definition of leadership as, “not domination, but persuading people to work towards a common goal.”
The years of the liberation struggle from the first uprising in 1896 to the second Chimurenga were marked by a sense of overwhelming commitment to the liberation of the country from the grip of an occupying settler force. The last few years of the fight for independence saw compelling slogans such as “the year of the people’s storm” and “the year of the people’s power.” If war was not such an ugly and tragic thing, one would say those were heady days as if one were speaking about a hippie movement. In 1980, the year of our independence, the sense of euphoria and optimism for this jewel of Africa was beyond the Richter scale and nothing, it would appear, could or would go wrong. After all, we had the most educated cabinet, man for man, in the world! The leadership in the years leading up to and immediately after independence was arguably very impressive.
Yet as we all know, barely three years in to the newly independent country mass murder of the civilian population, at the hands of government forces, was taking place in the infamous Ghukurahundi campaign that lasted until 1985. The country continued to be soaked in the blood of the innocent, one evil regime replaced by a brutal one, black leaders in settler skins.
But this did not stem our naiveté with many commentators and much of the population going as far as saying if the President had resigned in 1990, he would have left with his honour intact! This is a significant part of the tragedy of Zimbabwe; when one section of the population could not be bothered by what happens to another. For the avoidance of doubt, the majority population was not shocked by Ghukurahundi. Thereafter, when four white farmers were killed as a prelude to the chaotic farm invasions, it was not really an issue for the majority to worry about. Operation Murambatsvina saw close to 700 000 people evicted from their homes in a “red” 2005 and still we shrugged and said “shame,” and moved on. Even after factory invasions targeting business executives started, the Zimbabwean people still saw events from afar and it was only until the government turned against “everyone” who they considered an enemy (rather than classify them by tribe, race or social class) did the people finally realise they were dealing with a monstrous regime. It is an indictment on the people and the idea of shared values.
I do not know about you but this is clearly, not the Zimbabwe I sought! Judging by the fact that nearly half the country’s population has emigrated, some to live in very difficult conditions away from home, is proof that push factors have helped to determine the fate of many a Zimbabwean citizen. The obvious question then, is what is the Zimbabwe that we seek?
The answer is fairly obvious: individual health, wealth and a respectable prosperous nation, not a pariah state and certainly not one that displays the desperate and embarrassing picture we have seen from 2000 to date.
Sense of legacy
“A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.”
The only reason a person should get in a position of leadership in any facet of life, should be because they are driven by a sense of legacy. One should want to say during their tenure in office, they inherited a state of affairs “x” and left a positive and sustainable legacy “y” based on prior long held plans and vision. Otherwise, what is the point?
There is good reason to look at the history of leaders who have made an impact on the countries that they have served, for good or bad. The founding fathers of the United States of America jostled for political power amongst themselves but it was more about who was best suited to leave their imprint on American society than a mere desire to occupy the white house. It was a battle of ideas.
I dream of a strong Zimbabwe, strong enough to provide the wealth and job creation opportunities that would allow every single family to provide themselves with the minimum requirements of food, clothing and permanent shelter and for the entrepreneurial among our people to prosper even further.
African unity is a definite goal. I believe that the United States of Africa is an illusion beyond reach but, at the same time, think that it is definitely possible to have 5 to 6 blocs of powerful stable African countries that trade with each other and the world. I believe that, for instance, Zimbabwe could easily form a union with Zambia, Malawi, the DRC and Congo Brazzaville to, combined in to a new country, leverage its resources for the common good of its citizens. I believe this should be the aim of anyone who aspires to lead any of these countries; to work for this formal union for the reason stated above but also to encourage the other 4 or 5 blocs to do the same. I do not think African countries will compete successfully in the world without making these blocs possible.
For this to happen, the countries cited in my example, but also those that would make up other blocs would need to start working, almost on project level, country by country, towards such a goal. Discussions with serious intent must start on aligning currencies, laws and common values. Crucially, fiscal discipline in line with social democratic values must be pursued. The sustainable use of natural resources for the uplifting of the masses, the creation of a sustainable middle class and swelling of state coffers from tax revenue can only make for a successful society. This means a leader today only works to strengthen their particular country, but in preparation for passing on the baton to those who would eventually form the union. Many African Singapores will make for 5 or 6 powerful African states, independent, trading with each other, the globe and, just as important, having a more powerful voice in the international community through the United Nations and other bodies such as the World Trade Organisation.
To go back to my example, top of the list would be to stop the state of permanent conflict in the Eastern DRC and harness the resources there for the national good in a modern and sustainable manner, for Africa has been her own worst enemy in this region. The same would apply to the construction of the Inga Dam for a permanent energy supply while the mining sector in Zambia and Zimbabwe would have to be given a renewed lease of life. I believe that that the fisheries industry in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia is under resourced and underutilised. There is great potential in that industry both for food security, wealth creation, sustainable employment and revenue generation for the state. Manufacturing capability is enhanced when one is assured of power supply, uninterrupted and in abundance. While Zimbabwean agriculture has taken something of a nose dive, all is not lost. The combined strength of Zimbabwean and Malawian tobacco will give the country a bigger say in negotiating export prices. Intelligent policies for food production will lead to security of tenure for farming communities, protection of strategic African land and sustainable food security. We owe it to ourselves to become the bread basket of Africa and a major supplier or organic agricultural product to the rest of the globe.
The biggest threat to African countries other than youth unemployment is climate change. Water resilience and the right policies that would underpin it would be strengthened by a country that has a “regional” perspective over a larger surface area than the smaller current national one.
As for human resources, our ability to “liberate” women from patriarchy will be the foundation that births an educated and thinking society. What is so difficult about enacting equal pay for equal work for women? Beyond that, what is difficult about enacting and enforcing legislation that makes education of girls compulsory and the marriage of girls before the legal of consent illegal? For reasons that I do not fully understand, politicians have lacked the political will to pass sweeping legislation that would help to make a major leap for the continued liberation of women in one move. Behaviour follows the law and so the laws must be crafted today for fully liberated women to emerge tomorrow.
What it means to be a social democrat
My sense of legacy is driven by a few ideals, among them the core values of a social democrat but first, and above all, is a desire to see the African restore his full sense of pride and dignity on the global stage, neither second nor superior to anyone. An African who simply exercises his natural unambiguous and unapologetic right to the pursuit of a meaningful life on earth and in space is the end product of the leadership that I seek. The African must become! After the lingering trauma of slavery, the callous partition of Africa, colonialism and unfair global trade, the African must rise anew, take his place at the top table of political decision making, economic trade and social status. Only the African can achieve this for himself and he can only do so by enhancing his ability to compete, to produce knowledge, harness it, sell it and retain some of it for competitive advantage. This is the task we set ourselves for generations to come. It has to start now, not tomorrow.
This culture must run simultaneously with the core values of social democratic parties which I will now discuss.
The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it.
(Locke 1977: 213f; Two Treatises of Government, Part I, Chapter 4)
In addition, we have the freedom that Fanon and others like him yearned for: “To make myself known.” Every citizen shall have the right to make themselves known to the authorities, in any situation, to voice their opinion, fearlessly agreeing or disagreeing, on the status quo or decision made for the future that has a bearing on the country and its people’s fortunes. Fear must be banished in African societies from the village right up to the state. Our people must find full expression. Beyond freedom from fear should come the freedom for full expression from business to the arts in every single sector of society. The scientist should have the freedom to explore, the manufacturer the freedom to extend himself, the teacher the freedom to engage his students in any subject, the nurse to challenge the Doctor and every single citizen the freedom to fulfil their potential all within the limits of the law.
The African citizen has been robbed of justice for far too long. From the seemingly unending era of slavery, the devastating partition of Africa and colonialism right through, in too many instances, to the numbing disappointment and tragedy of dictatorship at the hands of African liberators turned tyrant, justice has eluded the African.
For me this justice is firstly and simply, equality before the law and recourse to arbitration before a competent authority in times of dispute. The “welfare of the people will be the supreme law” and the rule of law must be a way of life in a new Zimbabwe. Secondly, the notion of justice must be extended to include a fair deal in society. African society in the new dispensation must offer a fair deal to all. To those who are entrepreneurial the appropriate inevitable reward must follow because the state has provided the enabling environment. For those who are less able or have a different inclination, society must nevertheless provide the possibility of an excellent shot at having the basics of food, clothing and shelter. The state must collect sufficient revenues in the form of taxes to enable it to consciously and deliberately provide for those in society that are genuinely in a state of difficulty and, of course, to provide the resources that allow those that are able to, to have good health, education, shelter and, in the process, flourish.
African society has always been community oriented. The individual has always understood that community is placed before self. While making ample space for individual pursuit, our society will not create the cold, indifferent citizen who harms society in pursuit of his dreams. At the same time, our society will support and celebrate individual human endeavour doing all it can to help him achieve his goals for his sake and for the pride of society in saying, “he is one of ours and we are proud of him”. While solidarity is practised in the present in the form of medical insurance and provision of social services for instance, it is also imperative that citizens understand their solidarity with future generation: “our ability to make money today, without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same” is also solidarity. It is looking after the environment, ensuring water resilience and a better deal for generations to come. It is an obligation, not a matter of choice.
Zimbabwe and Africa’s biggest enemy is the unacceptably high numbers of people living in extreme and chronic poverty. In his book From Poverty To Power, Duncan Green states that, “poverty is about much more than a low income, something that becomes particularly clear when people living in poverty are asked to define it for themselves. It is a sense of powerlessness, frustration, exhaustion, and exclusion from decision-making, not to mention the relative lack of access to public services, the financial system, and just about any other source of official support. Poverty has a deep existential impact- being denied the opportunity to flourish, whether for yourself or for your children, cuts very deep indeed.”
We simply have to deal with poverty!
While a student in France in 1990, I visited the “village” where my lecturer originally came from. The roads were paved, they had a high school and primary school, a pharmacy, clinic, the compulsory church square, a village hall and the peasants had tractors and all kinds of mechanised equipment on their plots of land! In later years, driving through provincial Europe, I have seen the same type of village after village.
When I drive through African cities and rural areas, villages do not look like this at all! Our commitment to fighting poverty must be in the sense that a village in Africa be not only the place where one’s ancestors are buried but also a place where one can choose to live if one wishes to with its own amenities but, in addition, and why not, its own peculiar product such as a specialty goat cheese! These must be the heights to which we dream. There is no reason why the Zimbabwean peasant cannot live like the French peasant with his glass of wine and cheese platter at the end of a long day in the fields. Whatever material our people choose to use to build their homes, there is no reason why they should be fetching water from the river or sitting in darkness after sunset. If they light a fire, let it be for the pleasure of a log wood fire in winter than because the wind whistles in to their dwellings. And should they go down to the river, let it be for the pleasure of an evening stroll or a warm afternoon day’s swim than to fetch drinking water. Let each man, woman and child live with dignity whether their house is in the bustling city or the tranquil village. Let rural begin to symbolise a slower, idyllic pace than an endurance race for survival. Our people need not endure anything anymore unless it is a natural calamity and even so, know that they and their government have prepared for the vagaries of nature because they are led by a responsible government that places the people’s interests and long term future of the nation first. In the city, while it is true that housing for all is a major challenge, there is no reason, however, why sprawling slums should be the norm and not the exception.
The Zimbabwe I seek will actively pursue activities that create opportunity for citizens to pursue and exploit opportunity with dignity. Every single civil servant will be trained to deliver for the citizen while the private sector will be afforded every avenue to pursue sustainable business practice that creates wealth and jobs for the country.
A new civil service
My country is like
an empty but attractive
plastic packet marked in bold blue letters
fresh creamy milk
being blown by the wind
along the road
that leads to a rubbish dump
by the cemetery«
Our country needs a new civil servant; one who loves his job, people and country. He is the one who ends up being a member of a team that constitutes the finest civil service in the world. A bureaucrat par excellence, he is nevertheless mindful of the fact that he deals with human beings. Obsessed with standards, he is in love with rules and regulations, bylaws and legislation and passionate about providing solutions to the human beings in front of him. He is conscientious about record keeping and effective service delivery. He abhors corruption and reports it to the relevant authorities when it is thrust in his face. The day of the uncaring, unresponsive civil servant weighed down by criminally low wages, a negative and superior attitude towards his fellow citizens must come to an end.
The civil servant must be obsessed with ensuring that fellow citizens have birth certificates and other necessary documentation without which life is miserable for Africans. The civil servant must obsess about clinics not only being available but correctly stocked with the appropriate medicines. Water and sanitation must be taken for granted in terms of availability and the masses must be imbued with a culture of water resilience not because water is in short supply in a particular area but because even in a time of abundance they appreciate that it can be a finite resource. Duncan Green quotes the Indian economist Amartya Sen who writes, “individuals need capabilities-rights and the ability to exercise them.” Governments, and the civil servants that make them function, must be singularly focussed on this mission; to give individuals the capability and environment to thrive. This means our leadership must give the people the means to believe in themselves and not the idea and culture that their wellbeing depends on the largesse and good will of politicians. This thinking and practice must end. This means a government that consciously crafts and implements workable policies is the best ally for the people instead of one that gives food handouts at election time. It is also a government that will demand that its civil servants toe the line in service delivery without compromise.
I remember a time when our police force was considered second only to Scotland Yard, when our peace keeping forces were highly sought after and when our teachers, nurses and doctors represented the finest in their class on the continent and could hold their own on the global stage. I remember excellent sportsmen and women at the highest level of sport because we provided the facilities for them to soar.
How does a whole country fail to collect $15 billion worth of revenue from a single economic activity? How does a shareholder who attends quarterly board meetings for 7 years not know the companies he has invested in is haemorrhaging? How does a government glibly announce this state of affairs and heads do not roll as a consequence? How does an entire population not express its rage after this incredible dereliction of duty on the part of the state?
A regime that rages about how everything under the soil belongs to us “fails” to collect revenue from tightly controlled diamond mining, due to the state, that would have righted the sinking ship and life goes on is the most shocking economic event of Zimbabwe. It is not even an event because the collection did not take place! Has the state been captured by a predatory elite? Who are they? Who will hold them to account?
Why have concerned Zimbabweans, on the street and in cabinet, not publicly raged against this appalling leadership failure?
“Nation above government, truth above power!”
Generally speaking, political parties across the African continent have suffered from the lack of open and honest communication with the result that many African countries have fallen prey to the whims of the leader in power. When the whims of said leader have been damaging to the fortunes of the country, the rest of the leadership has been mute to the point of criminal negligence. We have watched Zimbabwe decay and risen to applaud nonsensical speeches from the deck of a sinking ship while our children leapt to their death in to choppy foreign waters. This is unacceptable and a new generation of leaders needs to emerge.
Heroes not personality cults!
We have seen throughout Africa’s post-independence history how the cult of personality has taken precedence over the state. Our people have been conditioned to fawn over political principals rather than correctly celebrate them when this is due or hold them to account when necessary. For Africa to thrive psychologically, she needs economic successes but also heroes that she can look up to. There are heroes of a bygone era like Cabral and Tongogara from the wars of liberation who will never be forgotten but Africa also needs post-independence heroes who will build modern Africa.
Our heroes will include peers and ordinary civilians who question their leaders on governance whether the topic is inadequacies in revenue collection or deficiencies in the rule of law by the government in power.
For this to happen, the new leaders will have to banish fear. The new leadership will actively work to encourage a new culture of openness and accountability. Speaking truth to power will no longer be an act of courage but a normal occurrence as when necessary. It will not attract gasps in response, punishment or exile. Every new leader must aspire to create this climate of open and honest communication where ideas and opinions can flow without hindrance.
In the Zimbabwe we seek leaders who will build their names through the legacies they leave behind not simply because they happen to be in political office. We want to see a culture that challenges the leadership from village to city and from ward committee to national conference so that the best ideas and solutions come to the fore. The same culture will readily acknowledge the accomplishments of the leader who succeeds.
In the leadership that we seek, internal debate, even when in disagreement with the leader or leadership of the political party, will be encouraged. Group think for any organisation is dangerous and when peers cannot engage a leader on decisions made, you have the beginnings of the slippery slope to a dictatorship but also the possibility of decisions that are not in the best interests of the country being made with negative consequences. Secondly, the culture of ascribing political power or inordinate respect to a spouse who is not politically engaged will be discouraged and a spouse of a politician who themselves are not in politics, will be just that, a spouse.
These core values are non-negotiable. Our greatest weakness has been our inability to assert out humanity, to defend the best of what we had, to improve on the standards we inherited at independence and to speak out when those standards were threatened by flawed thinking, impaired judgement and implementation of vengeful policy. We must be true to our core values in the face of danger to our society and we must never give way to fear because that in the end begets despair.
What about despair?
“There is fire on the mountain
And nobody seems to be on the run
There is fire on the mountain top
And no one is a running.”
It is debilitating. It is negative energy and we must rouse ourselves from our slumber. It is also understandable that the people, after being robbed of election victory after election victory, followed by a false dawn with the government of national unity and the antics of the opposition while in ephemeral power, would give up all hope and interest in the affairs of the country. We cannot afford this stupor.
The war for independence started in the late 1800s, stuttered, stalled, continued in the 1960s, was vicious and yet the people persevered until we could attain our political independence. We must show the same courage of our convictions to commit to correcting the trajectory that our country has taken. The only way is to get politically involved: to canvass, to register, to campaign, to vote, guard the vote and eventually triumph. It is not the time to be watching from afar as many did in the last couple of elections. Spectator politics will not do for Zimbabwe. Everyone has to be engaged throughout the process.
Nobody owes Zimbabweans anything except Zimbabweans themselves. No one owes Africa either, except Africans consciously and deliberately working on shaping Africa in the image we seek; even in the pursuit of reparations.
The excuse that one has had enough and is no longer interested, while understandable, is simply not good enough. If we do not rescue our country, others will do it for us and cart it away. Zimbabwe is a young nation and if these avoidable travails are what we needed to go through, so be it. We need your steely determination to come to the fore because it is not about you. It is about the country and future generations. It is bigger than you and I. It is our obligation of timeless necessity.
Regardless of the state of affairs of any country, its citizens are duty bound to work for its greater glory through their individual achievements and through national goals where this applies. This is why we have a flag and an anthem. Whether it is in the movie awards, the Olympics or the brand of our manufactured product every nation likes to march behind a flag, claim the successes of their individual performers or national teams and stand up tall on the international stage. If the French have their wine, we must have our tobacco, if the Americans have their basketball players, we must have our golfers, if South Korea has its white goods, we must at the cutting edge of patented medicine. Whatever the case, we must be known for what we produce and its globally competitive qualities rather than the name of our dictators. We have the ability to ensure that Zimbabwe will be henceforth associated with what is brilliant and sought after than be referred to as a pariah state.
The long term solution
There is one thing, more than any other, which I believe will help African countries become major players on the global stage. That one thing is the transformation of African societies from consumerism to production. Africa must harness her traditional knowledge in herbal medicines, patent it, slap a label on it and become the cutting edge of medicine. Enough has been said about beneficiation, all that remains for African leaders to do is to invest capital in manufacturing rather than arms of war. Is there any reason why African countries should be consumers, and not producers, of the kind of technology that gives us mobile phones, laptops, television sets and other modern creature comforts? African leaders must provide the charisma and enabling environment that will allow our people to gain the impetus to want to produce rather than consume. It is something that can be done consciously and deliberately. As I write this, India is running a savvy “Make In India” campaign on international media channels. They will make mistakes, there will be policy changes to be made and India’s infamous bureaucracy will be tested, criticised and amended but in a few decades India will be a bigger powerhouse than she is today simply because their politicians have the vision and political will to pursue the “Make In India” dream. In much the same way that we touted “the year of the people’s storm” in the final year of the armed struggle, we must find new compelling arguments to place before the Zimbabwean people for a fresh start and impetus to reclaiming a place of honour among the nations of the world. We dare not fail.
All this requires that we begin to see politics as an honourable career in which one is proud to serve the nation in whatever capacity. We will be remiss if we “leave” politics to the “politicians” as though both words were epithets fit for people of dishonourable intentions. It is time to reverse that pointing finger and raise it to the sky for all to see, that we are ready to serve our people, build a new nation and lay a solid foundation upon which others can forge a new identity and build a new Africa. The new nation(s) will have responsible leaders who are accountable to the people and, in cases where they decline to do so, who will be held accountable by an activist population supporting strong institutions designed to ensure the checks and balances to power in a new society. I believe that when we invest in these intangibles, we will begin to see positive tangible results in our societies. We can and are going to be the authors of our own renaissance.
The words of Albert Camus are relevant in closing, “we have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task is to find the few principles that will calm this infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks (we) take a long time to accomplish that’s all.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @AlbertGumbo
14 March, 2016