Candid Comment: If Zimbabwe Could Do It The American Way

“TONIGHT, more (people) are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.”

 

Does that sound familiar? You are wrong if you thought it was the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai addressing his supporters. It was America’s Barak Obama’s acceptance speech for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. I put “people” where he used “Americans” to give the statement a local flavour.

By Zimbabwean standards, Obama’s statement is hyperbolic. We are much worse off, not least because some of President Robert Mugabe’s policies have been as misguided as are President George Bush’s but on a more vulnerable economy.

“The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built, and we are here to restore that legacy,” noted Obama later in his speech.

That foreign policy which Obama condemns has found resonance in much of our civil society. It has set the standards on governance and human rights. It has been the benchmark of what democracy is about. American Democrats have rejected it, including what Obama calls “a misguided war” in Iraq. Where does that leave those Zimbabweans wedded to the Bush paradigm as the only way forward for Zimbabwe?

There is more which I find edifying in Obama’s speech. It is not the mudslinging. It is not the name-calling which we call campaigning. It is Americans’ primary sense of being American and a willingness to deal with their problems as Americans.

Many Americans are angry with the “misguided war” in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has cost money and thousands of innocent lives — American and foreign — since 2003. They are furious that billions of dollars are being wasted fighting unwinnable wars, when the money could have been used to improve health, education, help victims of Hurricane Katrina and research into alternative energy sources.

But they are American and do things the American way. Ask many diehards in the opposition and civic society what they want to happen to those they blame for the dire state of the economy, and the most illiterate fellow will glibly tell you about The Hague. Yet the big Western media which first told us about The Hague is mute when it comes to its failed leaders.

Thus, while Obama is critical of the Bush administration, of which his presidential Republican rival John McCain has been a member for 26 years, he is not full of the venomous rancour which often characterises Zimbabwean politics. He accuses McCain of belonging to the politics of the past while he represents the future, but American political culture does not dictate that those who have mismanaged the nation’s affairs should be persecuted or prosecuted. Listening to demands for retribution in our politics today, I can’t even imagine how the liberation war of the 1970s would have ended if the guerilla movements had threatened death to those who were serving in the Rhodesian army. Thirty years into Independence and there are dire threats against fellow Zimbabweans because their failed policies.

I can’t think of a nation in the region which has had this kind of politics. In Tanzania, despite his discredited Ujamaa, Julius Nyerere was left to die of natural causes. Kamuzu Hastings Banda in Malawi died of natural causes. Zambia still venerates its founding president, Kenneth Kaunda. Similarly, I can’t think of an ideology more despicable than apartheid rule in South Africa, yet those of its architects who lived to see majority rule have never been taken to The Hague.

Where are Zimbabwean politicians missing the point? Does the so-called change promise an administration of angels or fallible mortals who will also have to be taken to The Hague to answer for their failures?

To me, more credit is given for ideological differences between Zanu PF and the MDC than is due to them. Neither violence nor democracy is an ideology and none of the two parties has a monopoly on either — it is more of opportunity and access. Corruption and cronyism stink in Zanu PF as much as it is rank and foul in the MDC.

The singular cause most responsible for the parlous state of our economy was an unplanned and mismanaged land reform programme, which also materially affected the interests of foreigners with significant investments in Zimbabwe. If this dispute were to be resolved by Zimbabweans the American way, Tsvangirai should be the happiest person that Mugabe has done the dirty work for him –– at a huge short-term discredit to his legacy. No property ownership revolution of this magnitude was ever executed with so few casualties in history, not even the American or French revolutions. Tsvangirai’s focus would be on productivity given all the resources already invested in farm mechanisation.

The more I read the foreign media’s negative focus on that process and their current efforts to freeze history on the more peaceful but inconclusive March 29 election result as the only valid benchmark for any negotiated political settlement in Zimbabwe regardless of the law, the more I am convinced that the whole post-colonial African history as reflected in Western media is humbug.

I should be happy if someone could provide me with a convincing doctrine which shows that Zimbabweans’ ownership of their land and minerals is incompatible with democracy. How come Obama can threaten higher corporate taxes and tougher measures against speculative behaviour in the American economy without being told about investor flight? What is needed now is for the land audits proposed by the MDC to give finality to the ownership process and ensure only those who are capable and committed receive state assistance.

But we seem to be losing focus as a nation.

I quote Obama once again. “What has … been lost is our sense of common purpose — our sense of higher purpose,” he said. It is a serious indictment of ourpolitical leadership that in its preoccupation with politics of petty revenge and power, they have diverted people’s attention from the “common purpose” of nation-building and the “higher purpose” of “individual and mutual responsibility” to each other as Zimbabweans.

By Joram Nyathi

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