By Alex Magaisa
OFT-TIMES when I observe the behaviour and actions of Zimbabwe and its leadership on the world stage, my memory races to years gone by; years ago, when a
s kids during school holidays we used to spend much of our time in the fields looking after cattle and other domestic animals. This chore might seem mundane to some readers and wonder what it’s got to do with Zimbabwe and its leadership.
You see, during those days, once every fortnight, the boys and their herds would gather at the local dip-tank. Each village herd had its own superior bull, one that was supposed to carry the spirit of the clan. Apart from the core veterinary purpose of the dip-tank gatherings, they were also occasions for the boys to show-off the superiority of their respective bulls. At those grand meetings, each bull would be keen to demonstrate its superiority and guard its herd from rivals. So bull fights were very common and constituted prime entertainment value for the boys. But within the herds there were also junior bulls — the little ones that were in the process of discovering their masculinity, keen on experimenting and therefore quite eager to prove their status.
The scene was characterised by all kinds of bovine sounds and noises, the bulls bellowing to announce their presence and prove their pedigree among other bulls. Even the smallest of the bulls would not want to be outdone. The behaviour of these junior bulls was most fascinating — they were less experienced, were full of energy and were always keen to start a fight. They were very sensitive and inclined to defend their territory especially when rivals tended to encroach but sometimes when there was not enough action, they tended to initiate provocation by invading the territory of rivals. The were always spoiling for a fight, always eager to prove that they were also bulls, even when it was clear that they had nothing to gain and the most to lose. They often did this in the comfort of the protection offered by the superior bulls in the herd to whom they would run for cover when defeat seemed imminent.
Sometimes the behaviour of Zimbabwe on the world stage reminds me of the antics of the young bulls — too sensitive, too eager with a penchant for starting unnecessary and hopeless fights, often inclined to punch above its weight, with very little if anything, to gain and the most to lose.
The countless statistics tell a sad story of the state of Zimbabwe. Like the young bulls, the leadership is keen to demonstrate its status on the world stage but there is not much to gain from its strategies.
It seems to me that one of the key home truths is to know our place and stop fighting unnecessary fights. There is now a monotonous message that Zimbabwe is fighting imperial powers that are bent on re-colonising it. What is so special about Zimbabwe that makes our leadership believe that we are the sole targets of imperial machinations?
No one disputes the fact that each country’s sovereignty must be safeguarded. But it is another question altogether whether or not Zimbabwe’s sovereignty is really at stake, except in the imagination of those few who seem to have adopted a siege mentality. There must be a point when one has to take stock and weigh the costs and benefits of perpetuating the fights with the Western countries including the US, the UK and the EU generally. Who are the winners and losers in these battles?
Clearly not Zimbabwe, for while Zimbabweans continue to suffer and their situation worsens by the day, the lives of Americans and Europeans appear not to be materially affected by Zimbabwe’s actions. Zimbabwe is behaving like the dog that barks at a moving train — it can bark all night long but the train will not stop. The world is moving while Zimbabwe barks from its corner.
There is the irony that while the Zimbabwean leadership continues to preach the gospel of protecting sovereignty, the declining economic capacity and independence of Zimbabweans is actually undermining the cause of sovereignty. Zimbabwe’s continuing and deepening dependence on foreign assistance makes a mockery of the whole concept of independence and self-determination.
Part of the problem is that in the imaginary world of the Zimbabwean leadership, there is an East vs West divide, in which having been angered by the West, the Zimbabwean reckons it has now played the golden card by aligning itself with the East — the East here representing countries as diverse as China, India, Iran, Malaysia, etc. Yet Zimbabwe, alongside similarly minded countries, is wallowing in its own folly because in the real world when it comes to Africa, the so-called East and the West are two sides of the same coin. In fact, given a choice between the wider and more liquid American market and the limited and impoverished Zimbabwean market, it is more likely that China would choose the former, because as a nation it has its own interests to protect. This is why China is happy enough to extract minerals from African countries while dumping its low-quality products in countries like Zimbabwe, while making and exporting the more durable high quality stuff for the West.
In fact, the West itself has made more in-roads into the China and India than Zimbabwe can ever hope to do at this stage or in the near future. China is coming to mine in Zimbabwe and other African countries not because it is doing them a favour but simply to satisfy its voracious appetite for resources which it is using to build its own economy.
Zimbabwe has learnt nothing from its past relationship with foreigners. My friend Tererai commented on one occasion when a mutual colleague, Tatenda, left one law firm to join another on account of being used and getting very little by way of income. Tererai said in typical Karanga accent: “Musana wogwadza, ikozvino wafunga kurohwa dumbu” implying that Tatenda had not made any substantive change, because with either employer he faced a similar fate, just applied in a different manner. Zimbabwe has been lashed on the backside by the West and is now gleefully lying on its back while the East prepares to lash it on the tummy. The challenge is to manage the relationship with global powers.
Further, it is necessary for the Zimbabwean leadership to understand that it cannot keep postponing the need to find solutions to the existing and continuing problems. An acknowledgement of the grave errors that have been made is necessary as part of finding solutions to the difficulties. What is happening on the economic front is no more than fire fighting and in some cases sloganeering and making bold but empty statements that have relation to the reality on the ground. The central problem lies in the political setup, which requires urgent reform both structurally and substantively.
Instead of taking responsibility for the problems, most of which are self-inflicted, there has been an overwhelming tendency to cast blame on others, especially Britain and natural calamities. The fact is that Britain and its Prime Minister, Tony Blair, are facing their own internal and external challenges and Zimbabwe is probably the least of their concerns right now. To think that Zimbabwe occupies a great position on the list of priorities for a country (Britain) facing challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan where real losses are being felt at home is clearly delusional.
A big problem is the idea held by the leadership that Zimbabwe is fighting a heroic war against imperialism and neo-colonial interests. There is a great deal of delusional thinking about the role of Zimbabwe as representing the voice of the oppressed in the world, without even questioning the price that ordinary Zimbabweans have to pay for this. It is common cause that the way the world affairs are being handled by the big powers is not the most desirable but does Zimbabwe have the capacity to fight this battle on its own? Part of the problem is that those at the forefront of this so-called resistance want everyone to believe that they are doing something that has never been done before. Yet the history of Africa is replete with examples of numerous attempts of the same strategies and policies, all of which have come to nought.
There was one in Guinea called Sekou Toure, who decades ago reportedly called himself “The Terror of International Terrorism, Colonialism & Neo-colonialism” and even the cannibalistic Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic proclaimed his own Look East policy, which he referred to as a “Move to the East” approach, which he reversed when it brought no rewards at which point he apparently converted to Islam in the hope that he would also benefit from Arab largesse. It did not work.
Across Africa since independence, countless authoritarians, including Ghana’s Nkrumah and Uganda’s Amin have during their time sloganeered about their fight against neo-colonialism. Some of these are lionised today, hailed as heroes in an historical account that glosses over their grave errors and cruelties. They too preached their messages loud and clear and stepped into the luxury of their presumed enemies from the West while their citizens’ conditions deteriorated. They nationalised industries and land, embarked on ill-conceived and ill-planned agricultural reforms while failing to rein in corruption. They kicked out foreigners including white Europeans and Asians as part of the scheme to attract the support of black Africans but did nothing to improve the conditions of the people.
So the reality is that what Zimbabwe is doing has been tried before, with almost always with disastrous consequences. To many seasoned observers of African politics, the Zimbabwean story is an all-too familiar one. You would forgive them for being pessimistic about the future of Zimbabwe because none of the countries that went through what Zimbabwe is experiencing right now has ever got back to its feet and is any better than it was at the time of independence.
It is essential that the Zimbabwean leadership look to the future and do a cost-benefit analysis in order to chart a more reasonable course. The question must be: what will Zimbabwe gain from its current stance and strategies? Or more aptly, what is Zimbabwe likely to lose in the next four years as a result of its current stance and policies? Countries like India have taken a huge share of the outsourcing market because they have managed to retain and attract talent in the key strategic industries that form part of the modern economy — software, finance, pharmaceuticals, etc.
They have a large share of the British and American companies’ call centres because they have developed a good digital telecommunications network and they have a large pool of English-speaking people and not least because they provide a cheaper service. These are the same qualities that barely ten years ago Zimbabwe could have had an advantage over its counterparts. Yet right now, Zimbabwean talent is playing crucial roles supporting the economies of our competitors such as South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, and even the supposed enemies in Britain and America.
Today, Zimbabwe has ceased to exist in the tourist brochures or reviews of tourist destinations in the major tourist markets in the West; Zimbabwe’s animals no longer feature in the wildlife documentaries on major television channels, even the Victoria Falls has become almost exclusively Zambian or in other cases is represented as a South African tourist attraction. The rich Chinese and Indians would rather go to London and New York than trek to Zimbabwe. The reality is that our major source of tourists has traditionally been from the Western countries. The World Cup is coming to South Africa in 2010 — Zimbabwe does not have to incur great expenditure, rather they should be feeding off the South African hosts. This is a bonus waiting to be harvested but at the current rate, Zimbabwe is unlikely to reap the benefits that its neighbours will.
Zimbabwe needs to concentrate on what it does best and do it well. Being the most vocal kid on the playground has not helped our cause. We have behaved too often like the young bull — too eager to fight, too sensitive and too keen to prove its masculinity, all to no end but its detriment.
* Dr Magaisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org