Candid Comment: We Are An Embarrassment To Africans

FIRST, the good news: it is celebration time in Harare. The bad: the rest of the country is not invited to the big party; which is to say it is more of the same — more suffering.

We must celebrate in Harare because the stalemate in the talks between Zanu PF and the MDC has achieved its key objective –– the removal of Thabo Mbeki from the equation. The deadlock had nothing to do with so-called “key” ministries or ministry. For if a foreign facilitator must ultimately assume the presidential or prime ministerial prerogative to appoint a cabinet, he might as well take over as president or prime minister.
Mbeki had to go because he refused to condemn Mugabe, or to cut electricity supplies to Zimbabwe. This is a chorus we have heard since 2003. An opportunity had to be found. All the nitpicking about the structural defects of the power-sharing deal is hypocrisy. It is a figleaf of those looking more at the letter than the spirit of the agreement and pretending that you can get a perfect deal from imperfect mortals.
I doubt that the Lancaster House agreement would have been signed if those involved in the negotiations were given the latitude to be as churlish as they wished towards those trying to help them. Why would Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo sign a deal which reserved 20 seats for whites? Why would they sign a deal which put a 10-year moratorium on land when that had been the prime motivation for the war? Now we are being given the impression that in independent Zimbabwe it is more alien than anything else to be Zanu PF or MDC; that they can’t work together, even if it means sacrificing the nation!
Countrymen, you can take the talks to Sadc, the African Union or the United Nations but you will come back empty-handed as long as it is power — not people — which is at the heart of the dispute. What we will get from this obsession with foreign solutions, to use Chinua Achebe’s quaint expression, “is pregnant and wearing a hat at the same time”. Also beware of too many cooks.
Of late there have been belligerent calls for another election. It is a seductive enough prospect if you are a well-fed politician and you don’t have to worry about where your next meal will come from but a cruel choice if you are a hungry Zimbabwean who was used as pawn before the June 27 election run-off. I predicted then that an election would not resolve our problems. I don’t see what has changed since, unless it is assumed that the party which proposes another election will alone dictate the terms and conditions under which it will be held.
    To me the talks gave this nation the best prospects for a fresh start and national healing. There would have been no reason from now to carry to the next elections the corrosive animosity and foul rancour between the parties. The issue of a new constitution would have been resolved, reasserting the independence of most of our national institutions which have been compromised and corrupted over the years of fratricidal wars between Zanu PF and the MDC.
We have let that opportunity slip through our fingers just to spite Mbeki because he would not play to a popular public gallery; but at what cost to the nation? Once the object of the negotiations shifted from national well-being to the person of the mediator, the issue of cabinet ministries became a moving target. Even in the MDC no one knows which ministry or how many constitute a deal-breaker.
To the principals, what should have been an onerous responsibility to decide the future of the nation was reduced to what Achebe would call a children’s eye-winking contest. You blink, you lose. Now that the negotiations were taking place in a public park, the media became a decisive factor in the minds of both the negotiators and their principals. What do we tell the media? What do we say to our supporters after this long standoff? That we have given in? That we have surrendered? Would that not be embarrassing? The substance of the negotiations — relieving people’s pain –– was put on the backburner.
The victory against Mbeki is a Pyrrhic one compared to the embarrassment we have become to the African continent and its people all over the world. We have been reduced to a nation of fools whose political leaders can haggle for more than two months over the sharing of cabinet portfolios while their electors are starving to death or are being fed by foreigners. To me both leaders have proved to be heartless hypocrites, feigning infinite compassion for the people when all they think about is how to gain or retain power.
I have no doubt that were it not for fear of the dire ramifications of a political implosion in Zimbabwe, Sadc and the African Union would have abandoned us to our fate long ago. Given the ingratitude and disrespect we have repaid them for their efforts, no one would want to inherit the unenviable task which Mbeki executed with such equanimity. South Africa in particular will for a long time regret the resources it wasted trying to help two selfish men decide what’s best for their country. Could there be a worse failure of leadership?
But the biggest tragedy is our loss of a sense of nationhood. We have become party people. In the words of David Kaulemu, the notion of the state has been replaced in our imagination by party politics.
The “obfuscation of the distinction between the state and the party in the minds of leaders, professionals and indeed of the people of Zimbabwe, has placed us where we are today”, says Kaulemu. “Even opposition parties struggle to imagine truly national and inclusive systems and processes.” It should be a humbling indictment.