Yesterday I participated in a discussion at the National Defence College in Harare, Zimbabwe’s highest seat of strategic learning for military officers and senior bureaucrats.
Candid Comment,Brezhnev Malaba
The format was simple. Journalists from various media houses presented papers on “identification, protection and promotion of national interests” and the floor was thereafter opened up to questions.
We were told by the convenors that the presentations and ensuing discussion would not be used as news material. You can imagine my thorough bemusement last night when Reuben Barwe attempted to do a Cain Nkala on me during ZTV’s 8pm bulletin. It was a shoddy, amateurish and desperately contrived hatchet job. But, hey, you have to give it to Reuben. He is full value for entertainment on the dreary TV channel.
One of the most contentious topics on Zimbabwe’s media landscape today is the question of the national interest.
What exactly is the national interest? Who defines it? Who defends it and how?
I have experienced life on both sides of the media divide (some may call it the propaganda divide), therefore I view this issue not only from a writer’s vantage point but also through the lens of an existential participant. And I have practised my craft beyond these borders, too, therefore I am not a one-trick pony.
Patriotism has been described as the last refuge of a scoundrel. Many will argue that the “national interest” — as decreed from the rooftops by self-styled super-patriots — is the last refuge of self-serving political elites and their cronies.
Years ago, when I was editor of the Chronicle, I received no less than 4 midnight phone calls from a vice-president of the republic threatening to kill me for publishing court stories on a land dispute he was embroiled in. I remember quite clearly that his argument was that publishing the stories was not in the national interest. Give me a break! The private shenanigans of a greedy politician cannot be conflated with the national interest.
The hollow blandishments of corrupt and incompetent leaders make it notoriously difficult to define the national interest, not least because politicians by nature are as trustworthy as second-hand car salesmen. But for me the national interest boils down to two vital ideas: survival and prosperity.
I told the military officers that the national interest can be defined as the goals and ambitions — be they economic, military or cultural — which a country strives to uphold, defend and protect at all times.
The Constitution spells out the National Objectives: “The establishment, enhancement and promotion of a sustainable, just, free, democratic society in which people enjoy prosperous, happy and fulfilling lives.”
For journalists, there is no better way of defending and upholding the national interest than exposing the triple whammy of corruption, mismanagement and incompetence.