During the week, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with one of our leading people in government about a number of issues pertaining to the creative sector and of course, the prevailing operating environment. A few moments turned into an hour and led to my understanding of how creatives in this sector are viewed by the powers that be.
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Men not gods
I do not see our politicians as deities. I see them as people with whom we must have discourse on the exigencies of our life together. At the start of the year, I resolved to make it my business to enlighten and to be enlightened.
One finds that labelling people who do not share one’s views to be reflexive. But most matters in public forums are framed through the lens of certain ideological and political biases.
Thus, generally speaking one finds themselves having to contend with those who will not take a moment to follow an important legal dictum — audi alteram partem.
Hearing the other side of the story is integral to the progress and development of human society. Rushing to condem other people’s opinions without first understanding their premises is tantamount to intellectual laziness. But when it is hate season, emotions are king. So I gave myself time to listen to the comrade.
What is the creative’s agenda?
The first matter that comes to my mind about the meeting I had on Sunday is about the creative sector. To the best of my knowledge, most of the creatives that I know basically just want to eat.
Now this may sound like the simplistic and naive approach to work and life that creatives have. The truth is this: the creative sector is one of the hardest hit by Zimbabwe’s protracted economic downturn and there is a “tendency” by creative sectror groups and organisations to accept funding from Western financiers such Sida, Hivos, among others. This tendency is understandable. Artistes are not necessarily running around with the regime change agenda. How about we call them the “fifth estate”? Or the people’s mirror!
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Funding is the sine qua non of the creative sector’s success. Interestingly, even governments go hat in hand to the IMF and the World Bank to seek funding for balance of payments support and other developmental projects.
The West has been giving dictation to African countries about how to run their economies moreover. The infamous Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) is a case in point.
In the 1980s, the late Bernard Chidzero, who was the then Finance minister and chairman of the Development Committee of the World Bank from 1986 to 1990, presided over its implementation. But Esap’s failure may be due to a variety of reasons, ranging from either improper implementation of the programme or the impractability of its proposals in the Zimbabwean context.
Whatever the case, my point is that we took dictation. It is thus disingenous to merely portray artistes as mindless or hapless mannequins of the West. As Africans, we need a reality check.
The man in the mirror
We have to reach a point where we stop shifting blame as a starting point. The man in the mirror is the one who needs to change. As Africans we need to grasp the fact that it is not enough to blame politicians.
To quote Pathisa Nyathi: “We have the leadership that we deserve!”
It is culture that produces politics and therefore, the politicians we have in our midst. By way of example, a cursory glance of the Zimbabwean political landscape over the last 20 years will illustrate my point.
The opposition team merely perpetuated the same indulgence in expensive “toys”. All of a sudden, and to borrow a cliche, many opposition MPs “slid” into comfort upon winning elections and were now running around in high-end SUVs. There was no sense of cutting the cloth according to the garment. They binged on their new-found largesse at a time the country was on its knees. It begs the question: what was the change really about?
Paymaster calls piper’s tune
Who is supposed to give the African change agent money to develop his own community? Several films in Zimbabwe have in the past been produced via donor funding.
Handy examples are films such as Neria, Flame and Consequences. Neria (produced by the late Godwin Mawuru) and Flame (produced by Simon Bright) were relatively successful, garnering international accolades in their wake, with Flame being selected for the prestigious Director’s Fortnight’s at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and being awarded the Organisation of African Unity special prize at the Southern African Film festival in the same year.
Still, Tsitsi Dangarembga herself is quoted as saying: “Everyone’s Child is not the film I wanted to make. I didn’t want to make another Aids film on Africa. I was not empowered to make the narrative that I wanted to make.”
She made these comments at the Book Cafe in 1999 as she presented her thoughts on the business of filmaking. I am quite confident that the undertone of victimhood has long left her thinking several years down the line.
Danger of Afro-pessimism
According to a dictionary definition, “Afro-pessimism refers to the perception of sub-Saharan Africa as a region too riddled with problems for good governance and economic development.”
The popularly accepted known early use of the word in print is in a 1988 article from the Xinhua News Agency, in which Michel Aurillac, the then French Cooperation minister deplored the prevailing pessimism in the West about Africa’s economic development. He warned against what he referred to as an “Afro-pessimism” on the part of some international creditors.
One notable example of “Afro-pessimism” is the popular book Capitalist Nigger by Chike Onyeani. I found it a debilitating read. It offers much in terms of slamming the consumptive mentality of Africans. It is sadly bereft of much that is life affirming and inspirational.
I could have missed the writer’s point. Maybe he wanted to provoke and agitate the African reader. I submit that his narrative can also be viewed as a relic of the “dark continent” narrative of bygone colonial adventurers of the Thomas Baines’ ilk.
Without advocating the glossing over of any bleak facts, mainstream media seems to be ailing from the same malady of Afro-pessimism. One hardly reads much about African progress and innovation.
The future is now
Perhaps as the press we now need to grapple with our own premises and biases. We actually need to help set a different agenda. We do not have the luxury of over-dwelling on what went wrong.
Inspirational news stories that can help lift the continent from its current excessive self-loathing are begging. The desire to see the advancement of my continent is not akin to pandering to the jingoism of some who have monopolised the narrative of African progress. We are actually the people whom we have been waiting for !
Mayibuye iAfrican Renaissance!