Creating a new narrative in Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe era

Vince Musewe

I WROTE this in 2015 as I had begun to imagine and think about the Zimbabwe we must create after Mugabe. I am publishing it now so that we can all perhaps reflect where we imagined we would be and why we are not yet there despite the end of the Mugabe era. Was I too hopeful or maybe too naïve?
Most progressive Zimbabweans like to talk about the need for a new narrative, but I think that we ought to be very specific about what that new narrative ought to be.

Unfortunately, to date, our political discourse has been more about the past and, because of that, we have failed to create a compelling national vision that captures our collective imagination of the future as a country. This is why we are where we are today.

Despite numerous economic development blueprints since 1980, we have not achieved much as a country. In fact, if we look at our social indicators today, we have actually regressed. This is mainly because of chronic leadership failure and the lack of commitment to broad-based inclusive economic and social development.

First and foremost, any new narrative has to be based on the principle that Zimbabwe belongs to all who live in it and those who were born in it. Up to now, our politics have been unnecessarily racist and exclusive. This has marginalised the majority of our people from meaningfully contributing in building a better future.

In any country where a significant sector of the population feels excluded and marginalised, which is the case with white Zimbabweans, as well as women and youth, that country will never live up to its full potential.

We also still have some degree of tribalism within our society where one’s tribe can either open or close doors. This is such a pity given the talent that Zimbabweans have. Our new narrative cannot afford that.

Our skills and talents can never be fully realised until we develop a sense of collective responsibility that is inclusive in nature and we dare to imagine a better future for all. Unfortunately, most of us have accepted the narrative of control, intimidation and selfishness by those who are in power as normal.

Secondly, we must learn to be proud of who we are once again. Zimbabweans have faced so much violence and emotional abuse and the result is that we no longer believe in ourselves. We are no longer a proud nation but, instead, we have low self-esteem and apathy. Until we get our pride back, we will continue to accept abuse by state security and the police. That needs to change.

In his book titled Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II admonishes us not to be afraid of men. “For man is always the same” he wrote. “The systems he creates are always imperfect, and the more imperfect they are, the more he is sure of himself. This comes from our hearts because our hearts are always anxious.”
It is only when we destroy the throne that we have created in our hearts for other men that we can begin to live to our full potential and gain the self-confidence necessary for us to create the Zimbabwe we truly want.

In our new narrative, we want Zimbabweans to be creative, innovative and wealthy without fear of expropriation of their wealth or assets by the state. In other words, the government must have nothing to do with allocating economic resources or assets to citizens but must merely create an environment for success.

We want Zimbabweans to speak their mind and explore who or what they can become under a government that respects the dignity of its people and the right to pursue their personal ambition unhindered.

Zimbabweans fear to challenge the status quo and have created cocoons in their minds, hoping that things will change on their own. Fear is arresting our potential.

We need to be courageous and always challenge the status quo, that way we will become better and be able to create the Zimbabwe we truly want; it will not emerge through mere hope or inaction.

In addition to being fearless, Zimbabwe must see the emergence of legitimate and selfless leaders who put the country first. This requires all of us to have the courage to speak truth to power. The future we desire can only be created through sacrifice and vision.

“While there are manuals on how to put up the most complex structures, there is no toolbox on how to rebuild a destroyed nation. People have to look to their culture, their history, the nature of the crisis they face and come up with their own solutions.”

These were the words of the then president of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, with regards to Rwanda.As Zimbabweans, we need to appreciate that nobody but ourselves is going to rebuild Zimbabwe and we must stop expecting others to do it for us. We are the masters of our own destiny. The future we desire has to be significantly different from the past.

I have always wondered why most African nations are poor despite having all the resources while others are rich but with much lesser resources in comparison. Authors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in their book Why Nations Fail, explain quite clearly why countries fail. They found that it has nothing to do with culture, geography or ignorance, but more to do with extractive political institutions as opposed to inclusive ones.

Extractive political systems do not create inclusive economic institutions that allow citizens to live up to their full potential.They are, in fact, dictatorships or oligarchies that oppress the majority. Liberation struggle elites have created extractive political institutions to protect their economic interests at the expense of the majority.

Liberation from colonialism has turned out to be oppression of blacks by blacks. This is evident in most of Africa today.In Zimbabwe, our challenge is to begin to move towards inclusive political and economic institutions. However, that can only happen if we are serious about creating better social conditions.

My contention here is that, even if we are to pour billions of dollars into our economy, we are unlikely to see any significant change until we address the value system of “none but ourselves” which has prevailed in Zimbabwe since 1980. We are unlikely to see any profound fundamental economic and social change until we change the way we think about ourselves, our country and our future.

For far too long we have bought the lie that only those who participated in the struggle have the inalienable right to rule us. Even when they have shown us that they are unconcerned and disinterested in creating the future we desire, we seem to have accepted their claim to power. We have waited patiently for things to get better and, to this day, our country is in no better shape than it was during the colonial era.

We have even bought the lie that we are victims of exogenous factors such as Western sanctions. This victim mentality has disempowered us since it assumes that we can do nothing to change our economic and social circumstances.

In fact, we are complicit victims of the greed, corruption and selfishness that we have seen. The time has come to reject the lie and we must now free ourselves from this paradigm which only serves the interests of a few.

In order to create the Zimbabwe we want, we desperately need leadership renewal which is underpinned by accountability and the promotion of a national inclusive agenda that nullifies all vested political interests, particularly tribal prejudice.

We must include of our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora in building a new modern state by the adoption of new management techniques, cultures and new technologies. They have international experience that the country really needs in order for us to create a modern economy.

We have to reinstate private property rights and the rule of law as these are sacrosanct to successful private enterprise. We have to see the de-politicisation of state security and the police to engender a culture of social justice and the protection of human rights. We must see the healing of past injustices committed against all Zimbabweans and we must take the necessary steps for restitution. We must compensate all those that have experienced loss, material or otherwise, since 1980.

Lastly, we must ruthlessly deal with corruption, greed, theft and the rampant abuse of public resources.For me these are the hard issues that the current leadership has avoided.

In my opinion, a new narrative for Zimbabwe can never be created by those who created our current circumstances, they are too lost in the past and irrelevant in the future we imagine.

It was Mark Twain who once remarked that forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. In line with this thinking, we must bury the past, forgive and move on.

It is such a difficult thing to do, to forgive those who have caused so much pain and suffering to millions of us and done irreparable damage to our beautiful country yet, if we do not forgive them, we will remain shackled and imprisoned by a past we want to quickly forget.

Zimbabweans are unhappy, hopeless and disillusioned about the future. It is difficult not to be angry when you see the poverty around you, when you hear how people are dying from curable diseases, simply because they cannot afford medicines. Anyone would be angry to see children who should be in school doing nothing. Our youth have become hopeless and their dreams have been shattered. Our old folk are suffering quietly. It is the worst of times and yet our anger and inaction will beget us nothing but more pain.

We have to force ourselves to look for higher ground so that we avoid being unproductive as we work hard to create the Zimbabwe we want. We must indeed take solace in the reality that nothing last forever and one day, this too shall pass. Other Nations who have gone unbearable through pain and loss have risen, so can we.

Make no mistake, this does not mean that we sit and hope and do nothing. This does not mean we pray and wait, but that with pray and act for faith without works is sterile.

I continue to encourage all Zimbabweans to first change the way they think about themselves. That will be the most important thing we can do. We must first reject that we are perpetual underlings. In order to achieve this we must act in our own individual capacity and also influence those closest to us. Whatever is going on is because we have accepted it as okay. We must stop this habit of only complaining about our circumstances and resolve to do something about it.

The second thing we must do is to build solidarity within our communities. We have all waited in vain for political parties to unite us, but it has turned out that it is not in their interests because they are based on personal power. Our responsibility is to therefore act outside these groupings so that we do not become engrossed in useless political debates and factions that create nothing but acrimony and imagined divisions amongst our people.

In my opinion, this solidarity can be built around our basic needs such as clean water, a clean environment, good health and shelter. This requires us to make those who we expect to provide these services accountable and if not, then we must refuse to pay for services that we are not getting and do it ourselves. Until Zimbabweans get rid of this disease, this curse of paying for services that they are not receiving, we will never be able to free ourselves from abuse.
Our challenge is to begin to create a national psychology that rejects abuse.

This not only applies to abuse by government officials and the police, but even in private business and also in our personal relationships. You cannot expect a person coming from an abusive home to be confident out there, you cannot expect an abused child to do well at school.

The power we have within us is unlimited. If only we could acknowledge this and harness the unlimited personal power within us, Zimbabwe would rise beyond our expectations.

Musewe is an economist and you can contact him on: vtmusewe@gmail.comThese weekly New Perspectives articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES) Email – kadenge.zes@gmail.com Cell +263 772 382 852.

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