Zimbabwe: Seeing Beyond Politics

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s trajectory since it attained independence from British colonial rule in 1980, and more critically its development over the past decade has been defined by politics as if that is the only factor of life that matters.

The political approach to shaping our nation has obviously scored some successes, markedly the massive investments made into the social sector during the early years of our independence. Despite that there have been setbacks in recent years, we are still reaping benefits from this investment, albeit, many of our talented people have opted to seek greener pastures in far shores.

Looking at the trajectory of Zimbabwe, however, it’s not far fetched to say that seeing politics as the be all and end all of everything will not necessarily fulfill all our aspirations as a people. Given the self-serving nature of politics, it is time that the citizenry begins to adopt a new attitude and see that there is a greater life outside the realm of the political.

Like Godots, politicians are often not in a position to come and deliver, and with their sugar-coated words, they always manage to hoodwink us into waiting for promises that are never deliver. Politicians and politics in general feeds off keeping us hoodwinking to never ending cycles of plastic promises, campaign rallies, empty speeches and grand state rigmaroles that are all much ado about nothing and barely move our lives and livelihoods an inch. It has already been argued that politics being one of the highest paying opportunities attracts a lot of people, especially the crooks.

AS Zimbabweans, it is time that people should offer up solutions themselves, rather than calling on political leaders to provide them. The circus that politicians have subjected us to over the past three decades has induced a sense of  helplessness among the citizens. As citizens, we need to take our power back and begin to be the change that we want to see.

Throughout the world, innovation – which in essence can push the boundaries of being – has never been known to be a function of politics. If we are going to be able to unleash our extraordinary potential, and spark a dynamic that will influence a shift, it is essential that we look more and more inside ourselves to unlock the talent that we have which the politicians are only putting to waste. Getting the old idea that politicians are our saviours must therefore be a constant aspiration of every Zimbabwean today and forevermore.

The good fortune that we assume must come from politicians must emerge from within ourselves; the challenges that politicians have created for us must serve as a basis for our self-renewal.

Achievement is built when conditions are difficult. Achievement is built when the direction of the economy is uncertain, and when there’s no guarantee of success. Indeed, there will be obstacles, excuses, distractions, frustrations and disappointments that will push back against our desire to fashion a new perspective but we must not give up for the sake of our children and their children’s children.

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What Obama Means to Africa

Nothing could be more symbolic of Africa’s support for US President-elect Barack Obama than Kenya’s declaration of Nov. 5 as a national holiday in recognition of Obama’s ascendancy to power. But, if Africans expect Obama to dish out handouts, as some commentators in the continent have intimated, then they are clearly mistaken.

From the far flung villages of Kenya (the homeland of Obama’s father) to the cash strapped streets of Zimbabwe, Obama’s electoral victory wafted through the continent like a breath of fresh air, ushering in a new dialogue about identity, democracy and politics.

Because Obama is African by ancestry, it was always predictable that Africans would greatly celebrate his electoral win. However, it is nothing short of foolhardiness for African people to expect Obama to work miracles that will resolve the continent’s ills.

If anything, for Africa, Obama’s win must be strictly seen for what is: it’s merely symbolic. And in politics symbols do matter. Continue reading

Zimbabwe Talks Mirror Hard Road Ahead

After months of bitter and violent political wrangling, Zimbabwe’s political protagonists have decided to take to the negotiating table.

Besides resolving the country’s longstanding socio-economic problems, the ongoing political talks in Zimbabwe will go a long way to start redressing the damage that has been inflicted onto the environment over the past decade. 

A botched government led land reform programme resulted in the unmonitored movement of people and the untoward cutting down of trees and an increase in the poaching of endangered animal species.

 

For the past few weeks, the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, have been awash with talk about ongoing talks between incumbent President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) aimed at breaking the country’s political stalemate.

 

With neither the ballot nor the bullet being a solution to the stalemate, much hope has been staked on the talks. Continue reading

Visionary Politics: Saving the Environment for Future Generations

Visionary

Visionary

Political leaders have a key role to play in developing and taking action to combat the world environmental degradation, according to a recent survey of 1,350 professionals in position to make or influence large climate-related decisions in their governments, companies, or other organizations across 120 countries.

The performance of key actors – particularly national governments – has been inadequate to date with rhetoric at much feted climatic conferences over-dominating action states the survey.

Continue reading

Making AIDS Political

Today, the tools and resources to fight AIDS effectively exist; however, lacking are political and financial commitments to make sure the tools and resources are directed to where they are needed.

A genuine political will to fight the epidemic at all levels, alongside an allocation of resources that are consistently monitored and accounted for is critical to an effective AIDS response. Political advocacy targeted at governments of the most AIDS-affected countries is a key but missing factor in the overall response to the epidemic. 

In the absence of strong and credible political efforts to raise the profile of AIDS, governments, at best, continue to maintain or adopt policies that are counterproductive, and at worst, pay lip service to an effective response to the epidemic. 

Evidence shows that in countries (e.g., Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, USA) where AIDS civil society organizations have been politically motivated to confront their governments, there has been greater and positive response to the epidemic. 

In many countries with critical AIDS situations, bad governance characterized by a lack of political will, unaccountability, neglect, nepotism, corruption, incompetence, moribund health systems and insufficient health workforce continue to fuel the epidemic. 

Because of a combination of lack of political skills to engage governments, “professionalization” of AIDS work or funding constraints, civil society organizations in these contexts have tended to stay clear of political advocacy. 

As a result, there has been little to no impact on the epidemic, as government resource allocation does not reflect the myriad needs of the AIDS affected communities. Ensuring an equitable distribution of resources, particularly for those most in need demands more than rhetorical commitments.

It requires governments and civil society to work together to create the social and political will for translating a vision of access to AIDS services into lived experience of peoples’ day-to-day lives. 

AIDS political advocacy can create accountability and increase political will, limit neglect and nepotism, and possibly even force the replacement of corrupt or incompetent officials. However, given the historical lack of resources and, in many cases, only recent moves toward democratic civic participation, the advocacy capacity of HIV infected and affected populations must be strengthened and supported. 

Ensuring that advocacy is firmly grounded in accurate information regarding local priorities, opportunities, and challenges in AIDS affected countries is essential for ensuring that the needs and experiences of everyone, specifically, poor and marginalized populations, are comprehensively met and with full respect to their human rights and dignity. 

In countries where there are few people with the cultural assets needed for advocacy work, and where the personal risk associated with AIDS political advocacy is significant, the only way to attract and retain advocacy workers for periods of time consistent with campaign success is to provide them appropriate compensation, training and working conditions and a travel and communications budget. The development of partnerships is essential to building a groundswell of support to maintain AIDS high on the political agenda.

No single organization can effectively fight AIDS alone or in isolation from the context and actors that make up the global AIDS advocacy movement. Aligning issues, movements and agendas requires deliberate steps, planning, and dedicated time and resources to ensure synergy and mutual gain.

In addition, it demands a culture of trust and accountability among advocacy partners, including the belief that there is enough work and resources for everyone, and that competition and lack of coordination reflect a major inefficiency and waste of precious, needed resources. 

Rethinking Africa’s Unsteady Statehoods

The seemingly intractable tribal mayhem in Kenya, which has so far claimed over 1500 people’s lives, is not an isolated one in Africa.

It reflects the failure of the state machinery to blend numerous identities that were grouped together to serve colonial interests into a functional form of nationhood that is based on shared values.

In 1884, the then-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany called for a meeting in Berlin to partition Africa. At the conference, European powers agreed to “rules of the game” in dividing Africa and defined their respective interests with regard to the African continent.

Without consulting any indigenous Africans, European powers proceeded to partition the continent regardless of the ethnic, social and economic composition of its peoples.

Today, across the African continent, states are comprised of heterogeneous ethnic groups.

If anything, what is taking place in Kenya is as much a product of the country’s pre-colonial and colonial past as it is a product of the corrupt faultiness of the post-independence governments and can potentially happen, or has already happened, in other parts of Africa.

A poor fit between pre-colonial societies and states created during the colonial period to serve European powers remains a long-standing blot that has resulted in political, economic and social instability in the continent.

What we are seeing in Kenya is undoubtedly the expression of long pent up tribal emotions and inequalities among tribal groups that date back to the colonial era.

The immediate and apparent effect is obviously the botched electoral process.

But underlying this is a failure in the concept of statehood and democratic institutionalism that addresses the outstanding questions of past inequalities.

The whole of Africa needs a unique transformative democracy that addresses economic disparities propagated by the colonial regimes. That transformative democratic process must engage in a sustained process of national healing, and build institutions that are not only transparent but foster trust and respect among the various groups of people.

In many parts of Africa, political and economic processes are organized along tribal and ethnic lines – a factor that does not augur well for the building of nations. While it may be easy to point fingers at the Africans themselves, much of the present dysfunction of African countries is a direct result of divide and rule policies that were propagated by colonialists – chiefly the British.

The disparities propelled by the colonialists have lasted for generations, and what Kenya shows today is that statehood, identity and nationhood are very much far apart.Tribal affinity defines identity, which does not necessarily translate into an overarching Kenyan identity required to define the nation.

In fact, it is not far from the truth to say that there is nothing like a Kenyan identity. Belongingness to the state through access to political, economic and other resources is mainly predicated by tribal affiliation. In my opinion, many of the symbols of statehood in Africa are merely tokenistic.

Until the festered resent between groups of people that has lasted for so long is addressed, more experiences like Kenya’s will be in store in other parts of Africa.

What the founding fathers of Africa failed to do was to take the continent through a process of shedding the schisms, pain and tears collected over centuries of white brutality and domination.

That process cannot be achieved through mere lip service but through the design of programs that ensure the equal access of all to national resources in spite of tribal identity.

African statehood is highly unsteady and riddled with age-old grudges between various groups that were forced into polities in 1885, when the continent was partitioned among European powers at the Vienna Conference.

Healing Africa will require that the Africans themselves face up to the ugly questions of the past and put in place appropriate strategies to address age-old problems.

Building Africa’s future will require innovative thinking on social, economic and political issues, which can be achieved by allowing voices of previously marginalized groups to help in determining the shape of state institutions, equal distribution of wealth, and ultimately nationhood