By Bernard Bwoni
Twisting the term visionary to suit
It is leaders like Robert Mugabe who are often carelessly undermined, under-valued and under-appreciated, recklessly misrepresented and misunderstood in their own time and their vision deliberately downplayed and ridiculed for fear of the results to be achieved. It is only history that will judge them fairly and then only then are they appreciated and their long -term vision realised and respected, long after they are gone. Robert Mugabe has risked his personal and political stature to push past and see through the vision of an empowered black majority in Zimbabwe and the non-negotiable notion of entrusting ownership of Zimbabwe’s resources and future in the hands of the previously marginalised majority. His long-term predictive instincts of lasting prosperity and genuine ownership are the hallmarks of his visionary leadership. It is because of this perceptive leadership that Zimbabwe will inevitably get over the current challenges to turn around the economy and if that is to be simplified to “activism” then so be it. The term ‘visionary’ entails ‘original ideas’ and the idea of a future, about what the future will be or could be like and not some empty proclamations meant only to prop up big business, the bankers and the big multinationals of this world who pull the strings and decide statuses of world economies.
Much ado about nothing if you ask me
A simple grasp of the mechanics and economics of this world order will tell you that control over the world monetary system falls into very few hands and none of them come from Africa and understandably, they do not have any obligations to serve African interests. There is a very good reason why no African country has ever emerged from the darkness of colonialism and most likely none will do in a very long time. When you have learned scholars parading Rwanda as a centre of African ‘economic’ excellence then you know the continent’s edge is blunt. With all due respect to Mr Kagame and Rwanda, but that is just small change being dangled to keep Africa in check. You often hear that such and such an African country is going to post significant economic growth rates next year and that following year the growths will be downgraded and that has been going on since the first African country attained independence. It is a never-ending cycle and one of the many reasons given is that Africans often and always mismanage their affairs. In Mugabe however, Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole has a leader who dreams of an economically unrestricted future for the indigenes who have remained largely disenfranchised from the aftermath an unfair past. If attempting to correct a “racially-perpetrated historical wrong” is benightedly branded “activism”, I can bet my last dime that the majority of Zimbabweans and Africans are prepared to proudly wear that badge with their dignity intact. It makes you wonder, would it make President Mugabe much more of a far-sighted leader if he were clothed in Chinese-style or Japanese-style suit instead of a Western-style one? What really is in a garment really? Much ado about nothing if you ask me.
Forget the Holocaust, lest we upset the Germans
Slavery, colonization and racial segregation are part and parcel of the Zimbabwe and African history and there should never be any shame in victims narrating their own and the ordeals of their forebears. The only people who should feel contrition when it comes to these narratives are the authors and architects of the deeds, not the real victims themselves and their equally affected and disaffected offsprings. It’s like urging the victim of a traumatic rape to keep the baby of her rapist and forget that the ordeal ever happened for fear of hurting the feelings of the rapist. The excessively submissive, substandard and subservient arguments from those who want people to remain quiet about colonization, apartheid and slavery for fear of inconveniencing the doers of the deed who now ‘leverage power around us’ is disturbingly naïve. We have scholars coaxing the victims to grovel, submit and admit, “we know that slavery, racial segregation and colonization happened, let us all forget about it and kowtow before the former masters for us to get ahead in this world”. Well if that is what it takes to build harmony to see Africans moving forward then it will be on very shaky foundations. It’s a case of trying to convince survivors of the Holocaust that because it happened a long time ago, let us forget about it just in case we might upset the Germans in so remembering about it.
Colonization happened, slavery happened, segregation was until very recently a reality and we will talk and shout about it, mbira, rap and hip-hop artists will sell platinum millions records about it and that is something the world will have to deal with. There is no one who can provide guarantees that not talking about slavery, racial segregation or colonization is going to bring economic fortunes to Africa and there is no evidence to suggest so either. In fact there is evidence to suggest that those who suffered the ravages of slavery and colonization remain largely marginalized the world over and their prospects for the future do not look very promising either. I have never been to America but news headlines often portray evident cases of disadvantaged and disenchanted black Americans whose prospects do not exactly point to positive. In the Caribbean countries, the situation is no better. The convenient narrative is that every black-run country is failing because blacks cannot run efficient societies and only the simple-minded will buy into that. The major problems Zimbabwe and many other African countries face today are a direct result of the after-effects of colonization, racial segregation and slavery and hence the evidently arrested prospects for development. That is the real black man’s burden and only the uninformed will brand this continued struggle for recognition as activism. It is not a victims’ mentality because the victims do have the evidence of their trauma. If these past wrongs did not have such a direct bearing on those directly and indirectly affected then why have the issues remained contentious?
"1950s, 1960s or 1970s activism", at least we have a vision to talk about
Whichever way you decide to look at it, the Robert Mugabe policies as unpopular to the outsider as they seem today, have in fact positively impacted on the future of the black indigenous people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe like most African countries suffered a traumatic history of colonisation, segregation and apartheid and this I utter without fear or favour, for if we fall into the trap of labelling our historical struggles as mere ‘Activism’ it will all be consigned to the back pages of history if at all and with it our future. It is because of this “1950s, 1960s and 1970s activism” that we even have a vision to talk about today! The reason why Robert Mugabe intrigues the world, scholar or layman alike, is because he is a shrewd strategist, an uncompromising risk-taker, an excellent communicator with insight, foresight and the grit required, all pre-requisites for a visionary. Here is a man who risked it all with the Land Reform to economically empower some people of Zimbabwe amid adverse offensives from all angles and now the gamble is slowly but surely paying off and that is what visionaries do. His passion for the economic empowerment of the previously deprived is the fuel that ignites national engagement and international intrigue with the policies. Mugabe has been upfront and pragmatic in creating a positive and inspirational vision for the future of Zimbabwe and the manner he has conveyed his message is what separates him from the chuff and those who brand this tangible vision as activism. Visionary is not about instant gratification, but the long-term, today’s trauma and tribulations’ translating into future fulfilment is what it is all about. How can it be a vision if it is seeded today and bears fruits tomorrow? The Japanese, the British, the Germans, the Americans and many other developed nations of today did not start by harvesting and then planting latter. The seed has to be nurtured from planting, germinating and all the way through to harvesting.
"Self-made, self-assured and self-sustaining", that is the minimum for Africa
A self-empowered, self-sustaining, self-assured and self-made majority is a minimum requirement of the Robert Mugabe vision and you can argue with that all you want but it is happening even under very disabling micro and macro-economic conditions. You can only judge a visionary by the outcomes of his vision and to judge it before its time only serve as dishonest and disconnected ramblings of the purblind. The land reform in Zimbabwe has to be one of the most rudimentary lands redistributive processes ever witnessed the world over and this is a long-term vision, not about words but deeds. The land redistribution process has not endeared President Mugabe with some sections of the ‘international community’ as expected, but it was necessary, the right thing to do and he did it amid the unpopular sentiments from those who sought to maintain an unfair status quo. As I see it, as a Zimbabwean, Robert Mugabe addressed a profoundly structural problem by establishing a new foundation of political, social and economic values. Most Zimbabweans and many Africans embraced this positively and those are the hallmarks of visionary leadership. What Mugabe has been pushing through is a long-term agenda with long-term future value. The real resistance comes from the real brokers who actually understand and want to undermine the future impact this vision is going to have. Through their bland instruments and minions, Robert Mugabe’s vision is erroneously portrayed as mere rhetoric or madness or 1960s and 1970s mind-set and all sorts of negative connotations meant to undermine and suppress it. This is a grand idea of improving lives, make things equal, more righteous and fair, a tough ask when you have your own people at your throat for trying to empower them.
At the nucleus of economic activity, that is home of the vision
Land is important to any country in this world from a social, political and economic point of view. In Zimbabwe agriculture contributes roughly 20% towards the country’s GDP and of that tobacco farming is the country’s biggest revenue generator. Let me give an example, before the year 2000 tobacco production figures were in excess of the 200 million kilograms mark. The majority of that production was from large-scale commercial farms that were predominantly owned by a handful of mostly white commercial farmers. The Fast Track Land Reform started from around 2000 and following that in the 2008/2009 season tobacco figures fell drastically to below the 50 million kilograms mark. Many were quick to label the land reform a dismal failure and fast-forward to the 2014 season tobacco figures were over the 200 million kilograms mark again and revenue generated in excess of US$600 million. Today in excess of 60,000 indigenous black farmers have had their chance and are participating in the lucrative tobacco sector whereas before these profits would silently have been shared among less than 2000 white large-scale farmers. This is the Robert Mugabe vision of collective gain as opposed minority acquisition and it is quite interesting to note that the waiting list for land in Zimbabwe is well over 500,000 people. That tells you something about the vision.
A just cause, not excuses
A country like Zimbabwe has a just cause just like Africa has a cause, and trying to downplay colonialism and slavery to enlist favors from the architects of the deed itself is not going to address the assorted and multiplex problems but will merely mask them for future generations to repeatedly try and deal with. Any right thinking person, lay person or scholar, should know better that Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe or Africa makes no excuses, we all have shortcomings but equating colonialism to excuses and accusing those talking about it and about redressing inequalities as being stuck in a time warp is just downright malleable and low-down.