I Still Struggle

I have since 2009 been blessed with a job which entails a lot of travelling all over Africa and other parts of the world but I still struggle with travel. No not about turbulence, none of that, I struggle with the idea of leaving my family behind even if it’s for a week- sound spoilt right. For years I thought I would come to a day where I am comfortable with the idea of leaving my family behind but it hit me today that such a day would change me for the worst. Why I should be comfortable with leaving the family behind? My family is all that I have, all that I labour for and that I cling to- so how can one even entertain the idea of being comfortable with the idea of leaving loved ones behind? Alas, wretched man that I am I will have to contend with the struggle and use the struggle as a measurement yardstick of how I am still connected to that which matters the most.

I have other struggles too and hopefully in 2015 I will be able to put these to rest or will find a way of co-existing with them. I was born at a time when Africa had almost decolonized except for my beloved Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa but still was raised to value the struggle for liberation. I have always believed that had I been born earlier I would have without a doubt joined the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe. But lately I struggle with the idea and purpose of liberation, especially when I observe what our so called liberators are doing or have done. What was the purpose of liberation- to create a more equal and free society? Let me be clear from the beginning colonialism and apartheid were evil systems that we should not even try to justify. BUT I still struggle with how we have cheapened the idea of our own liberation and at most reduced it to slogans to an extent that others even question if it was worth it. I believe it was worth it but it’s up to the liberators to live up to the ideals of that struggle so that others can also see themselves as a part of the freedom. There is so much more to freedom.

I was also born into a family with a history in political activism, two of my uncles fought in the liberation struggle and my father (may his soul rest in peace) was a passionate activist for workers’ rights. Intellectually I was raised by two radical leftist scholars and I basically ate everything they dished at me. I was taught to look at society through the lens of class and the world through centre-periphery relations- imperialism and also that the West (capitalist) is inherently pursuing an agenda of exploiting the periphery (underdeveloped regions of the world including Africa). I still believe that. However I struggle with the fact that these ideas surely are not sacrosanct- how can we talk of a working class in a region where more than 50% of are unemployed? How about other richer forms of identity- ethnic, religious, demography and geography? Do we the people of Africa see ourselves just as workers and employers? Secondly, whilst I continue to subscribe and utilize the centre-periphery framework of analysis I struggle with its limitations. How do we account for China and India, the behavior of our own political elites and even the emerging business class in contributing to the mess we find ourselves in? Here in Zimbabwe the centre-periphery framework (read- sanctions) although real has fallen into the trap of exhausted denialism on the part of political elites- everything that has gone wrong in our country is due to sanctions imposed on us by the West! Really. How about sheer ineptitude, lack of capacity and also pure greed. I must admit the discourse is beginning to shift to putting the blame on institutional weaknesses and abuse of office by those in senior positions of decision making. I still struggle with the extent to which we will take responsibility for our own continent and move it forward. Since slavery things just get done to us when we will do things to others?

I struggle with the idea that free markets (read Foreign Direct Investment) are the panacea to Africa’s underdevelopment. Recently Zambia increased mining royalties to 20% and every so-called analyst raised the fear that this will dampen investment. But they do not talk about the purpose of that investment and how Zambia has benefitted or not from previous cycles of FDI. Equally I struggle with the idea of state based economic planning and intervention through public enterprises. Almost every public enterprise has issues. I think the division between the free market and state based economic planning/intervention is a false one- it creates the impression that the two cannot co-exist. My real struggle is how come we are not debating these issues any more we have made these institutional arrangements seem as if they are natural. They are man-made for heaven’s sake and for all we know they could have reached their sell by date and we need new ideas for organizing our economies!
Now allow me to be controversial… I struggle with democracy. Please do not shut me out as yet. I struggle with the limitations we have imposed on democracy. We have erroneously reduced it to a formulaic prescription of reforming the constitution and introducing a system of regular elections. The latest invention- where there is a dispute-encourage a power sharing arrangement! That is good but that is not all. Such an approach to democracy has led to narrow institutionalism without an organic evolution of democracy from the bottom. The ‘democracy is equal to elections’ mantra has been exported to most of Africa with mixed consequences for governance, economic development and the manner in which political power is exercised within the polity. In many ways it has led to an elite based and unaccountable dynastic form of politics strengthened by clientelist relations which fuel corruption and entrench inequality.

Democracy promises so much more than we have- we literally shape it for our own context -it’s time to flip the social and political order. The rot in our politics and economic systems does not require new laws, institutions or expectations of messianic politicians who will be duty bound to serve. No. We need active and empowered citizens with the capacity to engage those in power and speak truth to them. Only then will our politicians understand that a town-hall meeting is not for them to engage in grandiose political posturing but instead for listening and understanding the concerns of the citizens. Only and until we reclaim power for citizens will we have real democracy here in Africa and indeed in the world. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Well I can go on with my struggles and might even overwhelm you- there is hope though. Let me share some bright spots.

With regards to travel- it’s inevitable- but distance makes the heart fonder and we learn not to take loved ones for granted. But we can also limit travel and take advantage of technology. For instance I intend to have more skype based meetings and even virtual participation in workshops this year rather than travelling for close to da day to make a 15min presentation!

I also strongly believe that there is hope for Africa. The fact that we are having this discussion means that there is a core amongst us not happy with the mediocre results we are churning out in our societies. We can do better. The incessant power cuts, water shortages and craters (potholes) in our roads only serve to make us stronger. I am fully convinced that we need to change the power equation- sovereignty does not lie in the leader but in us the people- I am not calling for another Arab Spring (and also not Burkina Faso) but instead a much more coherent patient building from the bottom up of citizen based democracy. We need to build our own democratic systems within our communities where we live and in the process reinstall a sense of dignity amongst our people who have otherwise been battered by poverty and shameless dictatorship that rule and squander in the name of the people.

So where do we start- you may ask? One thing for sure all of us are associational creatures- one of my mothers (don’t worry I am an African we call our aunties mothers as well) belongs to more than four associations serving different needs including spiritual (church), financial wellbeing (rotating savings), welfare and support in times of family bereavement. Why don’t we start here by empowering what already exists and create a new democratic movement of the people by the people. We are tired of being told what we as a people need, in 2015 we will being a process of ensuring that we tell them what we need and that those in political office take orders from us.
Finally I remain committed to contributing, however modestly, to the debate and related processes that will lead to a better and just Africa- where we all have equal opportunities. That keeps me sane despite my other everyday struggles!