Skip to main content

Photo: Robert Mugabe, Former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe

By Brian T.Kagoro, Political analyst —

I wanted to title this article ‘Cry My Beloved Country’. After all we recently had cholera outbreaks and our political parties are competing to demonstrate proximity to the West. It does not seem to matter under what terms and to what end Western support is secured. This flagrant courtship of the West defies logic of a liberation party and a social-democratic opposition formed by workers.

Do not get me wrong; we do need debt cancellation, new investments to inject life into our economy and re-integration into the international community. But we must count the full cost to our futures. Cry My Beloved Country, as Issa Shivji observed, “is a presentation of dominant ideologies that see African countries as characterised by ‘cries, woes, sorrow and docility’”.

Instead I prefer Struggle on My Beloved Country! Because the struggle is our incorruptible heritage!

Kwame Nkrumah was right that: “Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa’s impoverishment”. Zimbabwe is not in chaos, but is it at risk of being betrayed?

The masses make history

Zimbabweans have lived under, suffered and struggled against an oppressive regime for 38 years. However, the most definitive aspect of our history remains the struggles of ordinary citizens against dictatorship. Zimbabwean women and men have consistently thought as active citizens and acted as critically conscious actors.

Political oppression has built monumental cultures of struggle led by workers, women’s organisations, hawkers, vendors, unemployed youth, residents and students.

These citizens have consistently made history through, amongst others: 1988-89 anti-corruption marches by students, 1990s anti-ESAP strikes, 1997-98 mass stay-Aways, the 2000 referendum, and land reform. They have shown profound courage against all odds in the stolen 2000, 2002 and 2008 elections.

Women have struggled for equality, inheritance rights, and sexual and reproductive rights as well as against sexual and gender-based violence. Nkrumah argues that: “Revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought.” Zimbabweans are and have always been a fighting people and not a crying or cowardly nation. We know too well that when opponents of freedom and their former enemies exchange marriage vows, the conscious cannot afford to blink because a grand deception is unfolding!

Liberated and still not free

The litany of crises that bedevil our nation Zimbabwe are now part of the social media banter in very much the same way that Americans, British and French discuss soccer, cuisine, fashion and celebrity lifestyles.

There is a big risk in reducing critical national questions to social media banter, vitriol, aimless disputation, smear and point scoring. A spectator watching a soccer game can do very little to alter how it unfolds. Whether they curse or scream for joy, are affected or deflated, one has to accept the result (good or bad) and wait for the next game hoping for a better outcome.

Bad governance, mediocre leadership is not a condition of fate that we must accept, live with or under. As citizens, we can only resign ourselves to such leadership at a huge cost to our personal and collective destiny.

For the majority of Zimbabweans, the trees have changed and the monkeys remain the same. The high cost of living, high commodity prices, poor quality public services, pervasive corruption, intolerant public media and poor access to goods and services has not changed notwithstanding the headlines that have turned the coup into a triumphal celebrity festival.

Julius Nyerere summed up my take on this thus: “[It] means that the masses will work, and a few people — who may not labour at all — will benefit from that work.

“The few will sit down to a banquet, and the masses will eat whatever is left over”. The uncritical embrace of neo-liberalism constitutes a profound intellectual collapse. We are supposedly free from the Mugabe dictatorship , but not from the shackles that Asagyefo Kwame Nkrumah aptly described as follows: “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” In this moment of euphoric triumphalism we all need political magnifying glasses to identify the hidden hand of the puppet masters.

Obtuse materialism

Beyond the external factors described above, we have corroded our own national value through greed. Our society now elevates and celebrates mediocrity and dishonesty as sacrosanct. Just give it a bow tie, expensive shoes, a colourful shirt and designer suit then parade mediocrity as the “New” normal.

We have degenerated into a society that mistakes possession of material things for being sufficiently human. We are infected with obtuse materialism. We place a huge premium on appearances as opposed to substance. See how miracle freak shows are flourishing and false hope peddlers have increased on an industrial scale in churches and traditional medicine circles. Faith in criminals has become the new norm.

We struggle to contain harvesters of human organs, traffickers of youth and women, peddlers of drugs, murderous politics and identities that kill. Stop making power and material accumulation the be-all and end all of national economic reconstruction and recovery.

Failure of ethics and professionalism is symptomatic of the ideological and ethical gap in our development trajectory. The worship of a process of producing a soulless wealth and a rapacious society through a system of personal accumulation is sheer decadence. Such nurtures crime, violent politics and callous exploitative businesses.

Neoliberal romanticism is the outcome of a lack of analysis of the genesis of Zimbabwe’s under-development in relation to internal causes as well as geo-economics and geo-politics. Zimbabwe cannot realistically imagine economic structural transformation in an ethical vacuum. We have to struggle on to ensure an ethical, inclusive and sustainable development pathway

The bane of ‘bigmanism’

Mugabe was a man endowed with the gift of the garb. His speeches exuded an ideological erudism that is now uncommon in African leadership. But Mugabe woefully failed to translate his speeches into tangible development and governance outcomes.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere may have prophetically been describing Mugabe when he observed that: “We spoke and acted as if, given the opportunity for self-government, we would quickly create utopias. Instead injustice, even tyranny, is rampant”.

Mugabe’s “imperial presidency” nurtured three inseparable political vices, namely: populism, cronyism and violence.

The deployment of populist rhetoric against opponents; the deliberate re-organisation of all State structures to ensure an impenetrable network of allies and co-conspirators from the State House, Treasury, military, intelligence, police, foreign affairs up to the lowest structures of government.

Where state capture proved insufficient, there was always that sinister back-up toolbox of criminalisation and stigmatisation of opponents. This led to the personalisation of the ruling party and ultimately the Zimbabwean state. In 2002, I argued that the party by its central committee had substituted the people by its politburo and the politburo by Mugabe. So much so that Mugabe could no longer distinguish between his own idiosyncrasies and the aspirations of the Zimbabwe people.

Personalisation of power and institutions downgraded leadership to a stone-age logic that depends on whoever has the bigger stone to throw or wields the larger stick to whip others with. This combined with a narcissistic celebrity type leadership style based on the ‘fetish’ of the infallible ‘Big Man’. It is an empty, ideologically bankrupt and hollow political fuss really. It succeeds solely by distraction of attention from real issues.

Political cult figures are by nature intolerant and their sense of infallibility grows with their imploding influence over the party and its structures. They seem larger than the party and the people. The ‘Bigmen’ are at once both the uniting and polarising figures of their own organisations. Keeping them hurts the collective and losing them threatens to disintegrate the same collective. They even begin to believe that no one else is good enough to lead.

Zanu PF succession and transition processes remain unwittingly ‘Mugabefied’. Public officials are being purged on account of their perceived closeness to Mugabe and not necessarily objective ideological outlook, capacity, competence and fitness for office. This is because the national purpose has been collapsed into a personal purpose, namely that of sinking Mugabe, his wife and their allies.

Our new leaders remain largely consumed with one policy question, namely,’what to do with Mugabe?’ Mugabefication of Zimbabwean political discourse conceals much more than it reveals and has the real danger of undermining efforts aimed at finding inclusive and sustainable solutions. Taken to its illogical conclusion, de-Mugabefication- or things done supposedly to reverse the rot associated Mugabe’s rule — will inescapably be perceived as a de-Zezurufication of Zanu PF and government.

This vacillation between ideology and identity politics may signal the return to the sad era of violent party primaries. In many respects, the subtle references to regional — and impliedly ethnic — loyalties define the hidden text of the Zimbabwean crisis.

It is not clear what the cost of ‘Bigmanism’ will ultimately be to Zanu PF cohesion and its ability to retain power in 2018. But the replication of the ‘Big Man’ politics within the opposition poses the greatest threat to any attempts aimed at forming a broad-based Coalition ahead of the 2018 election.

The leadership imperative

Zimbabwe has a leadership and followership crisis that threatens any potential that the country has to democratise and develop sustainably. The leadership is unwilling or unable to rise to the responsibility and challenge of being the change they are trying to model.

Success or failure of socio-economic recovery in Zimbabwe will depend –in part- on the quality of leadership elected in the 2018 election to fashion a post-Mugabe State. Lee Kuan Yew argues that: “A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people and the quality of their leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history.”

Zimbabwe is faced with deepening poverty and inequality. Lee Kuan Yew argues that: “… was gradually forced to conclude that the decisive factors were the people, their natural abilities, education and training. Knowledge and the possession of technology were vital for the creation of wealth.”

When the coup happened in November 2017 and the police force was rendered inoperative for a few weeks, something of a short-lived culture change happened. There were no unnecessary bribe-collection roadblocks and no undue inconvenience to citizens.

After three weeks without a visible police force presence the incidence of crime remained low. Why? The reputation of the military for discipline seemed sufficient to keep criminals at bay. That the impact of an “unconstitutional” power grab should result in such a dramatic change in social behaviour shows that the possibility of transformation in Zimbabwe will stand or fall on leadership and the collective will of citizens.

Mnangagwa’s personal assertiveness and numerous executive decisions may produce a semblance of order which when harnessed could result in lasting change. However, for these executive diktats to result in social transformation they must be followed up with a radical programme of social and economic re-organisation or at best comprehensive state reforms which are desperately needed in Zimbabwe. The people make economic structural transformation through struggle, innovation and production. Struggle On My Beloved Country!

Kagoro is a lawyer and political commentator.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.