I was at a dinner party last night and, as everyone there knows of my interest in Africa, the conversation naturally turned to the situation in Zimbabwe.
One of the guests put the question which exercises many people: “Why on earth do Zimbabweans keep putting up with Mugabe? Why don’t they do something about him?”
They simply could not understand why, after so many years of brutality, he is still there.
Some of the guests even wondered: “Is the situation in Zimbabwe really as bad as people make out?” Because they could not understand why, if it is as bad as people say it is, Zimbabweans have let the situation continue.
I could understand their bemusement. Because not so long ago in the history of all Westerners, their forebears, too, suffered extreme poverty while a small, privileged elite had all the wealth. And they, too, were being controlled by repressive governments. But a point came where the citizens themselves got fed up with the situation, and they realised their governments were not interested in helping them. But they also realised no one else was going to help them either.
So if they wanted to go from extreme poverty to their present affluence, if they wanted to get rid of their repressive governments, they must gang together and do the job themselves. And that is what they did. They realised that each citizen must accept personal responsibility for getting rid of their government and replacing it with one that would act for their benefit, not for its own self-interest. They must not expect someone else to do the job for them.
So now Westerners fully understand that citizens get the government they deserve.
And this is just as true in Africa as everywhere else. If you don’t like the government you see, do something about it because no one else will. And if enough of you do something about it, the government will go. If not enough of you do something about it, then it won’t – as is the case in Zimbabwe.
Westerners also now fully understand what democracy really means. It means citizens controlling the government, and not the other way round as happens in every African nation. That is why you will never now get a Mugabe in a Western nation. Plenty of Western politicians would very much like to be like Mugabe – Donald Trump shows signs of it, as do Tony Blair and the present leader of the UK’s Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. But they know better than to try because they know that their own citizens would not put up with it, and would soon drive them out.
Now perhaps you can see why Westerners cannot understand why Africans do not do the same. But what they don’t understand is that the concept of taking personal responsibility has become part of a Westerner’s DNA, but it has not yet done so with Africans.
As soon as it does, as soon as Africans learn to exercise citizen power and thereby get governments that work in their best interests, and rapidly get rid of those that don’t, Africans will go from poverty to affluence – and with it, their rightful place in the world order – with a speed that will stun the rest of the world.
Because the situation has been stagnant for so long in Africa – really from the end of colonialism – and because Westerners don’t understand why, they are actually starting to lose patience not just with Zimbabweans, but with all Africans.
The Western attitude increasingly is: “If they won’t try to help themselves, why should we keep helping them with aid, especially as we badly need that aid in our own countries, to help our own people in need?”
Even worse is a charge that come up again last night. It is one I personally find extremely offensive because it is so outrageously wrong:
“Africans must be cowards for not standing up to oppression.”
I have even heard African activists and campaigners, including Zimbabwean ones, calling their own fellow citizens cowards for putting up with the situation. Even some politicians voice this. Expelled MDC-T Senator Matson Hlalo did so not so long ago. I hope his constituents take note and don’t vote for him.
This is ridiculous. Africans have repeatedly proved their courage over the years. They inflicted the biggest defeats suffered by the British army ever in the colonies, using spears and pangas against rifles, machine guns and artillery. They covered themselves in glory during World War II. Their freedom forces in every African country showed great bravery against often superior colonial forces.
Coming up to today, there is no shortage of members of MDC in Zimbabwe, and from their leaders down they have shown repeated and extraordinary courage for many years now, for which their critics seem to give them no credit. As have many journalists, activists and campaigners.
The vast majority of Africans who live in extreme poverty all show great courage, fortitude and mental toughness just in dealing with everyday life. But more than that, the humour they show, always sunny and laughing, obviously makes survival living easier, and it is something very few Westerners can match.
In fact, Westerners who have tried slum living have generally lacked the courage to last more a few days – some not even one night –much to the amusement of Africans who have to live like that all their lives. And they certainly found no humour in it.
So don’t talk to me about lack of courage. In that case, if it is not that they lack the courage to fight oppression, why do the vast majority of Africans put up with situations that Westerners will not?
Perhaps one explanation is that their great courage, fortitude, mental toughness and sense of humour is actually a bad thing. Maybe if they were less courageous, tough and humorous about it, they would be less accepting of the situation, they would get fed up as Westerners did, and that would make them fight back more.
Of course, fear will afflict a lot of people – and who can blame them? But then plenty of Westerners were also too frightened to take part in their struggle for freedom as well. So although that is undoubtedly a contributory factor, it is certainly not the real problem.
The real problem, it seems to me, is that not enough citizens are aware that they, and only they, are the solution to both oppressive governments and poverty. So instead of looking to themselves, they look to other people to do the job for them, anything from their own governments, to their opposition parties, to Western aid and its NGOs.
At fault in this are Africa’s activists, campaigners and campaign organisations because only a tiny handful of them promote the idea that if Africa or Zimbabwe is to change, it will take a mass movement of citizens to do it. But they are just voices in the wilderness and, anyway, they tend only to make passing reference to it instead of really stressing it, so their message lacks impact and doesn’t impinge on people’s consciousness.
The great majority blame their government. Or Western or Chinese political, commercial and financial interests and aid (neocolonialism), or globalisation which is an extension of that. Or the opposition political leaders – just look at the abuse Tsvangirai and the other opposition political leaders get for failing to unseat Mugabe and ZANU PF.
Zimbabwean activists and campaigners also waste valuable time on a battle they can never win: electoral reform. As if that would make any difference because the chances are Mugabe and ZANU PF will just ride roughshod over any loss in the election even if it wasn’t rigged.
Some even look to SADC, as if that organisation can do anything meaningful – not least because Mugabe has too many friends among other Heads of State. After all, it was only two years ago that they voted him Chairperson of the AU, Africa’s top political office, at a time when his brutality in Zimbabwe was already well-known and recognised.
Despite the enormous courage many of them show, what activists and campaigners in general are failing to do is actually what should be the most important part of their job, which is to tell their fellow citizens that it is actually they who are to blame for the situation they are in, for not standing up against it. There is a saying:
“If we do not stand up for ourselves, other people will stand on us.”
And that is what has happened throughout Africa ever since the end of colonialism, and it is what is happening in Zimbabwe now.
No activists or campaigners, so far as I can see, are actually setting out to educate the public in this, or making any attempt to mobilise them.
Contrast this with the Western activists and campaigners who fought oppression and poverty in their countries. While of course attacking their governments and oppositions, they also made it very clear that nothing would change unless a critical mass of citizens themselves rose up in a unified body, and spoke with one voice. They specifically set out with the objective of mobilising the public.
That is not happening in Africa.
There have of course been successful movements in Africa. Many governments have been overturned. But it has never gone far enough because it has almost always resulted in one corrupt, repressive government simply being replaced by another corrupt, repressive government. And sometimes the new has been worse than the old.
Even the much-lauded fight against Apartheid does not justify its plaudits. First of all, it was almost destroyed by internal divisions, and was only rescued by international intervention. And since, it has certainly not taken Black Africans from poverty into affluence. The real power is still held by a tiny minority of Whites, and that is because White people in South Africa know how to hang together, whereas the huge Black majority does not. The repressive Black government works very much to the advantage of that tiny White (and Gupta) minority.
This again is the fault of activists and campaigners. They are not teaching Africans how to bury their differences and personal agendas for the sake of the Common Good.
There is, however, one African organisation that has said in extremely clear and unambiguous terms that the situation in Africa will not change unless African citizens themselves exert their citizen power. And that comes from the most unlikely source: The African Union.
Its plan for Africa, “Agenda 2063 The Africa We Want” should be the Bible for every activist and campaigner for the message it promotes: that the African citizenry simply must be mobilised. Yet not one, as far as I can see, has latched onto it and promoted it hard.
Until activists and campaigners get their act together, African citizens will not learn the need for mass action.