Sunday, 25 September 2011

"Some of us must remain to be with the People."

The Inclusive Government’s Disconnect with the People.
In travelling across the greater parts of Zimbabwe, one is struck by the ‘life goes on’ way of existence of many of the country’s citizens. From the small rural shopping center (Birchenough Bridge), to the still sleepy  iron ore mining city (Kwekwe) and the welcoming second largest city (Bulawayo), there is a somewhat evident lack of urgency about anything, except perhaps for processes related to the search for the next dollar. But even these processes such as the selling of ‘airtime juice-cards’ or the running battles between municipal police and vegetable vendors are now increasingly run of the mill life routines with no questions asked and no alternative or better solutions proffered.  

In the ‘transit’ city of Masvingo there is an acceptance that electricity will not be available routinely every evening except perhaps for Fridays while in the newly re-termed ‘diamond city’ of Mutare there is the resignatory acceptance of the truth that the diamond boom is over for ordinary citizens, if it ever really existed. In all of these cities and other smaller settlements, when one talks to comrades and colleagues, there is testimony to the fact that ‘life is tough here’ with some comrades talking with resignation about heading back to the rural areas since city or town life is not offering them a better life.
Other colleagues who, having dabbled in politics in the last ten years  and having waited with great anticipation for new jobs, better social lifestyles and social services express their dismay and powerlessness with our current political leaders, particularly those who had offered hope. Colleagues from rural areas that are close to the highways ask if their members of parliament and councillors are aware that a borehole utilized by hundreds of families and their livestock for water has not been functioning for over half a year now while at the same time they talk about plans to dig new wells for themselves because there is no hope from government anytime soon.
All of these conversations and observations can be considered abstract except that these issues are about peoples lives and how they are shaping their opinion on the nature of their society, state and the inclusive government’s performance. Indeed there are political loyalties that inform the perspectives I encountered.
Most of the fellow and sister citizens I interacted with are arguing that perhaps the inclusive government is burdened by its ambiguity and that the latter can be attributed to Zanu Pf’s refusal to let go of power. Others argue that it is now difficult to tell the difference between the political parties in the inclusive government. They argue that those that claimed to be about bringing ‘change’ are no longer practicing what they have been preaching. The examples given to prove the change of focus of the ‘change leaders’ include the issue of the purchase of expensive vehicles for ministers and members of parliament while they are announcing to all and sundry that the country is broke.  
And there are others who are arguing that there has been too much focus on partisan politics to the detriment of the livelihoods of ordinary people. Everything, they argue, is viewed within the prism of which party one belongs to and therefore all sense of objective attendance to people’s grievances are lost in the conundrum of political partisanship.
In all of these perspectives from a limited audience, what is evident is an increasing disconnect of the inclusive government with the lives of the country’s citizens. While many accept the reality of the rivalry between President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, they however do not see the same in relation to political principles or values. Instead they see the rivalry as just that, two bulls in a kraal and depending on what each bull can offer in return, their most solid supporters are those that are in proximity to one gravy train or the other. Further to this, the government’s short term strategic plans have been more on paper than they have been evident in the public domain. The most effective government policy document has been the annual budget presented to parliament by the Finance Minister and of late this has caused a lot of anxiety amongst the informal traders due to the introduction of tariffs on the importation of basic commodities. In education, health and transport, there has been little to show by the government except for their outsourcing of these services to international NGOs.
All of this being particularly symbolized by the purchase of luxury vehicles, the lack of an adequate public explanation of the usage of toll gate revenue and the medical treatment of government officials in foreign hospitals.
profimedia-0089598809.jpgThis is not to say we are expecting the inclusive government to perform miracles. It must however at least show a commitment to bettering the lives of the people of Zimbabwe before seeking to better the lives of its officials. It must also demonstrate the necessary understanding of the hardships people are facing in their day to day lives beyond the rhetoric of its medium term ‘strategic plans’. That would entail re-thinking its policies on education, health, transport and employment creation as well as a demonstration of full commitment to  ensuring the enjoyment of the political freedoms in our bill of rights by all citizens. Where it fails to do so, our politics will remain without evident public value except to wrongly teach younger generations that one gets into politics for self aggrandizement. As for me, I will abide by the famous late national hero Maurice Nyagumbo’s  quotation from his autobiography, With the People;  “some of us must remain to be with the people".

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The mobile internet and the ‘reinvention’ of the Africans.

The mobile internet and the ‘reinvention’ of the Africans.
By Takura Zhangazha

We are potentially all the same now. And that is thanks to that gadget we call the cellular or mobile telephone. It is thing that should make us all very grateful to whoever is credited with inventing the gadget. This gratitude however depends on what  you use the mobile phone for and your mobile phone service company.   The latter point is something I learnt at the Highway Africa Conference hosted by the Rhodes University School of Journalism in Cape Town, South Africa between 16 and 19 September 2011. During this conference there were presentations by representatives of mobile and fixed phone companies that sought to explain the convergence of telecommunications (internet, fixed phones, mobile phones). These presentations were interesting in a number of respects but the most evident fact was that of a ‘new scramble’ for the ‘African markets’ by companies that provide telecommunications and their supporting technologies. And this scramble is a serious one. It is not only a scramble for the African consumer on a scale that would be the equivalent of a ‘hearts and minds’ operation minus the military influence. It is also a scramble that has identified a technological gap in greater sub-Saharan Africa that is to be pursued even where the context does not fit the manner in which the mobile and internet telephony was introduced in the West and the North. And this points to a scramble to potentially re-invent the African and African societies.
One might ask what would be an issue about what are assumedly ‘market economics’ at play. In fact, a number of colleagues have said that it is perhaps my left leaning persuasions that make me take umbrage with issues they consider straightforward. The truth of the matter is that the scramble for telephony markets on the African continent are not just about the arrival of a gadget through which people can talk or communicate. The big telephone companies are representatives of a hegemonic project that (whether willfully or not) is intent on re-inventing the African. And this stems primarily from the purposes of their pursuit of the African market for mobile and internet converged telephony. 
The primary purpose of the scramble is profit, and huge amounts of it. All of this nuanced in the language of innovation or that of the advancement of freedom of expression. To state the obvious, it is the business of private companies to pursue profits but in the instance of the mobile phone companies (who are almost literally affecting peoples lives everywhere) are now extremely influential harbingers of culture and the invention of new realities and as a direct consequence thereof, the re-invention of the African in the image of the technologically better-off  ‘other’. 
To make further profit, the phone and internet related companies have decided to introduce the ‘smart phone’ which would essentially fall short of doing everything for its owner. The ‘smart phone’ will do your banking, pay your bills, update your medical aid and life insurance, show you television, connect to your favourite radio station and access the internet for you. Now this is well and good except for the fact that it is cooptation into a lifestyle that is perhaps without local context. It assumes that most of our African societies are democratic or alternatively the companies collude with governments that are undemocratic to introduce these ICT technologies to the emergent ‘African markets’.  In the process the point that local context is important primarily because the uses of mobile phones and internet related technology in Africa does not have the same societal impact it would have in Europe or North America is lost, so long the money rolls in for the companies or for government revenue.
The question that arises therefore is whether we, as Africans, are mere pawns expected to act out the envisaged behavioural trends of those that have first encountered this technology overseas. In other words, is there an expectation that we will be mimics of our fellow world citizens in the north because like them, we are now connected via the ‘corporate internet’? And in this a further question arises as to whether we are now the subjects of a societal re-engineering project.
Answers to this question are not easy because one cannot run away from the societal/global significance of technological advancement in any field or sphere. We must however as Africans begin to harness the same technological advancement not in order to reflect the lifestyles of those that first encountered them in their own societies. This is particularly so given the serious lack of knowledge production systems of our own continent, both in relation to our history and contemporary societies. We would do well to utilize this technology for the further consolidation of our knowledge of ourselves as well as our knowledge of other world citizens.
Further to this, we are also in a unique predicament of having come from liberation and post liberation struggles for democratization that were never and are not intended to make us subservient to other models of how to interact with our societal processes. These were/are struggles for us to return to the democratic path of making our own history with its peculiar uniqueness. So when we facebook, google or twit something from the comfort of our smart phones, we must be cognizant, as Africans, that these technological advances must serve us before we serve them or the interests of those that invented them in societies elsewhere and in circumstances that might not be congruent with ours. Our aspirations to be economic or ‘privilege status’ equals with those from the developing world should not blind us to the fact that we are still who we are, children of Africa who must continue to seek the path of a purposeful return to making our own history with the refrain that we are equal human beings before we are on the world wide web.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11 from Harare, Zimbabwe

Remembering 9/11 from Harare, Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha.

When September 11 occurred ten years ago I was in Harare, Zimbabwe. Satellite television had just become fashionable amongst young urban professionals and by coincidence that Zimbabwean late afternoon, I was passing through the residency of a friend who had a passion for such media. Instead of however demonstrating the usual enthusiasm for his newly acquired satellite dish, my friend was in a state of shock at what was appearing on Cable News Network (CNN).

The tragic images of the Twin Towers burning, people screaming as well as running away was shocking and confusing at once. Even though I had never been to the United States of America except through television, and in all the movies, television series’ that we had watched since we were children courtesy of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, nothing like this had ever happened in any American city on this scale. In short, it was completely unimaginable for us that this was happening in the United States of America.
In the days that followed, where we could, we tried to watch satellite television images of what had happened, and the American government’s response wherever we could. The internet was not as prevalent as it is now and so the information got to us slowly and mainly by way of the newspapers, radio and television. We did however think (and possibly feel) that America was going to find out whoever did this, partly because we were in awe of that country and its military might. In pub conversations, in meetings and even in the commuter omnibuses, we discussed openly that whoever was responsible for this was surely in big trouble.  We were just not sure if it was a country or a not state actor.

Ten years later, indeed Osama bin Laden the person who was 
responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent Americans ten years ago, has been assassinated by the same government. There is also a continual war in Afghanistan even though the Taliban are no longer in power. There is another war on terror in Iraq, and a ‘war on terror’ in Somalia with the permission of the African Union. Whether another war will emerge ten years after 9/11 is probably up to the United Nations Security Council. What is however in vogue is whether ten years after the terror attacks on American soil, they should have resonance with the Zimbabwean public beyond watching events unfold on television.
A straightforward answer to that is that indeed ten years after, Zimbabweans must continue, as they did in 2001, to express their disdain and condemnation of terrorism as a means of resolving political differences. They must continue to demonstrate solidarity with the innocent citizens that lost their lives in America ten years ago as they must also continue to show the same solidarity with all innocent civilians who are caught up in wars or military attacks across the world. These wars would include those of the occupied Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan and others. Indeed, the solidarity that was demonstrated by Zimbabweans to fellow world citizens, the Americans, is testimony to our collective civilian commitment to peace and not war.
9/11 is also of importance to Zimbabweans with respect to understanding global world politics and events. It is an understanding that must be imbued with the knowledge that it is not our assumed military might that makes our countries invincible, but it is our foreign policies that determine how we are viewed in the world and eventually how we remain safe from attack. So it is therefore necessary to regularly bring our governments to account on their foreign policy decisions. This would, in the case of Zimbabwe, include asking what exactly is informing our foreign policy with for example the European Union or the Chinese. And of late, with Libya, SADC and the AU.
A final area of importance of 9/11 to Zimbabweans is that whereas we are in awe of one country or the other’s power, whether militarily or economically, we must also be cautious about taking as truth everything that they indicate in their foreign policies. The ‘shock and awe’ of Iraq together with the attendant ‘collateral damage’ of innocent civilians is nothing to admire at all. Indeed when these wars appear on our television screens they seem like they are the stuff made for ‘Rambo’ movies, but the reality is that they affect people’s lives and must be avoided at all costs. And the true causes of why a country has been attacked or is to be attacked must be assessed pragmatically and with democratic premise.
In remembering the tragic and horrific events of 9/11, Zimbabweans are and were correct to demonstrate solidarity with their American fellow world citizens. They would also be correct if they also began to query foreign policy decisions of their own government and their full potential domestic ramifications. Be it from the whole matter of sanctions on Zimbabwe, the war that occurred in the DRC and any differences with the South African government. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Wikileaks and our weak political leaders.

Wikileaks and our weak political leaders.

WikiLeaks BlogIf it was not a demonstration of the quality of some of our political leaders, the Wikileaks saga would make for a good script for a theatrical satire or comedy.  When political party leaders or government ministers were meeting with American diplomats and giving their mostly unmitigated opinions on our country’s politics  they must have taken themselves and their American counterparts very seriously. In fact , probably more seriously than they would take their own party meetings, Parliamentary hearings or even cabinet sessions. Judging by the content of some of the cables, those that were meeting with the American diplomats were under the obvious illusion of secrecy, as much as they completely trusted their hosts to keep whatever was said top secret. Never in their minds did it occur to them that these discussions would see the light of day. And for that, we have Wikileaks to thank or chastise depending on your viewpoint. I am firmly persuaded that Wikileaks played the role of a whistleblower in Zimbabwe’s instance and therefore has allowed us to know what we would have never known. Some of the things that have come to light are fairly funny, as in the example of MDC ministers and leaders accusing their party president of being ‘as good as the last person he meets’.  Or alternatively Zanu Pf ministers talking about how they would like the ‘young leaders’ to take over their party when they have never once raised it in public or even in their own meetings.
There are also much more serious suggestions in the cables relating to the President’s health or the Prime Ministers capacity to grasp issues and these should obviously be of concern to all Zimbabweans. How the two leaders react to these cables is something that we will all just have to wait and see, if at all they decide to react to the leaked cables. One thing is however certain, these leaked diplomatic communiqu├ęs have thrown light on the murky world of diplomacy and the character of some of our political and other leaders. And this is a good thing with key lessons that can be learnt from it. 
First amongst the lessons to be learnt (it might seem basic but it has to be said) is that of political leadership residing primarily with the people you lead rather than diplomats. The assumptions of secrecy and conspiratorial discussions is indicative of a serious misunderstanding of international relations on the part of the Zimbabwean leaders. Pouring your heart out at an embassy or with embassy officials is not politics, its merely a demonstration of subservience. Whether they expected the American government to solve our problems we might never know, but the fact that they indeed went out of their way to brief them betrays a simplistic understanding of state politics and power.  Proximity to the American government is not necessarily proximity to the people of Zimbabwe. All the briefings that Zanu Pf and MDC politicians gave the diplomats, in their lucidity, have never been given to the people of Zimbabwe. Instead we have had media blackouts on what is transpiring in the inclusive government or in the parties that comprise it. When we are lucky we get half baked briefings in the run up to some  SADC summit while diplomats are spoilt for choice regularly. It would therefore be expected that from now on, our political leaders will begin to explain themselves more to us, the citizens of Zimbabwe as much if not more than they generally prostrated themselves before diplomats.
The second lesson to be drawn from the Wikileaks debacle is that of the necessity of negotiating on principle and with a firm grasp of politics. In the leaked cables, rarely do any of the leaders demonstrate a clear political principle. Most of the cables are about personalities, particularly their health, capacities and interactions. Rarely does one come across a cable where a leader is negotiating with a diplomat on the basis of a political principle or idea. Its either the leaders are asking for money or attacking a personality. The alternative would have been meeting these diplomats on issues related to principle, with a clear understanding of collective party or government positions and negotiating on that premise. Even where the diplomats have better ideas, one should always seek to contextualize the idea and then compare the pros and cons of a proposed plan by a diplomat who’s government is willing to assist our government. 
The third lesson is that whatever we may say to diplomats of various countries and however we may want to say it, they will always interpret it in their respective country’s interests and in tandem with their country’s foreign policy position. This is regardless of whether we are having tea or coffee with them or whether we are personal friends with them. The ultimate judgment on how we brief them and of what they will have been briefed about remains theirs and that of their respective governments. Zanu Pf officials who were meeting with diplomats may have missed this point, particularly in view of the fact that their party has regularly been extremely hostile to the United States. MDC officials may have however been over confident in their ‘friendship’ with the diplomats, and so too may have misunderstood the point of their diplomatic briefings.
A final lesson from the Wikileaks debacle is  that Zimbabwe is our country and where we have leadership positions in government, civil society or business, we must consistently be conscious of this. We are primarily responsible for it and no matter how many meetings we have with diplomats, SADC, AU, the EU, the Chinese, the Americans and others, the buck stops with us as to what happens here. Indeed we can have these ‘friends’ but they should always be viewed as colleagues who are representing their respective government’s interests, not necessarily ours. Where the two converge, we must consistently understand , as Amilcar Cabral stated more than forty years ago, whoever our friends are, we cannot ‘import their revolutions’.