Surfing through Zimbabwean online news portals, a casual reader may be left thinking that many of us in the Diaspora have become homicidal, credit scamming, philandering, disease spreading rogues fit for cameos as a baddies in low budget crime capers.
This and the mean-spirited sniping prevalent on Zimbabwean discussion boards led me to write something positive and uplifting for a change.
Whilst it is futile to ignore that there are a handful of villains in our midst, those of you reading this blog in foreign lands will attest to the fact that a lot of Zimbabweans are doing their best to tread less travelled and challenging paths in many fields and disciplines.
We could all come up with lists of our compatriots who have succeeded against the odds in various and diverse fields and sectors far away from the familiar comforts and support structures that would have normally spurred them on at home.
With this in mind, and if you could please indulge me, I would like to share with you an exciting journey that a Zimbabwean sister has embarked on here in Ireland. Tendai would be a kindred spirit to one Barack Obama. This is not mere hyperbole on my part. You see folks, like the US President-elect, she is a community organiser extraordinaire and a marvel to witness when in full flow.
Let me digress slightly. I am sure you all know by now that the President-elect Obama’s epochal victory is partly attributed to his remarkable community organisational skills which he and his campaign team transferred with much precision and finesse from the bruising Chicago political landscape to the national stage en-route to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Certainly, whilst there is no denying that his exotic heritage, the prevailing economic and financial mayhem, the mere existence of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin all played a significant part in clearing his road to the 44th US Presidency, you will find that his historic triumph also owes much to a remarkable campaign machine that operated from the grassroots community level upwards. Manuals on how to run an ‘Obama campaign’ are already being churned out for future elections.
Anyway, back to Tendai. Despite having only been in Ireland for less than seven years, Tendai was recently selected to stand as a candidate for the Green Party in Ireland’s crucial local government and European elections in the middle of next year.
Significantly, the Green Party is one of the coalition governing parties (almost wrote ruling party there – quite different in tone and meaning to what we call them back home, is it not?) in Ireland. Remarkably, but not surprisingly, other political parties including Ireland’s biggest party and main coalition government party also vied to get the sister from Gutu to stand on their ticket.
Tendai’s achievement is quite significant in many respects. Steady on, I hear some of you say, she is only but a candidate who has not won anything yet. Well then, allow me to put her achievement into some perspective for you.
Unlike other Western European democracies, Ireland’s political landscape is still almost entirely homogenous, whether at local or national level. Despite some significant inward migration in the last decade or so, migrants, particularly from Africa or Asia, account for less than five percent of the population of well over four million.
Certainly, some precedent was set for Tendai during the last local elections in 2004. Back then, two African and independent candidates were elected as local councillors, with one of them, Rotimi Adebari, making history by becoming the first black mayor of an Irish town or city.
Tendai’s burgeoning political career has been consolidated by her tireless work in her local community in a South Dublin suburb. Her grassroots activism has seen her working extensively on notable community projects in both Ireland and Zimbabwe over a career that spans more than ten years.
She has contributed significantly to community projects in Burundi, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Colombia and Afghanistan in her role as Programme Officer for an international NGO taking active roles against gender-based violence, stamping out HIV/Aids campaign and the Global Campaign for Microbicides.
Far from her community work being solely and stereotypically for the benefit of fellow migrants, Tendai has captured the attention of the Irish people in her constituency with her ability to champion diverse but pertinent causes in her constituency such as education, child care services (a big issue here), quality care and support for the disabled and elderly people. Should she win (her chances of doing so are pretty encouraging), Tendai will have done so as a member of a governing party and would also become the first African woman to be elected to mainstream political office in Ireland.
Finally, some of you may wonder then that if Tendai possesses enough political acumen to be a candidate for a governing party, has she done anything about the dire situation back home. Well, the answer is she has.
Together with other Zimbabweans in Ireland, Tendai has been able to enlighten the people of Ireland about the situation at home and this has been achieved through well-received street demonstrations, meetings with Irish politicians across the political divide and several media engagements.
These have resulted in the Irish government, public and media paying more attention to Zimbabwe and more importantly ensuring that some major Irish development agencies increased their profile in Zimbabwe through raising more funds for the much needed assistance on the ground.
Of course, I have to add that as a member of the Green Party, she has not escaped the good natured banter that plays on the fact that hers and her family’s lifestyle now has to fit in with a green existence.
I have suggested that she must ditch that gas guzzler of hers and cycle everywhere or at least get one of those hideous electric cars, grow her own veggies like chomoulier and onions and be ready to chain herself to a tree at short notice to protest against the depletion of rain forests.
Seriously though, I am glad that she is in a party that stands for a unique and noble cause and for something tangibly different to the dross we get from other mainstream political parties.
Well, enough approbation from me. So what is the moral of this story, if any? Well, I am certainly not Tendai’s campaign manager and of course most of you reading this will not even vote in this forthcoming election but judging by the bleak situation at home any uplifting news, I feel, should be highlighted and rightly lauded.
Forced into exile, whether out of political, social or economic necessity, Zimbabwe’s sons and daughters are charting new paths and scaling new heights all over the world. Zimbabwe’s loss has been several countries’ gain and I’m sure wherever you are, you and other compatriots are representing that fine country of ours.
These Zimbabweans, one can only dream, may one day harness all this expertise, knowledge and experience for the betterment of the land of their birth. We will come out of this malaise and we will build our country upwards again and it will need all hands to the pump.
Of course, some will have planted roots so deep wherever they are, that they will not even countenance going home, but with millions now outside Zimbabwe’s borders, even a few thousand will help the brave souls who have stuck it out in Zimbabwe.
Hope springs eternal.