The poverty of isolation
Dr Alex T. Magaisa
Whenever we played football he was the one who called the shots. If he was playing for the losing team, he would take his ball and go home even in the middle of the match. He did this many times, until one day we all decided that we would revert to our plastic ball made up of rolled rags and pieces of paper. And he would keep his football. Every time he would come to the field and watch us play from a distance and he saw that we were very happy with our plastic ball. He would stand there with his football alone and sad. One day an old man who used to watch our games every afternoon called him and spoke to him in our presence. He said, “Son, it is not the ball that matters, but the excitement generated by coming together with others and playing the ball. On your own it becomes just another object…"
There are a number of proverbial expressions that caution against arrogance and the belief that one can accomplish tasks on his own. Rume rimwe harikombi churu is one of them. Zano ndega akasiya jira kumasese is another. Yet despite the abundance of timeless lessons, the Zimbabwean government seems to think that it can go it alone in this world. Zimbabwe cannot afford to remain in isolation. Unless Zimbabwe takes into account the developments in the economic and political marketplace, it is likely to remain in isolation and consequently, its prospects of revival will remain distant.
First, over the last five years, Zimbabwe has created enemies almost everywhere – isolating itself from whoever tries to give advice or caution. The list is long: the West (which means most of Europe and the USA) for interference, the Commonwealth, the IMF, the World Bank, the African Union, Nigeria and the African Union attempts to mediate in Zimbabwe, allegedly spurning the loan from South Africa. Admittedly, the tactics used by some of the countries and their inconsistency leave something to be desired. Yet Zimbabwe has flatly refused to understand the position advanced by these multiple parties. The result is that even those that may have sympathised with Zimbabwean government’s cause have become exasperated by its attitude and conduct.
Secondly, Zimbabwe is now firmly stuck in the murky world of international politics. Things are not as simple as the government appears to believe. They have not taken heed of the timeless expression that in politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. This rule applies more clearly in the international political arena. We reiterate the point made before, that despite its expression of a cosy relationship with China as our great friends, the reality is that the Chinese are not necessarily guided by friendship. They are guided by their own economic interests. In a world in which the US, European Union and China are grappling for economic space across the globalising world markets, each of those three major players will do anything to further their economic power and influence. China is not a charitable entity. Its policy of silence while at the same time pursuing its economic interests in countries where citizens are suffering is just as bad as the reviled interference by the Americans in pursuit of its economic interests. To the extent that the Zimbabwe government does not see that, it is caught up in a complex web in which it will forever remain a pawn.
Similarly, as I have argued before, the opposition movement has put too much trust in the international community as the saviour in Zimbabwe. Unless there is major threat to the economic interests of the international community it is unlikely that they will actually do much to help Zimbabwe out of its mess. They can argue about human rights, democracy, et al, but these alone do not give them the necessary incentive. The same applies to other African countries in the region, which rather than suffer may actually be benefiting economically from Zimbabwe’s collapse. They have benefited immensely from Zimbabwe’s intellectual capital, investment as companies and organisations relocate to safer places and generally deflection of attention to their own misdemeanours while the rest of the world focuses on Zimbabwe. Their citizens are buying out Zimbabwean companies and resources on the cheap because of the weak currency and poor economic conditions affecting the their value on the market.
At the point where Zimbabwe actually becomes a key liability to their economic fortunes, perhaps that is when they will take more decisive action but at present that is unlikely. Therefore, both the government and the MDC are caught up in the murky waters of international politics where their concerns play second fiddle to the interests of their so-called partners and friends. All this points to one thing: that in fact, the solution lies within and that it is necessary to safeguard national interests when dealing with the international community. It is quite literally, a rat race and interests not friendship define relations.
Does the government and MDC not see that despite being castigated for having cordial relations with Zimbabwe, China would nonetheless conclude trade deals the with EU and the US? Despite not being a democracy or having a clean human rights record, China will always be sought out for economic purposes? The reality is that there is too much going in this world and relations and activities are defined by one thing: economic interest. Neither ZANU PF nor the MDC has the friends that they think they have. There are simply interested parties who will do anything to safeguard those interests. It is how Zimbabwe navigates in these murky waters that matters and so far Zimbabwe has failed and remains all at sea with no clue as to where the destination is. Pirates are hovering on all sides and each member of the Zimbabwean vessel thinks they are friends. Chenjerai kudya nzungu zvese nemhutwa, the wise ones have warned. (Beware of consuming the grains and the chaff at the same time)
It is true that there is a plague of wrongs and problems in this world. Indeed each country is affected by problems, both man-made and natural. We are reminded of that Shona saying that hakuna dziva risina datya. In other words, in this context, there is no perfect country. Even those that preach the virtues of democracy and human rights have their own shortcomings. Everyone is entitled to make criticism but it is also necessary to appreciate the importance of diplomacy in the relations between nation states. More importantly, there is an art of knowing what to say, when to say and how to say it. This applies to all – the big and small countries. Unfortunately the statements traded between opponents both locally and internationally are unhelpful. There may be substance in some criticism that the Zimbabwe government makes against Western countries but it is knowing when and how to say it that makes a difference. It becomes hollow when issued from conditions of desperation, poverty and dependence.
Recently, former Finance Minister Dr Simba Makoni was quoted as having made an interesting observation: That while the government must understand the concerns of the international community, the international community should also try to understand why the government does certain things. I wonder if and when the government is really prepared to understand not only the concerns of the international community but more importantly, the concerns of the Zimbabwean people. Is there any chance of seeking to understand why some people prefer the MDC other than dismissing them as brainwashed and unpatriotic? Similarly, is there any chance that the MDC can seek to understand why some people actually like ZANU PF other than dismissing them as victims of ignorance and intimidation?
The common theme of the government’s intransigence in relation to the international community is that it is safeguarding sovereignty. In the same way that it seeks to define patriotism, the government refuses to acknowledge that the definition of sovereignty is contested territory. In any event, the reality is that the political sovereignty that it continually highlights is being severely tested in the modern world by economic factors. As the legendary Indian revolutionary Nehru wrote so many years ago, a country’s independence and sovereignty is closely connected to its economic independence. It follows that where economic independence is at risk, political sovereignty is also compromised. To the extent that the economic and political policies of the government have undermined the economic capacity of the country, it has in fact subverted political sovereignty.
The irony is that after expropriating land without an appropriate agricultural policy and supporting resources and now threatening to expropriate commercial and industrial enterprises purportedly to empower black Zimbabweans, the result has been a decline in production across the board. The resulting negative international profile has also contributed to economic decline. Consequently, economic independence is actually at risk, making Zimbabwe more vulnerable to economic and political capture by foreign elements, even by those that we call friends. Instead of generating the necessary independence and safeguarding sovereignty, the policies and actions of the government appear to have generated greater dependence on outsiders. Now Zimbabwe is a net importer of aid, when years ago we were exporting to vulnerable neighbours. Today our currency has fallen below the much-maligned Zambian Kwacha and it is trading at almost at par with the Mozambique Metcash. Millions of people have left Zimbabwe as economic refugees and the country is not generating foreign currency receipts and in an economy where imports are critical this has led to massive shortages and rampant inflation. It is unhelpful to keep referring to sovereignty when the economic basis to support it is being undermined.
In a nutshell, there are key lessons that the major political players in Zimbabwe must learn:
cannot survive in isolation in this world. Behaviour defined by arrogance
and intransigence must cease if we are to make progress;
Finally, it is futile to talk of political sovereignty while undermining the economic independence of the country. To invoke yet another of the proverbial expressions, Ndamba kuudzwa akawonekwa nembonje pahuma. There is no disguising the wound anymore … It’s there for all to see.
Epilogue: The boy listened carefully to the old man. He joined us and was happy. At the end of the game he asked the old man to keep the ball and bring it every day to the field for everyone to play, even if he was not there. The old man concluded, “There is wealth in the pursuit of common happiness but poverty in isolation”. And everyone was happy.
is a lawyer specialising in Economic and Financial Services Law. He
is also a columnist for the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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