THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN
Post-colonial Africa’s enduring growing pains have been opportunistically explained to be a consequence of the economically and politically unjust colonial order whose foundation was anchored by a race-based constitutional order and asset ownership architecture.
In Africa today, there is no better ambassador for Africa’s case against its former colonial powers than Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who has emerged rightly or wrongly as the champion of a colonially injured continent. Land ownership patterns in post-colonial Zimbabwe, like many other African states, still exhibit colonially defined and determined arrangements.
It is a known fact that land ownership in Zimbabwe was race-based and that the ownership of economic assets had not been democratised until the land reform program. The reaction of the British and American government to the alteration of land ownership using non-market instruments has provided the Zimbabwean government with a useful currency to expose the hypocrisy of former colonial powers who are accused of building their own functioning democracies with stolen wealth from the colonies.
The Brown-Mugabe standoff provided an opportunity for Africa to speak with one voice about the real feelings in the corridors of power in the continent about the colonial legacy and its purported debilitating impact on the transformation of the continent. There is a feeling among many Africans that Zimbabwe is a victim of an imperialist conspiracy and the treatment given to Zimbabwe is then seen in a larger context of the north-south dialogue, rich-poor relationship, and finally the lack of accountability and responsibility for the colonial injury meted against colonial subjects for the benefit of the colonial powers.
The generally perceived notion that any rich person is necessarily arrogant and a beneficiary from the suffering of the masses; is no different from how the rich countries are regarded by the former colonial subjects. The poor countries often see their salvation in the poverty of the rich countries and they see their role as that of any government -- of robbing the rich to pay the poor although the poor often end up with no benefit from the state.
Even African heads of state and government who are often accused of being arrogant by their citizens; see the arrogance of the rich nations but are blind to their own arrogance and dictatorial styles. The reaction of African states to the EU on trade, investment, security and human rights issues is no different from the reaction of African citizens to their own governments. Why is it that even the worst African governments are blind to their own abuse of the state but are quick to point a finger at the very countries that they rely upon to reduce the frontiers of poverty in their own countries?
It has been successfully argued and accepted by African heads of state and government that the Zimbabwean crisis has a colonial and bilateral context that should not be ignored in the interests of advancing a new relationship between Africa and Europe.
Some argue that it is futile to advance a historical argument about the ills of colonialism as a basis for advancing the interests of a post colonial Africa. What makes the relationship between Europe and Africa complex even if one accepts the colonial injury argument is that most of the national budgets of post colonial Africa are largely funded by European tax payers!
Even Zimbabwe still relies on donor funds to finance its development challenges. In as much as the Sino-Africa relationship may have spurred Europe to ignore Gordon Brown’s objection to Mugabe’s invitation, it is ironic that China has not emerged as the supplier of the much needed untied budgetary financial support to post colonial Africa.
Africa still needs Europe to address its poverty challenges and it is obvious that Africa and Europe share much more than the economic injury that still overshadows any conversation between the two parties.
Many Africans still have a love-hate relationship with their former colonial masters as would be expected in any master-servant relationship. This kind of relationship is not different from the relationship between slaves and their masters, post-abolition of slavery, when many slaves found themselves electing to remain as slaves because they could not think of any viable alternative.
The outcome of the just concluded Lisbon summit exposed the fundamental problem between Africa and Europe where the former wants to be treated as an equal partner while accepting that it needs the latter to pay its important bills. The development agenda of Africa is still to a large extent premised on foreign direct and portfolio investment and less on domestic capital formation.
Europe is forging ahead with unity and has over the years been able to craft a new order that seems to elude Africa. The historical contribution of Europe to global civilisation even if the ills of colonialism are put in their proper context is quite significant and, indeed, the institutional and legal framework that informs post-colonial Africa is a direct inheritance from Europe. We still are challenged in developing our own institutions to drive Africa’s transformation objectives.
The core principles of equality, social justice and opportunity for all remain the common values that Europe and Africa purport to share and yet European citizens find themselves freer than their African former slaves even after the advent of uhuru. Who will deliver the fruits of these principles to post-colonial Africa? Why are African leaders so insecure even when the opposition is weak, divided, and its constituency rarely stretches far outside the middle class? What is obvious is that the leadership in Africa does not trust citizens to use democracy as a means to achieve these principles. The child (democracy) is judged by many in power to lack maturity to handle such a complicated task without the supervision of the liberators.
Post-colonial Africa has emerged as more authoritarian, paternalistic and corrupt than the colonial system. Europe has functioning institutions and the remnants of European institutions in Africa are still intact to the extent that indigenisation and empowerment initiatives seek to accommodate previously disadvantaged individuals to other people’s functioning institutions rather than creating a new African reality owned and controlled by Africans themselves.
As Africa seeks to define its own agenda as a united formation, the story of the United Kingdom is instructive. It would be simplistic to say that the absence of Brown in Lisbon signifies the end of the British Empire. Zimbabwe may not be a colony again but there are many countries that are grateful for the contribution of the British to their own circumstances and have used the English heritage to advantage.
In 1707 through an Act of Union whose tercentenary was celebrated this year, the United Kingdom was created and forged out of rain-swept islands 22 miles off the European Continental littoral to form a single nation state that has changed the world indelibly. Although the UK’s population of 60 million accounts for less than 1% of the global population, it is nevertheless the world’s fifth-largest economy. The United Kingdom continues to occupy a foremost position in global politics and economics.
The Act of Union was an inspired recipe for giving Britain a critical mass that has allowed it to achieve greater things that the individual constituent nations would not have been able to do on their own. The Scots helped to build the British Empire and the rest is history.
Sterling is one of the world’s greatest currencies and the union ranks as the respected and sought after address of world financial services. The UK contributed to the Industrial Revolution and one of its greatest exports almost ranking with the unicameral and bicameral representative institutions has been the English tongue. Today the English language comprises some of 500,000 words, more than thrice the number of any other tongue. Europeans who speak English now outnumber those who speak French by three to one.
The framers of the modern UK were visionaries who were clearly ahead of their time. They created a military, economic and cultural platform that allowed them to export their values and systems abroad while maintaining a sound and just constitutional order at home that is still prevailing. The British Empire has gone through some fundamental changes in the last one hundred years and yet the British have managed to reinvent themselves without looking back as many of its former colonies are fond of in their attempt to explain away their failure to adjust and reduce the frontiers of poverty in their countries.
Brown could afford to boycott the Lisbon summit not only because the UK is a principal financier of the EU project but also it remains the largest benefactors of Zimbabwe notwithstanding the public grand standing. To the extent that African countries cannot survive without donor support, it would be naïve for African governments to forget who pays the piper.
What is even more shocking is that across the political divide of African states, the financing of political parties is also provided largely from without. The opposition parties are structured and modelled around accessing donor funds than in responding to their citizens. Equally, the ruling parties who receive donor funds through budgetary support often use such funds to entrench themselves in power by pretending they are the source of funds for development.
African citizens have often taken the easy way out after receiving expensive education by going into the Diaspora. The tax base of Africa is daily marginalised by the brain drain and yet such brain trust is not often trusted by African governments who are keener to engage foreign investors than their own investors. Can you imagine a summit of African heads of state and government meeting to discuss how to make African an attractive investment destination for its citizens?
Europe may not have the land and minerals but it has understood what is required to capture the imagination of its citizens. In the final analysis, the success of Europe in the post-colonial era cannot be explained exclusively on the back of simplistic notions of exploitation of colonial resources. If the islands that constitute the UK can be resilient and be relevant in a globally competitive environment, then surely Africa should reflect critically on what it needs to do beyond Lisbon to live up to the expectations of its citizens.
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