THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN
Africa at crossroads
What emerged from the debate is that there are important lessons for Africa from the developments in Zimbabwe.
Many would agree that the concerns about human and property rights, rule of law, poverty, unemployment, corruption, tyranny and general governance issues are universal and applicable to many African countries notwithstanding their age.
Against this background, it is critical that we expand the debate to cover issues like African citizenship and how critical it is that we reflect on the interplay between citizenship (both natural and artificial) and governance.
After my presentation on SA FM, I received a number of phone calls and emails congratulating me on my talk. One such email, I decided was important to share with you, reads as follows:
I have been listening to your Radio presentation at SA FM on Thursday (7th September). I was impressed by your talk. I am a South African currently schooling in US. African matters - Economics and Politics - are very close to my heart. I realize from your comments that we share the same sentiments. We Africans are failing ourselves. Since decolonization, Africa knows no peace, leadership, financial independence, etc.
In Arizona, we Africans from different countries around the continent meet and discuss these issues. I am really impressed by your talk, let alone inspired. It really shows that we are all mutually thinking and taking similar positions against tyranny, corruption, oppression, etc.
Last year, a Ghanaian Scholar, Prof. George B.N. Ayittey was amongst us hinting the same problems. He is the author of two contentious books, "Africa Betrayed" and "Africa Unchained: The Blueprint of Africa's Future".
The writer of the email raises a number of interesting observations and issues that I thought would be important for me to address in this article. It is gratifying for me to know that my views resonate with the views of fellow Africans and although the focus of my article and presentation on the radio show was on Zimbabwe, many would agree that ultimately Africans have to stand up and take responsibility for the political and economic quagmire that has visited not only Zimbabwe but many African countries.
Mugabe may be one of three remaining heads of state who have not seen a need to take mortgage since assuming power but have mortgaged their citizens and condemned them to poverty while remaining resolutely pan African and nationalistic in outlook and approach. If Mugabe had purchased his own house at independence with a 25 year mortgage today he would be a proud owner of a home and yet the majority of Zimbabweans has seen their standard of living diminish each day and cannot understand what went wrong.
The writer correctly observes that: “Since decolonization, Africa knows no peace, leadership or financial independence.”
These are not new observations and many Africans have accepted that there must be something fundamentally wrong with Africans that they would fight against the tyranny of a few during the colonial struggle only to replace it with a similar dispensation under black control. It is important to trace our problems from the construction of a post colonial state and how the architecture of African citizenship and the bill of rights were structured and communicated.
It is important that we debate the issue of citizenship openly. In any society, there are two forms of citizenship i.e. natural and juristic. With respect to natural persons, the decolonization project sought to create a society in which all men and women were equal before the law. The foundation of a post-colonial state was based on the restoration of rights to the majority so that they could decide on who among them could govern. However, most Africans who were enthusiastic supporters of the decolonization project were not aware that they would truly enjoy the fundamental right to choose their government only at independence. Thereafter, in many countries the person and party who assumed control of the post colonial state immediately privatized the state and monopolized the state house resulting in many citizens even questioning the wisdom of liberation.
With respect to juristic persons, it is common cause that they are a creation of men. They enjoy the same rights as any citizen. For example, a company is an artificial person and corporate law is founded on the tyranny of the majority and not on their benevolence. Where a shareholder owns more than 50 plus one share, such a shareholder has absolute control. It should be appreciated that while the private sector may speak of governance and transparency, the construction of corporate civilization is based on undemocratic values. It is also important to recognize that the adage that says the customer is king is the cornerstone of a market system. You may have absolute control of the ownership of an artificial person but you cannot force consumers to buy what they do not like. It therefore forces any business owner to anticipate what the customers want and to organize his/her enterprise so that the production system is efficient and viable. A shareholder ends up with a relationship similar to parent/child where the shareholder has no contractual nexus with his/her creation but is enshrined with fundamental rights that any functioning system would need to protect to ensure that investment and development takes place.
In many African countries, the respect of property rights and the cost and ease with which you can register your rights has been observed as one of the critical variables explaining the underdevelopment of the continent. However, it is significant to note that Africa and Africans in general are new to corporate civilization and the appreciation of the importance of property rights many not be apparent to many political actors in Africa who do not even respect the rights of their own natural citizens. In as much as a customer should be king in a market system, the African voter/citizen is practically a slave of the people who are supposed to be accountable to them. In a market system, you can recall a defective product but African citizens in the majority are denied the right to recall a defective politician. Many politicians have recycled themselves with little or no accountability to their masters i.e. the citizens.
Although it is easy to criticize African political actors we need to appreciate that even in the private sector the behavior of captains of industry may not be any different. How many corporate leaders are truly accountable to their shareholders? The corporate failures that have come to characterize this century demonstrate that governance concerns should not be restricted to the political market. To what extent is the private sector a contributor to the decline of Africa is an issue that needs to be addressed. The architecture of Africa’s private sector also needs to be critically examined. To the extent that Africa’s resources and corporate heritage are controlled by non-African, what are the implications on political governance? We have seen the political contestations that have come to characterize contemporary Africa being between labour and government with no visible private sector response. Could it be that the absence of a vibrant African controlled private sector with independent interests is a result of a conspiracy between the hijackers of the decolonization project and the controllers of Africa’s resources?
In terms of institutional capacity we observe that many trade unions in Africa are donor funded in as much as African governments resulting in a predominant influence of donors on African policy making. In addition, consultants who exhibit parasitic behavior towards Africa end up being super citizens than the ordinary African citizens who should be protected by the law. The non-state actors largely funded by donors also end up invariably being more African than the Africans themselves. While it is common to see citizens of donor countries being more welcome than African skills in Africa what is disturbing are that some of these super African citizens end up undermining the democratic space of Africans and their ability to think for themselves. We need to interrogate the reasons behind the African brain drain and who the real beneficiaries are.
As Africa gropes for solutions, its corporate architecture continues to be dominated by non-Africans. What makes ChiNdia different from Africa is that the nationals of both China and India are active in the corporate and political markets. If you look at the movers and shakers of Africa you may be shocked that Africans are conspicuous in their absence. While it would be simplistic to argue that this is a result of some conspiracy it is instructive to note that many African governments are constructively doing their best to discourage the creation of African corporate citizens. If it is true that many African governments and their adversaries are under one common control i.e. donors then what is the future for Africa. I have accepted that in as much as I can contribute my personal views on the African dilemma many would argue that I am only doing so because I have business interests. Many would regard any businessman as an enemy of the poor and would see poverty as a creation of greedy business persons. To what extent is Africa’s quagmire explained by bad governance or bad business people remains a question that needs to be debated openly and transparently. Equally, it is disheartening to note that African intellectuals have not taken upon themselves to study and document African business case studies so that future generations can draw lessons on the culpability or otherwise of the corporate citizens in positioning Africa as a failed continent.
Some argue that the colonial state never gave any property to blacks and would not understand why a businessman like me would legally challenge the government of Zimbabwe that has nationalized my assets. A school of thought exists that says an African businessman should eternally be grateful to the decolonizers for helping to create an environment where blacks could even think of owning property let alone talking about property rights. The construction of this argument is that any black businessman must necessarily be an agent of the political process and, therefore, his/her views should only be seen in the context of the political masters. In the case of Zimbabwe, some would argue that Mugabe started as an excellent statesman and something happened in the journey that made him different.
However, some would argue that Mugabe has been consistent in terms of his views on political and economic governance and his place in not only the Zimbabwean but the African story. It is important that those who seek to replace Mugabe understand the mind that informs him. The debate on the future of Zimbabwe must address the following issues in so far as Mugabe is concerned. Is it true that Mugabe held that view that a one party state was the best form of government for a post colonial state? Is it true that Mugabe has always believed rightly or wrongly that he was the only qualified Zimbabwean to lead the country? Why is it that Mugabe could not accept to join forces with ZAPU in the pre-independence elections? After independence, Mugabe brought ZAPU into government as junior partners.
Then there was Gukurahundi. Nkomo had to cross the border to Botswana and then to the UK in as much as James Mushore had to make the same choice using similar means to end up in the UK. It was only when Nkomo accepted Mugabe’s way that the unity accord was signed and an Executive President was created. Some history observers have noted that the constitution of Zimbabwe had to be changed to allow for the elimination of two power centers that would have been possible if Nkomo had become a President and Mugabe had continued as a Prime Minister. From 1987, Mugabe ceased to be a Parliamentarian and some would recall that the unity accord ushered a new era whereby the President was no longer accountable to Parliament. Could the unity accord have been an accident or Mugabe’s design for total control?
Did the unity accord confer on Mugabe super citizen rights? Who should be blamed for this? Should ZAPU be blamed for selling? Should Mugabe be complemented for this accomplishment where he ended up more powerful than Ian Smith with virtually no opposition? Some have argued that the Zanufication of Zimbabwean politics has been entrenched thanks to Mugabe. Any political party in Zimbabwe has to think about the ethnic question before anything. Most of the parties have followed Mugabe’s example of creating a platform that accommodates the former ZAPU or Ndebeles as a junior and inconsequential partner of the governing class. Even veterans like Dabengwa came to the realization that freedom in the post colonial state had its own limits. Until he accepted the supremacy of Mugabe, Dabengwa would still be in prison today.
Is it Zanufication of politics or rather the African way of governance? Could it be the base that most African political leaders are no different from Mugabe? Is Mugabe’s way of doing business a barometer for African politics? Why is it that African governments have failed to embrace the MDC’s change agenda? To what extent are African problems internally generated? What is it about African leaders that would make them accept the proposition that they are superior citizens?
In the construction of the post colonial state, it is instructive that there is an absence of debate about the role of institutions in development. Even the political clubs that call themselves political parties are not institutions outside the state. The role of the great leader in undermining political institutions needs to be debated in as much as the centralization of power under the super-Presidency should also be discussed openly. A friend made an interesting observation that Zanu PF like many political institutions in Africa is not a party outside the framework of the state and the leader. It may be shocking to observe that there is no single ideology or program that keeps the party together. The leader becomes like a godfather with unfettered access to state resources that can be unleashed at will against any enemy. An enemy of the leader invariably becomes an enemy of the state. Some would argue that the notion of common citizenship does not apply to Africa because citizens end up being subjects or objects of the head of state. It would be unfair to single out Mugabe in this behavior but we need to critically examine the behavioral traits of African leaders in order to appreciate the context and content of the changes Africa requires and deserves.
In talking about leadership and citizenship it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that Africa has no monopoly of bad leaders but the world if full of examples of bad leadership and governance. What is different is that African citizens appear to be getting the worst deal. This is worsened by the absence of any alternative power center that is founded on different governance principles. If for example, you were a shareholder in a company called Zimbabwe in which your CEO for 26 years was Mugabe, how would you evaluate your CEO? Some would look at the bottom line and what would they say about Zimbabwe at independence and the Zimbabwe of today. Are Zimbabweans better off today under the stewardship of Mugabe or are they worse off? In the case of a failed enterprise, a number of options exist but citizens ultimately must take responsibility. Mugabe has never failed Zimbabweans in terms of having elections since independence. Citizens have voted consistently and the record speaks for itself. Under what construction then would it be justifiable to say that Zimbabweans got the leadership they do not deserve? When Mugabe wanted to introduce a one party system through constitutional means, Zimbabweans spoke and he backed off. Could it be that a combination weak institutions and low African literacy have contributed to creating monsters in the various state houses of Africa?
In conclusion, Africa needs a new deal founded on a new mutual and not old mutual. Without interest groups that can shape the direction of nation building and keep errant leaders from straying it is difficult to see how Africa’s renaissance can be constructed. I am one of many Africans who tried to make a difference in the corporate market only to be obstructed by blacks and not whites.
However, notwithstanding my loss, I am confident that my story if properly told will enrich the heritage of Africa and future generations will draw inspiration on what we did and not what we did not do to make Africa a home for all its citizens. I have also accepted that it is dangerous to ignore illiteracy and its consequences on nation building and to this end I have decided to dedicate a portion of my time to share with my fellow Africans my perspectives on the unheard debate that must take place before salvation comes. In talking about citizenship in the context of Africa we must honestly discuss the definition of who is an African and what our heritage in the civilization ladder is and what it takes to create a winning people.
weekly column appears on New Zimbabwe.com every Monday. You can contact
him at: email@example.com
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