THE MUTUMWA MAWERE COLUMN
From Tokyo in 2000 to Heiligendamm last week, the African story has occupied the minds of the rich nations exposing the challenges that still confront the continent in addressing the poverty trap that seems to be an enduring defining characteristic of post-colonial Africa.
In as much as African governments have the tendency of despising the rich nations; it seems that they have resigned themselves to being accomplished lobbyists for handouts and free food at the table where the rich meet to discuss issues of mutual interest.
The mere fact that Africans expect the rich to make it their agenda to invest in Africa’s poverty and development challenges goes a long way to show that we still have a long way to go. Most African nations cannot function and deliver services to their citizens without the financial intervention of the very imperialist forces that they seek to blame for their misery. No other continent’s issues have been the subject matter of the rich nations for eight successive summits with no visible sign of hope.
The love hate relationship between Africa and its former colonial masters is no different from the relationship that characterised former slaves with their former slave masters. The behaviour of house and plantation niggers may not be any different from the behaviour of those who get invited to the house of the rich nations and those who would never be welcomed by the rich.
While the house niggers may take comfort in that they are worthy to eat the crumbs from the master’s table and pose for photos with the masters, they are acutely aware that the master will never be blackmailed into giving up his/her privilege. The plantation niggers are too angry and usually remain alienated from the affluence of the master. Freeing the slaves did not give them the freedom to make their own choices and most of the slaves had become so accustomed to being dependent on the master that it became difficult if not impossible for them to think for themselves and take ownership of their destinies.
Even at the last G8 summit, the spokespersons for Africa’s plight that the media focused on for comment were not Africans. Why is it that Africa’s problems do not attract African champions and advocates? The rich nations now compete on who cares most for Africa? The day before yesterday it was Clinton, yesterday it was Blair and today it is Merkel. We then have our African champions whose mission is to convince the rich nations to be less rich by targeting their income to invest in Africa’s poverty. It may not be surprising to see Blair teaming up with Kofi Annan, Clinton, Bono, Gates, Geldof etc as the new champions of Africa.
Even if the rich countries poured more than US$60 billion in Africa over the next three years, I am confident that Africa’s problems will remain with us. The real question is: what will it take for Africa to rid itself of the development challenges and fast track it into the global matrix of progressive nations and functional brands?
The poor will always be there in as much as the rich will always be there. Africans pretty much know what they are against but they seem not to have clarity on what they stand for. There is no consensus on what kind of Africa, Africans want. Should Africa’s ideology be communist/socialist or capitalist? To the extent that African leaders are not comfortable with the rich nations, how can rich Africans be understood and accommodated by African governments? Should Africa’s resources be exploited by non-Africans? What is Africa’s agenda? Who should drive the African development agenda i.e the state or the individual African?
Africa needs to grow up and we need to look at ourselves in the eye and ask ourselves critically why despite the continent’s great potential and human resources, the continent continues to face some of the world's greatest challenges. The numerous initiatives designed to spur and stimulate Africa's development have failed to deliver sustained improvements to the continent’s majority. Even with the end of apartheid and colonialism, the majority of Africans continue to be challenged by poverty.
It is ironic that Africans were colonised by a few organised Caucasians who knew what they wanted from Africa and yet most African leaders appear to be unable to figure out what they stand for. Colonialists came to Africa often with bibles as their currency and a few guns to tame the natives but what was clear was that they stood for white privilege and their system was accordingly constructed on values that celebrated white progress. Our post-colonial leaders in the main have not been able to stand for black progress viewing it as a threat to their hegemony and seem unable to communicate what kind of society for Africa should be and what Africans need to do to join the commonwealth of global progressive nations. Even after 13 years of Uhuru in South Africa, it would be unthinkable to find a white person looking forward to eke a living in an African township like Soweto or Langa.
Although Africans occupy State Houses, the majority of Africans continue to occupy the informal settlements. The prime responsibility for Africa's future must lie with us. We have to make the hard choices on issues of governance, rule of law, democracy, property rights, and the role of the individual African child, woman and man in the development process.
I have been privileged to occupy the space that enables me to speak with confidence on a number of African issues. I am comforted by the fact that every African rich or poor has his/her own address and like a pyramid we all have a contribution to make in sustaining our pyramid. The rich are as important as the poor because in the final analysis every poor person may also want to live and occupy the address of the rich.
In the political transitions that have taken place in Africa, perhaps the most classic is the overnight trading of places between the colonial elites and the black elites. Even in the case of South Africa, with the exception of Winnie Mandela and a few others, most black elites have seamlessly taken over white addresses and yet spent most of their time despising the people who built their comfortable shelters for them. We still have to see a shopping mall conceived and developed by us. Our residential and work addresses typically reflect the inheritance from the colonial system that we seek to destroy without embracing the informal settlements that the majority seem incapable of escaping from.
My own story may not be different from the stories of other Africans. I never thought that my story could occupy the minds of non-Africans but early last year, I was surprised to receive an email from an African American that had stumbled on my name in the cyberspace and became interested in what had been written about me. He is a film producer based in New York who found my story intriguing and fascinating to the extent that he was anxious to get my permission to do a documentary on my story. I did not know how to respond not only because I was not sure which aspect he had read about but because I did not know the person. I took the courage to respond to him and told him that it would be best to meet with in person to establish precisely the nature of his interest in my story.
When I met the gentleman in New York, he was shocked to find out that I was just another ordinary person. I asked him to tell me what was so fascinating about my story. He then said that he had read all that has been covered in the media about me and surprisingly he had concluded on his own that the manner in which my story has been covered is no different from how the media has treated African American persons in my position.
Accordingly, he wanted me to tell him the real story. He said that he did not believe that I was a fugitive, crony, and dishonest. His primary interest was to focus on how African governments treat their own kind while allowing other nationals to monopolise the exploitation of Africa’s resources.
He said that he could not believe that the Zimbabwean government would like to claim credit on my achievements while displaying ineptitude in dealing with national development challenges. What was most disturbing to him was that even journalists who credit themselves as Robert Mugabe’s critics and the political opposition seem to be indifferent to the human and property rights abuses perpetrated by the government of Zimbabwe against African businessmen. He was surprised that my case had not been taken seriously to expose the hypocrisy of the government of Zimbabwe.
I told him that it should not be strange for him to appreciate that it is difficult for Africans to accept and celebrate the progress of one of their own given our common poor heritage. Anyone who makes it is often labelled a crony or corrupt. I also told him that it is to be expected that anyone in my position would naturally be a target not only of the political elites but the general public. I said that I am the only fugitive in the world who has not changed an address for the last 12 years and who is a foreign citizen to the forum country. He was shocked to learn that I have not been a resident of Zimbabwe since 1988 and that I acquired South African citizenship voluntarily.
He wanted to know
why the government of Zimbabwe has not been exposed for trying to poison
the public with a version that I became a South African citizen because
I was running away from Zimbabwe. I told him that if I was running away
from Zimbabwe I would not have been eligible for citizenship in a foreign
country but political asylum. I asked him whether he had ever read about
me vacating an office in Harare that the government would surely have
raided if it existed. How could I be accused of being a fugitive without
locating the place I ran away from?
The starting point for an average African person is to put himself into my shoes and try to imagine whether he could rise to the occasion without the capacitation of a third party like a politician. The normal answer is that a person’s own inadequacies are so overwhelming to the extent that it becomes rational to explain any business success in political terms. I told him about the Zuma/Shaik case where the two have been accused of having a generally corrupt relationship and yet in my case, Mnangagwa remains a free man suffering no disability or under an investigation for purportedly corruptly helping me in my businesses. I informed him that to date there has been no evidence to suggest that I was a beneficiary of any corrupt relationship, but for some strange reason, even the most informed think otherwise.
I provided him with all the documentary evidence in support of my position that the government of Zimbabwe has acted illegally and unconstitutionally in confiscating my Zimbabwean assets and manufacturing a special law to assume control of my property while misinforming the public that I was some kind of a criminal who stole from himself in so doing inviting the government to step-in protect me from my assets.
After reading all the material that I provided him, I jokingly told him that this may be the kind of Africa that the liberation war was fought for. He could now understand why businesspersons who benefited from unjust regimes like apartheid would be more acceptable to Africans than an African who is perceived to have benefited from a black government. In fact, many people expect African businesspersons to naturally be adversaries of political African elites while expecting foreign or former colonial beneficiaries to be the right business partners. A European businessman can benefit from being European in Europe and still benefit from being an African in Africa. Who ever said that the world was fair?
I concluded by telling him that it is our collective responsibility to improve our literacy on business issues. My encounter with this African American was before I started writing my weekly column on New Zimbabwe.com. If there was anyone who inspired me to start writing about my reflections on many business and political issues it was this African American who saw more in my victimisation than my own close friends and fellow continental Africans.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email again from the same African American last week in response to my article entitled: “Africa’s development challenges”. He wrote as follows:
your editorial. I hope all is well. I have many opinions about it. Here
in the states, I've been a sort of pariah amongst my peers because I've
been an opponent of affirmative action. My argument against it is several:
• the modern educational system in the US issues standardised testing (standardised nationally) but does not provide standardised education. Education, if measured by dollars spent per student, is best in districts where the parents make the most money, as educational dollars are spent per capita based on district pre-tax income.
• it enforces the notion of inherent academic inferiority of those of African descent - a notion which is affirmed when it seems that black Americans champion damning legislature such as this.
I bring up
affirmative action - and believe it relates to your point for this reason.
More than anything else, Africans across the planet suffer from a crisis
of culture. In this crisis, Africans have internalised previously forced-upon
marginalisation. We've internalised what has been projected upon us.
It is this crisis of culture - this subconscious disbelief in our own
ability to exert effective hegemony over what is rightly ours, which
marks black people across the planet. It's this idea that we can ask
oppressors to stop oppressing us - it is this notion that we collectively
seem to be ignorant of what other maligned groups in the past have done
to circumvent and neutralise the boots of imperialism and tyranny and
In 1995, I resigned voluntarily from the World Bank to come back to Africa to play my part in the renaissance of the continent so that never again should Africans look forward to gate crash the meeting of the rich so that they can confuse the rich to become less rich as a strategy for African progress.
In 1996, I acquired an asbestos focused mining company and in less than ten years transformed it into a diversified mining, industrial and financial services conglomerate that was attractive enough for the government of Zimbabwe to pass legislation with retrospective application so that they could acquire my assets without any compensation.
On the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, the government of Zimbabwe inherited the following companies that were under my control on the pretext that my companies were insolvent (no stock exchange will allow an insolvent company to remain a listed counter): (1) CFI Holdings Limited, (2) Nicoz Diamond, (3) First Bank Corporation, (3) Steelnet Zimbabwe Limited, (4) General Belting Limited, (5) Turnall Holdings Limited; (6) Zimre Holdings Limited, and (7) Fidelity Life Assurance Limited.
The government of Zimbabwe that has been universally credited for creating the best dysfunctional and decaying economy in the world believes that it is a better shareholder than I. To take control of my companies, the government saw it fit to appoint an administrator to manage the affairs of my companies and yet will not find any justification in appointing an administrator to take over the administration of the affairs of Zimbabwe in view of the economic crisis that has visited Zimbabwe under the watch of President Mugabe.
Food for thought: if a government can steal companies from a shareholder in broad daylight why can it not steal an election in 2008?
weekly column appears on New Zimbabwe.com every Monday. You can contact
him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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