DEAR reader, kindly google the British Guardian issue of Friday, 8th August, 2014. You should be able to find an article titled, “Childcare funding could be cut off for failure to promote British values”. By any measure, this is a very long, even unimaginative headline for a story, a headline made longer, quite boring when read against legendary British wit, British sententiousness.
Of course if you know a thing or two about British journalism, you will immediately understand that when their journalists become that elaborate, that pedestrian, it is for a very good reason. They do so to press an important point home, guarding against stylistic distractions. The point must ram home, undiluted by conceit.
British State in the cot
The gist of the article is compressed in its scary introduction which read: “Parents will have government funding for childcare cut off if their children’s nannies or nurseries fail to “actively promote fundamental British values”, including democracy and liberty, under measures announced by the Department for Education”. The new secretary (read minister) for education said the move was meant to protect young children from “extremist views”.
Of course if you know British speak, you also know immediately that the cursory references to “democracy” and “liberty” are ornamental, which is why these notions are cynically coupled to a new parenting policy which represent not just State intrusion in the cot, but class cultural high-handedness at home, and xenophobia abroad. What are “British values” but the values of British rulers? What are “extremist views” but profiled views and cultures of the Other?
You are reading a facet of Fortress Britain in multicultural times, a facet clearly indicating how fast British civil liberties continue to beat hasty retreat right into the baby cot! Such is the post-September 11 world we live in. But that is an argument for another day. My focus is quite different.
The ruling ideas
What I advert your attention to is the sheer clarity of British thought and intention, the clarity and boldness of the British in pursuit of an existential objective. Britain does not want multiculturalism; it requires exclusive British cultural dominance in its polity, requires that British culture socialises its children without having to doff or defer to, without any distractions from any other culture.Advertisement
And the campaign targets the cot and the nanny, targets the setting and personage of the essence of British social life. Of course you and I know that what is being termed “British values” are the values of the British ruling class which must now reign right down to the cot if consent and acquiescence to the dominant ideology and its values has to be an effortless matter of upbringing and reflex.
You might not like these raw facts of British life; but you cannot but admire the unabashed boldness in requiring this in their demesne. This suggests a polity firmly in charge, a polity quite clear about how power is made, retained, perpetuated and supported. And the message is clear: cultivate power from the cot, without being apologetic about it.
The day we backed off
Fast forward to our Zimbabwe. Cry the beloved African country! Ours is a case of a ruling party without a ruling ethos. Or playing shy with inaugurating it. This country went through a war before it found itself again as a Nation. That war produced not just bullets, not just death; it produced a world-view, an economy, a culture, a value system upon which this Nation was supposed to rest. That is what happens with all founding processes. American values derive in large part from its war of independence.
The French Revolution became the fount of the French governing ethos. In the early years of our Independence, there was an attempt — gallant if you ask me — to refashion our curricula to reflect this spirit and ethos of liberation. People like Fay Chung worked hard under ZIMFEP, created model schools like Mavudzi, Rusununguko, Nkululeko, etc, etc. The idea was to found a new person, a new outlook, as behoves all genuine revolutions. What happened? The Churches protested.
The patrician, so-called A Schools objected. Whites objected and Dr Mutumbuka, then education minister, backed off. The human rights lobby became active in opposition. We buckled, we bent, and these model pilot schools went down, frugally supported as if to suggest a beggarly vision behind them, as if to scare us all from ever daring that kind of experiment.
The liberation value system was, that way, extirpated from the cot and beyond, restoring an old cot that created better African Rhodesians than Rhodesia was ever able to mould. Our school system became a post-liberation hymn that sang “long live” to posthumous Rhodesia. All that persists to this day, undisturbed.
Reconnecting with the source
Jolted in one poll, Zanu PF woke up from its Rhodesian slumber. The Rhodesian curricula had done its work, sired in industrial quantities a Rhodesia voter in the youth, a voter who almost swept Zanu PF out of power. The party barely survived, barely made it. This is what gave it a sharp jolt. In panic, it created a youth retraining programme, a program clad it in green shirts, wearing khaki trousers. It named its program after the late national hero, Border Gezi.
The content of the program was radical, beautifully reconnecting with the long abandoned liberation ethos. You were taught Zimbabwean history, African history, radical theories on society. You knew how revolutions were fought, how freedom was won. It was a return to source, Ayi Kwei Armah style. We seemed all set to heal from this ghastly wound inflicted upon us a day after our victory, seemed poised to slough off this Rhodesian ethos embedded in our education.
Carrying your scent, borrowing one
But the colonial centurions were back in the trenches, standing by doorsteps, well armed. They proved diligent gatekeepers. Sponsored by well-heeled NGOs, supported by well-written reports, this new program meant to recapture the youths was roundly vilified, a process that gave us a new vocabulary, new lexicon: “green bombers”, “maBorder Gezi”, “Zanu-PF goons”, or some such.
The national mind went virulently inventive, deeply insulting its attempt at destroying an alien value system, deeply insulting its attempt at founding a new value system. Horror stories were invented, false converts bred. These Green Bombers raped, killed, destroyed, we were told incessantly.
And that program became a measure of being a lowbrow, a measure of being gratuitously destructive. Far from being a personification of new national consciousness, the Border Gezi graduate became a symbol of subcontracted state brutality, a gorgon that ate up democracy and human rights. Until all of us began to believe the new, derogatory lexicon, new lore, sleekly sliding back to the Rhodesian ethos which seemed the panacea to this post-independence outrage. And to be an untagged Rhodesian was far more dignified than to be a tagged green bomber.
To this day I am left wondering who smells stronger: the victor who apes an enemy he has defeated, or a green bomber which announces its arrival by the scent of its diet and habitat. No one in Britain will vilify this new State-led social engineering. Our cot is invaded and we don’t seem to care. Think, Zimbabwe.
When Zimbabwe sticks out
This week saw African delegates drawn from about 40 African countries trooping into the US for the much announced US-Africa Summit. It proved an event of an elaborate foreplay. Before it was a throng of young African scholars, professionals and entrepreneurs dragooned into the same US under the name of the Obama-founded Young African Leaders Initiative.
Today that initiative comes by Nelson Mandela’s name, as if to make it un-American, to make it African. There is much in a name, or so thinks the ever-branding Americans. There were many youths from Africa, a handful from Zimbabwe too. I noticed the Obama family — both husband and wife — gave particular attention to young Zimbabweans in this group.
These youngsters from home stuck out, as does Zimbabweans in many parts of the world, as does Zimbabweans in many fields of human endeavour. We are one people whose greatness is reluctantly acknowledged by a grieving world. Frankly, I don’t care. We are there, there by our own bootstraps.
Shutting out Africa
I have been reading stuff from the US-Africa Summit which ended this last Thursday. Many reports, many angles, like I am wont to. Two reports made an impression. One came from a journalist with a long, very difficult name: Genevieve Quintal. The report dwelt on the disappointment of African journalists who found themselves packed in the back row of a press room that would soon host Barack Obama, the US President and host of the US-Africa Summit.
The occasion must have been a wrap-up conference. In front of these African journalists were American journalists, all of them invited, indulged even. As already said, behind them was this African media corps, ever hopeful. At the end of the event, many American journalists had raised issues with their President, mostly on matters to do with America, the Middle East or Ukraine. Minutely, little on Africa, itself the pretext for the conference. Much worse, only one African journalist was given a chance to ask Obama, apparently by prior arrangement. And the event closed.
When Africa is an excuse
“What did we come all this way for?”, asked one African journalist quoted by Quintal. The angry African journalist knew and hoped for press conferences where questions come from those who raise hands, not from those with prior clearance. Is this not what we do in generous, fair, free Africa? We don’t fudge events. He soon discovered he was in Washington, America’s heartland. There, press conference are choreographed, as is true of many American things.
A pre-selected list had been prepared for the press conference, and no African name appeared on it, even though African journalists had been invited, to adorn the event and Obama. The disappointed African journalist’s question — what did we come all this way for — became larger than journalistic. It became existential.
Puzzled Mo Ibrahim
The second report came from AFP, the French news agency. It quoted Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born, British-domiciled telecommunications tycoon. The tycoon had a little puzzle, and he verbalised it: “I am actually a little amazed that all those Africans I met on the plane . . . are coming all the way here to America to tell the very smart, well-informed American businesspeople that ‘guys, you know what, there is a good opportunity in Africa.”
He went on: “Everywhere in Africa there are Chinese businesspeople, there are Brazilian businesspeople. None of us went to Brazil, or to China to tell them, look, come and invest in Africa. They found out themselves and they come and invest. That’s how basic business people behave.” And then the smasher: “Why do we need to come and inform these misinformed American businesses? You know, you guys invented Google. Use it please.”
Urging Americans to “do some homework”, Ibrahim concluded: “I’m uncomfortable, frankly, with the hype about Africa. We went from one extreme — to like, Africa now is the best thing after sliced bread.” By the way Obama had just told African leaders that Africa was poised to change the world!
When Zimbabwe is targeted
But there was also a third report which played closer home. It featured a 21-year old Zimbabwean, one Takura Chingonzo. He is introduced as co-founder of wireless start-up, Saisai Wireless, but a co-founder inhibited by US sanctions against Zimbabwe which George Bush Jnr started, which Barack Obama has upheld and even expanded to include food and medicines.
Chingonzo plucked courage and tackled Obama on his infamous sanctions against Zimbabwe, which the administration prefer to tout as clinically “targeted” at the “offending” political leadership in Zimbabwe.
Chingonzo recounted how each time he sought partnership with American wireless technology companies he would be told repeatedly: “. . . unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe.” And he added: “. . . this doesn’t make sense. And so this is the exact same experience that other entrepreneurs that are in Zimbabwe have gone through.”
Does this suggest targeted sanctions, he asked.
Help me fine-tune sanctions . . .
The answer that came, quite frankly suggested an unready, even unconcerned, uncaring president. He needed, Obama said, to balance the welfare of Zimbabweans and the need to punish Harare for the human rights infractions he alleged.
But give it to him, he quickly regrouped and realised there was virtue in admission: “But you’re absolutely right that it (punishment) also has to be balanced with making sure that whatever structures that we put in place with respect to sanctions don’t end up punishing the very people inside those countries . . . It may be that you and a group of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe are able to meet with us and propose certain projects that allow us to say this is something that will advance as opposed to retard the progress for the Zimbabwean people.
“So what I’ll suggest would be that we set up a meeting and we find out what kinds of things that young entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe want to do, and see if there are ways that we can work with you, consistent with the strong message that we send about good governance in Zimbabwe . . . Well, let’s see if we can refine them (sanctions) further based on some of the things you’re talking about.”
Food for thought
This column has before recounted a comment from Achebe when he decided to use wry humour to confront a phantom green belt project meant for the Abuja area of Nigeria, but which never came to pass, many thanks to corrupt officials. Not even a clod had been broken, not even a tendril was in sight, but with well over 17 billion Naira having been “sunk in”, reportedly. But, but . . . bbbut it doesn’t show, protested the reporter who accosted the late writer for a comment.
To which Achebe responded with his trade-mark tilted metallic laughter: “The Green Revolution gave us much food for thought, but hardly any food for the stomach”. When you get a journalist wondering why he ever came all the way to America, you can’t miss the emptiness of it all, the hollowness of the whole epic journey and act. And when you add Mo Ibrahim’s haughty comments on these ignorant authors of Google, you get deeper insights into the US-Africa Summit.
Only stepping by
You discover much more. The US$14bn pledged by American businesses for investment in Africa is a scintillating mirage that shimmers across the ocean dividing Africa from America. Pledges are just that: promises. I mean, why invite governments to hear pledges from the private sector? Much worse, Obama sincerely tells African leaders that he will recommend to his successor greater trade with Africa! And the key word is successor! Here is a President who is coming to the tail-end of his term. Why negotiate with the outgoing? Did Africa have to oblige such an empty and expensive valediction from a false black American president who steps by on his way to his cemetery?
Whichever way, Africa provided the spectacle, and Obama glowed and gloated. Africa gave him an illusion of world statesmanship, and this at a time when American pre-eminence and leadership in the world is under severe test. Africa filled the back chairs, while America went ahead with a drama that did not need any African players, only an African pretext. After all, why does a whole continent congregate around a country? Don’t we have a sense of scale and size? Everyone calls us, and like little wagging puppies, we run.
Pecking the gods
But, hey, Africa showed a new dimension which gives me hope, lots of hope. Mo Ibrahim did not see much difference between a profiled Africa (hunger, disease and war) and an Africa which gets raised fulsomely. Both narratives condescend the continent, amounting to a continuing assault on it by a pale world so used to judging. And to have an African telling Americans to read a bit, telling them the continent already has Chinese and Brazilians, is to dare the gods. Or to doubt their power while believing in yours.
Power without responsibility
As for young Takura, he makes me proud to be a Zimbabwean. He cut through many barriers to reach the skin of Obama. He went further and reached the marrow. Firstly, he overcame vast distance in order to reach Washington. Washington had to pay for that vast travel. Secondly, Americans invited him for a different drama. It took real courage to turn the tables in that public way. Thirdly, even when facing the US president, Takura would not be unnerved by Obama’s bulldog-like, condescending tactics.
Takura spoke with the daringness of his people. I cannot imagine that kind of psyche coming from any other country, any other national on the continent. Fourthly, he put the issue of sanctions against his country on the map. The narrative on sanctions might never be the same again after this. Fifthly and lastly, he got Obama to concede, and this after coming across like a man comparable to Baldwin’s harlot: wielding too much power without responsibility.
In typical American fashion, you slap a people with devastating sanctions, and you forget about them and the impact of those sanctions. Or inflict a war upon them in order to cut and run the Vietnam way: as in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, as in Libya, as in Syria, as with Israel against Gaza. It was a short but devastating expose into American power: that it is very far from being caring; that it cynically uses other peoples as back-room players to enact a drama called in their name.
Where to, Bruce?
For the US-Africa Summit, the objectives were very clear and un-African: pursue Africom; checkmate Chinese power; access Africa’s resources; weaken or divide the continent ahead of the forthcoming UN, at which the US role in the Middle East and in East Europe will come under spotlight. Of course, there was the issue of Obama’s own bruised ego, which needed a yodeling crowd as it fades. For a small man, the best way to beat a bully is to suddenly turn in ways that upsets his equilibrium. I wonder how Bruce intends to take the sanctions discourse forward after this major admission. Icho!