It is apposite and fitting that our first post comes during the week that the former president of Mozambique, Samora Machel died and that Burkinabe Thomas Sankara was assassinated. Two formidable African leaders who in their own ways embarked on ambitious social reformation projects in a bid to carve out a path in search for the soul of their countries. Sankara renamed the French Upper Volta, Burkina Faso (Land of Upright People), and Machel was a great exponent of the pan-African agenda. Machel endorsed the then Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) during the Rhodesian Bush War on the strength of the same anti-imperialist principles that punctuated Mozambican daily life during his presidency.
On some level, both achieved considerable success.
Sankara encouraged over 350 rural communities to build schools and hospitals in their own regions. He also presided over one of the most ambitious immunisation drives in the history of the continent. Machel, on the other hand, saw through sweeping changes in Mozambique’s education and health sectors. While these endeavors were not wholly successful for a variety of reasons, the principles upon which they were founded are undeniably important steps in the process of forging a shared national identity. A universally accepted national value system.
Zimbabwe, in this regard, presents a unique challenge.
How does one go about creating a sustainable shared national identity where previous attempts have failed? What are the reasons for this failure? Perhaps the answer lies in how, as a nation, we have allowed the powers that be to construct and mold the national dialogue. We are, in part, to blame for entrusting self-serving politicians with the nation’s conscience. What then are our values? What does it mean to be Zimbabwean? These are some, if not the most important, questions that we need to ask ourselves if a serious and concerted effort towards nation building can be made.
The polarised nature of debate in Zimbabwe goes some way in explaining why we have failed to create a shared national identity. A national identity and value system that people from all walks of life can identify with and confidently proclaim as their own.
How do we find common ground as a nation when the manner in which we define ourselves is determined by the dominant narrative as told by those with the reins of power and those seeking to usurp it? Drawn out in black and white. A binary thrust upon the people of Zimbabwe. Is there a Zimbabweanness” that exists outside of what we have been told? What is the essence of being “Zimbabwean?” Is there no third way of thinking? Are there alternatives? Is there a possibility that everyone could be wrong?
The conversation has to start by asking ourselves some very tough questions. What kind of Zimbabwe do we want our children to live in? What kind of Zimbabwe do WE want to live in? How we answer these questions determines how we will (or should) shape Zimbabwe. As a nation which is at a very important epoch in its history, there is a pressing need to make a deliberate, collective and conscious decision where we lay down the precise conditions of our own happiness and how it will be maintained: Politically, socially, economically and under any other paradigm conceivable.
Are we content with living in a country where there is a dominant yet passive culture that promotes the abuse of girls and the silencing of women? Where being a patriot is defined along the lines of your allegiance to a political organisation that in its 34 years in power has been seen to plunder the hard won gains of the liberation through enriching only those loyal to it? Where upon voicing the slightest dissent to apparent injustices and wrongs one is labeled a sellout?
It is worth looking back and thinking of the many young women and men who sacrificed their lives and went far away from home to fight a war they thought would liberate their country. Is this the freedom they fought for? Is this the horizon they saw when they left their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to go and die for a cause they thought would bring a new dawn to a country and a people that had long been down trodden and oppressed? Is this the country for which those very same young women and men lay strewn as nameless corpses in mass graves in foreign lands?
That background alone should be enough to force us into making a withering self-assessment of our failure to lay the foundational principles that should have ultimately manifested themselves as a set of national values. Unfortunately, due to the partisan nature of dialogue and discourse in Zimbabwe, these are assessments that I fear will never happen.
An appropriate anecdote I suppose would be from Stevie Wonder’s Conversation Peace where he says:
“There’s no way we’ll reach our greatest heights
Unless we heed the call
Me for you, you for me
There’s no chance of world salvation
Less the conversation is peace
By the same token, any attempt at forging a shared and accepted national value system is doomed to fail if it is pursued using antiquated and polarising party propaganda. In this endeavor, we need to be guided by the Zimbabwe we desire for Zimbabweans, present and future. There is therefore a need to create a system of values that will endure through time and uniquely identify us as Zimbabweans.
The Zimbabwe we all desire is not some unicorn or pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is tangible. It is attainable. It is a society free of corruption. A society where access to the nation’s resources is not determined by political allegiance. A society where all are given equal opportunities to succeed and share in the dream of the Great House of Stone. A dream that we all subscribe and buy into. The dream of a Zimbabwe that inspired our founding fathers and mothers to take up arms in the hope of bringing about a new society.
However, until we are able to openly and honestly ask ourselves those tough questions, the quest for the soul of our country will continue to be an exercise in futility doomed to fail from the start. Up until the conversation is Zimbabwe, we will continue to roam the wilderness of nation building.