The case of Zim

I am accustomed to hearing individuals regurgitate erroneous factoids in conversations as a way of either sounding knowledgeable or just because they have been misinformed. This is especially true with issues concerning Afrika. Of recent, I have become increasingly perplexed by what I see on the news, or rather what passes as news with regards to the situation in Zimbabwe. As I watched, I began to ask myself: Is there another Zimbabwe, the one the media see and that which I – and possibly other Afrikans – know?

The often-repeated (regurgitate) statement is that Zimbabwe is a tragic case because it used to be a beacon of hope for the rest of Afrika. Various media outlets lamented that the continual failure of Zimbabwe is much more significant because Zimbabwe was an example of success, the “bread basket of Afrika”.

One can argue that being Afrikan and black, I am at risk of seeing racism, discrimination and other unfairness where there is none. Nonetheless, I still maintain that, the underlying connotation, or rather what media outlets were really asking and saying in “a nice way” was the following:
–    Oh great, what a surprise, another Afrikan failed state
–    If Zimbabwe can go from being a beacon to nothing how long will it take for others to follow suite
–    Look at what we left them and look at how they have ruined it
–    Can’t those Afrikans get anything right

While growing up in Namibia, not once, can I recall picking up a packaging with a “made in Zimbabwe” label attached.  It does not mean it did not happen, just that I cannot remember seeing it. So I began researching, with the hope of discovering instances of when Zimbabwe was the beacon of hope, the “bread basket for Afrika.” I looked for information on Zimbabwean economy from organizations such as the IMF, World Bank, UN and other statistical website that report GDP.

I am not an economist, and any realm that deals with numbers is perhaps my weakest area of understanding. However, from my novice interpretation of the data, I could not find instances in which Zimbabwe was the sole beacon of hope for Afrika. Other Afrikan nations in the same time frame where more or just as prosperous. What I did find was that from the late 80s to the present Zimbabwe’s economic growth has been stagnant and since the late 90s it has been in perpetual decline.

To be fair, Zimbabwe has experienced prosperity especially in the area of agriculture. Zimbabwe exported food and various goods to other Afrikan countries. There was also a prolonged period of peace and stability, and at one point a very good education system. However, president Mugabe and his administration have continually mismanaged the resources of the country and in the process defiled the memories and the blood of those true freedom fighters whose songs they sing and whose name they invoke at rallies. Even though there is some validity to blaming the “imperialist”, “former colonizer”, “the West” or other devils du jour, to a large extent the current Zimbabwean government should be blamed for the suffering of the Zimbabwean people.

That Zimbabwe experienced success after independence and that it got some things correct, was a good thing and I do not mean to minimize or trivialize. This however does not mean it should be accorded the status of Afrika’s role model or fallen hero. The bar for Afrikan success is continuously lowered. It seems that every time an Afrikan leader walks without tripping over his or her feet the world celebrates it as an achievement. This for any proud Afrikan, is or at the very least should be, insulting. There were and are many countries on the continent that are enjoying peace and stability, respect their constitutions, continue to grow their economies and should be hailed as beacons for Afrika. There are many good things happening on the continent and many hardworking public servants that should be congratulated. They however can no longer involve Robert Mugabe and others (some in the opposition); regardless of what accomplishments they had in the past or how they brought “liberation”.

What is sad about Zimbabwe (beyond the obvious suffering of the people), and what the media has missed,  is not merely the economic collapse. The reality and the danger of the Zimbabwean situation is its ability to destabilize a large part of Southern Afrika. Zimbabwe shares borders with five Southern Afrikan countries. As the situation becomes worse by the day, the people leave and go to neighbouring countries to seek refuge, to find jobs, and to get access to basic human rights. This mass exodus causes stress on all sectors, from education, health, overall economy and many other social services. This is the danger of a failing Zimbabwe, in which – if media reports are to be believed – a $50 Billion bill can only buy two loaves of bread.

Even more disappointing and perhaps just as dangerous, though not surprising, is the scarcity of public outrage from other Afrikan leaders. Perhaps this could be contributed to the Afrikan cultural upbringing where one rarely criticizes elders or publicly rebukes. Perhaps it is a quid pro quo system, a sort of ‘don’t call me out and I wont call you out when you do your thing.’ Regardless of the reason, their silence is deafening enough that it is drowning out the cries of those suffering and dying from many preventable causes such as the non-existent cholera. The lack of progress and the inability to resolve the matter is a shame for Southern Afrika and especially more so for the Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

The mediocre and often idiotic coverage on Afrika neglects to notice that there are many nations in Afrika that continue to experience various successes. Furthermore, the actions and behaviour of us Afrikans at times does little to repel the demeaning and disparaging remarks or coverage,  often directed at the continent. Ultimately, regardless of what is happening in Afrika, the world does not have to worry about the continent imploding. Afrika is progressing and we are a very proud and capable people regardless of what little respect we are accorded. The hope and wish for me in the 2009 will be that we’ll stop surviving and move to thriving.