Friday, May 12, 2017

Zimbabwe: Where Knowledge Is Innocent
May 13, 2017
Nathaniel Manheru
Zimbabwe Herald

ONE quote which high school history pupils in this country spout out with remarkable ease is one attributed to Otto von Bismarck, the German aristocrat and leader who is credited with the unification of Germany on the back of Prussia, then the leading part of the amalgam. There is no unanimity as to the exact wording of what Bismarck said, but the gist of it is fairly settled. He is quoted to have remarked: the great questions of the day are not decided through speeches and resolutions of the majority — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by blood and iron.

For Germany’s Industrial Middle Class

A man of action and will, Bismarck sought to enlarge little states around Prussia less to meet an ethereal national sentiment, but more to pragmatically create a wider market which the rising German capitalist class needed for greater profits. And these German capitalists not only needed wider markets for their wares; they also wanted a strong state that would stave off labour-led social unrests such as had been suffered in Europe between 1848 and 1849. This link between the so-called Iron Chancellor and dominant class interests of his time is often hidden in pages of history.

This is not surprising; it is part of mythologising Bismarck as a larger-than-life, or as a larger-than-Prussia, character. Nations do need founding myths, which is why in history, state formations invent supermen. It takes a mature reader to know that Bismarck rode on the wave of an impatient industrial capitalist class that felt fettered by little borders, little rules, little laws and little men who had ruled disparate states around Prussia. Before long, soon after the unification of Germany, that same class would also feel fettered by borders of little Europe, which is why it is no coincidence that Bismarck chaired the Berlin Conference of 1884 which set rules for the partitioning of Africa, itself a marker of territorial imperialist expansionism.

African Unifier Before Bismarck

I am always amused by the current fad of “globalisation” whose narrative pretends it is a novelty in world politics. Forces of globalisation have deep roots in history, too deep to respect time-boundedness accompanying the current globalisation narrative. Food for thought! Equally interesting is the often missed key detail — missed by African scholars — that state formation in Europe dragged on and on until the late 1870s, a mere 20 years before the colonisation of Zimbabwe.

Or that it is very easy — very easy — to draw parallels between what was happening in Zimbabwe since Mzilikazi crossed the Crocodile River — now Limpopo — into present-day Zimbabwe, and crossed again the Zambezi into what then was Barotseland — now Zambia — with processes which were underway in present-day Germany meant to overcome territorial, military and administrative balkanisation of the same. Of course the motive force was different in either case; it always is in all cases, but the comparison holds!

The Mega State That Might Have Been

Which is to say the drift towards bigger polities in Africa was not Europe’s gift to Africa – a wonder of colonialism. It was and remains an inherent human organisational urge, depending of course on the level of productive forces obtaining on the ground. And like I have argued before, the Ndebele state bore the “iron” and the “blood”; the disparate Shona formations held the economy: by way of agriculture, mining, industry and, above all, by way of a transcendental ideology which took the form of unified spiritualism centred around Njelele and many such shrines.

The gradual melding of the two sides marked a slow and often buffeted drift towards state formation. Which is why all this nonsense about Mthwakazi is just that — flatulent nonsense!

When Life and Democracy Matter Less

Another element often missed in the rote recitation of Bismarck’s quote is that both peace and democracy are often subordinated to bigger, broader processes — in Bismarck’s day the unification of Germany for the German bourgeoisies. Yes, conflict and wars — in short blood — do accompany processes that found nations. Yes, too, democracy may be suspended in search of more superordinate goals which redound to nations in the long run. As should be clear from Bismarck’s quote, the unification of Germany was a must, even if processes leading to it would levy much by way of blood and democracy. And to a country, the world validates this thesis. So, too, does our own history, right from the beginning, more so in the days of precolonial attempts at state formation, yes, throughout the colonial phase, and right up to the post-colonial phase.

It is the price we have had to pay as a people, a price other peoples have also had to pay. Thankfully, we found our peace and we are back to speeches and resolutions of the majority. Of course emotionalism is the natural human response to blood and iron, but that’s all a matter of recall in our case. For all this we thank the gods.

The Man Who Fled Terrors of Responsibility

As if to underline the peace we enjoy, the current phase of speeches and resolutions of the majority carries with it lots of humorous twists and turns. And we heartily laugh, knowing fully well all is well when so serious a project which elsewhere is paid by blood, still affords mirthful cacophony. One such comic moment and actor takes the form of Dr Nkosana Moyo, a roundabout presidential aspirant. Not many still remember that President Mugabe made him minister once, in 2000, an assignment he later fled from at break-neck speed.

To this day he is still to tell us what terrifying phantoms he saw, outside of course the sheer daunting challenge of running a small ministry. It must have been mortifying for him to learn that far from developing a crisis, the Nation simply shrugged off his flight in laughter, before moving on. And as he fled then, so, too has he returned now. And the fact then of penning his resignation letter from South Africa! Kikiki!

Where He Now Begins

We thought the stint he has had with multilateral institutions, and of course with the Graca Machel-led Nelson Mandela Foundation, would have made him a lot wiser, a lot more mature. It does not seem so. Not even after Makoni’s party-free Mavambo project’s disastrous performance of 2008, and again of 2013. No, Nkosana thinks he can still party where others have failingly treaded. It’s no sin for a man to cultivate his own folly. Let’s quote the physicist: “For me the foundational element of human capital is unity of a nation.

When a nation is united, pretty well anything is possible.” He adds: “So for me, if I were addressing how to revive the economy of this country, my starting point would be somewhere you wouldn’t expect. It will be how do I build a Zimbabwean nation that is united, that pulls in the same direction, that is prepared to sacrifice for itself . . . Once I have achieved that given the very practical history of our nation, I will also address immediately or in parallel with that how do I create an exercise of national healing in my country.” Great!

And Then Ends

Attesting to his credentials as both a physicist and a man of the fashionable world, Moyo makes a planet-shattering revelation: “I am confirming that I’m seriously considering running as an independent candidate for the presidential post . . . I will inform the people in the next few weeks as to whether I will or not, because if I do so, I want to see to it that this assists everyone.” He added: “It is true that I was approached by some people to join one party or the other, but I said I could not and the reasons were that when parties win elections, after winning elections, the governments they install, if you look at the whole continent, usually serve the people in their parties . . . Beyond just Zimbabwe, when you look at sub-Saharan Africa, you will notice one thing in common in all our countries: the government of the day runs a country for the Party, not for the citizens.

The government of the day runs the country for the benefit of party members as opposed for the benefit of citizens . . . So for me, when I look as a rational person, it appears to me like a formula which is not working for our citizens. So why would I be part of a party when I can see that when I look around I do not see in sub-Saharan Africa where that particular formula is succeeding.”

The ZANU-PF Spell

My tongue is not in my cheek, I swear! He is a physicist who works with, and to formulae! He has looked around, near and far, here and beyond, to reach the scientific conclusion that even parties win power, form governments, parties are no good for his quest for power! They govern for themselves. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa! And in him is a new god who seeks to remake the world. Single-handedly, too, which is why he will stand as an lonely — sorry — independent, candidate! Kikiki!

It is difficult to dismiss allegations that Zanu-PF casts spells on the opposition. Gentle reader, you will be wrong to think the good doctor is kidding. He tried it in 2000. And failed! He is set to try again, at a bigger scale this time around! Kikikiiii! Real laws of physics transposed onto social phenomena. A chemist tried it once upon a time. And failed. Makoni was his name. Before him, a physicist had tried it before. And failed. Nkosana Moyo was his name. Only he began at a lower parliamentary level. Not in vain, not in vain! He was then invited by the leader of the winning er, er, Party to become a minister of government.

He became one, until he ran away, terrorised by the four walls of his grand ministerial office! And now? Well, President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party will win and then er, er, invite Doctor Nkosana Moyo to become the President! Logical, isn’t it: the offer to the loser must be commensurate with the goal of his vain attempt! Kikiki! You pontificate about national unity; you achieve it by rejecting unity implied in a Party, or in opposition parties coalescing! I recall doing a whole course on Utopian socialism — Owenite socialism — but I didn’t know that when the concept reaches the shores of Africa, you end up with a Zimbabwean proponent, one gunning for a Utopian State! Except both Makoni and Moyo are scientists. And in a remarkable see-saw, both attempt(ed) the two levels of power!

Example of Trump and Barrow

Except Nkosana should not be dismissed. Try and look behind, beyond him! You will see a creature wedded to a Graca of a Southern African Foundation and, through it, connected to some well-heeled and influential “Elders” who include Branson, Jimmy Carter, Annan and a few others. I hope that begins to ring a bell. In him is a Trump banking on borrowed Towers. On sheer handsomeness. Or a Gambian Barrow who forgets reading reality through a pinhole camera yields an inverted image. You still have to stand it upright! Handei tione!

Mom, Code Me Nearer

But Nkosana Moyo is not alone in this political comedy, unique though he may be in the cast. Come to think of it, in what way is reality not inverted when signing MOUs is a substitute for political groundwork? Or when political groundwork subverts the signed MOUs? Chapinda mune chimwe ndechipi apa? I don’t mean to be obscene, but when you have CODE, NERA, MOUs and now MOM (Mass Opposition Movement) who faults you for asking: Mom, where are you? I need the code nera, sorry, near me!

You know the outrageous misspellings these clever-by-half cellphones commit for you when you try to SMS in Shona! Never do it kuna ambhuya! I mean people sign MOUs only to disown them soon after, when they begin ground work? And still seek to sign more MOUs, including after chewing thousands of kilometres and dollars to reach Cape Town? Chii nhai mudhara (D)Tavengwa?

Economising Truth

The elections for the chairmanship of Masvingo. What? Well, they were held, and are probably concluded. We will soon know. I can see you salivating, hoping I am now wading into Zanu-PF’s internal dynamics. Sorry, mate, not now, not now. I notice the private press not only hurried past that story; it also elected to read the elections within the context of dynamics inside Zanu-PF. At least it was only bad this time, not worse as in the first attempt. None of the papers tried to abuse the President by invoking a facile argument around totemic identity of the contesting aspirants.

An argument resting on economising truth. For both candidates belong to the Gumbo clan, the President’s uncles. Why raise a common identity to try and make a strange point? Or suggesting the military was involved, but without telling your readers the losing candidate is an ex-soldier?

Makings of Another Landslide

Except all these don’t go towards the point I want to make. And here it is: when intra-party processes invite such a huge turnout, what does that say about that Party’s appeal on the ground? Or its machinery for mobilisation? What does that say about the opposition, whether MOM, CODE, NERA or MOUs? And in case you think this is an idle argument, check what happened to Mai Mujuru — God bless her! — after she foolishly tried a rally in Gutu soon after! When you combine the recent by-election in Bikita with the provincial elections for Party chairmanship, clearly you are left with a very unsettling picture for the dilatory opposition.

Since its winter time, a beehive analogy is in order here. Zanu-PF is like bees defending dripping honeycombs in the season of honey extraction. Unorumwa! The by-elections have been testing Zanu-PF against the opposition; the chairmanship elections have shown what stands to be got from allowing people to choose their leaders. When you combine the two dimensions, you have the makings of a landslide. Another one following 2013!

Two Reports We Read

The discipline of knowledge making, knowledge building, knowledge reading, knowledge rating and knowledge use: that was supposed to be my main subject. I will just scratch the surface as I got rather carried away by opposition politics whose correct reading couldn’t wait. Recently we had the so-called World Economic Forum meeting in Durban. I should have said the African chapter of it. The informing document was the 2016 Fragile States Index report.

This report classifies all nations of our planet by their perceived fragility. Zimbabwe, your country, my country, fell into the second worst category, to suggest things are about to fall apart, to the incalculable blight of the rest of mankind. Almost contemporaneous with this development was another report done by Afrobarometer, narrowly focusing on national politics of Zimbabwe.

The Afrobarometer report balked opposition expectations by revealing abiding affection for Zanu-PF, its leader, its government, and confidence in its management of national affairs all benchmarked against 2014! As before, the same report revealed deep-seated, abiding mistrust of the opposition, whether rated singly or in combination. I am not about to debate the merits of either report. That’s being done elsewhere, including in opposition circles. My focus is different, very different.

Susceptibilities of Nations?

My focus relates to how we relate to, and seek to consume knowledge and information as a Nation, indeed as a people. It relates to when and in what circumstances we are ready and prepared to suspend disbelief, thereby embracing a piece of knowledge or information as truthful, reliable and dependable. And of course the obverse: when we are unwilling to suspend disbelief because we think a piece of knowledge for information does not deserve our trust, let alone our use or internalisation. Or how we rate structures of knowledge production. I am setting myself up for a very complex assignment, one meriting several doctorates, all of them buffeted by inconclusive findings.

To gauge and determine what bodies of knowledge and information a nation trusts or mistrusts, at what point and in what areas! That’s no small matter at all. Or determining whether this trust flows from the intrinsic value and/or processes leading to that knowledge and information, or simply from certain in-built susceptibilities in the character of a nation.

This is heavy stuff, but one key to understanding key moments in the construction or destruction of nations, peoples or races. I mean Hitler mobilised the German people twice, easily. Hitler mobilised the German nation once for near-total destruction, again easily. But mobilise he did. So did Mussolini, Lenin, Mao, Napoleon, Robspeire, Alexander the Great, you name them. Recently, Trump did pretty much the same.

Like We Are Before Gods

And the obverse is just as important. Mrs Clinton failed; Le Pen has just failed. The Meneshevicks, Chiang Kai Shek, Savimbi, Dhlakama, right through to Tsvangirai. Many more will succeed; many more will fail, in equal paired sets. When do ideas find rich root in the soil of belief of a nation, when do they fall on rocky ground, to then wilt and die? When is the human mind craving for an illusion, grand or small, plausible or plain stupid? When is the human mind craving for pain, self-devaluation, or simply devaluation by another party? I am not being inanely philosophical.

This is a pragmatic proposition, one that might just reveal who we are/not, and what we are (in)capable of. The global Fragile States Index report damned us; we found it plausible, an acceptable rating of ourselves. We embraced it, romanced it. Yet it was not done by us, or with us. It was done by some US-based NGO which calls itself Fund for Peace, which is connected to Foreign Policy, a US government think-tank. US is so far, far, far away from us: physically, ideologically, culturally, politically, economically, in terms of affection, even academically. Yet we are inclined to believe its description of us. And the methodology used by the NGO makes the classification deeply controversial: deriving from a computer-aided exercise that collates and then categorise any information on us, published anyhow, however unscientific, on an equally arbitrary template designed by the NGO. Yet we not only embrace the classification; we accord it the coveted status of a “global standard”! We submit to it, eyes lowered in reverence like we are before the holy one!

When? Where, Did We Become This?

Contrast this with Afrobarometer report, still on us, by one of our own, for us, done here through surveys involving samples drawn from us. We contest it; reject its findings, pooh-pooh it! How does one reconcile or make sense of this baffling, contrastive response? And the two reports and responses are not too isolated as to be aberrational.

You have the Shonhe piece on us. The Chan report on us. The recent British study on the so-called Gukurahundi. The successive UN agency reports on various facets of our nation, including on our literacy levels. All told, you get a very clear pre-disposition towards a negative verdict and observation by an outsider, however readily qualifiable such a verdict maybe; and a clear scepticism, nay, cynicism and disdain for anything that is our own, however solid and scientific its premises might be. Our leaders are “dead” because some obscure western website has claimed so, has “killed” them for us! We believe; we repeat! We are the poorest people on earth, the most corrupt people on earth, because some NGO has alleged so. Again we believe, self-immolate.

I would not have minded if any NGO would allege so, and we believe it. Except it’s not so. It has to be a specific type of NGO. The NGO has to be western, preferably American, for us to apotheosise it to a “global standard”! That is us: yet a nation built on the rigours of pan-Africanist politics, and an anti-colonial armed liberation struggle? A popular song of liberation had a line which celebrated the gun which “discharged bullets that sang the song/message of freedom/liberation.” The anthemic “Nzira Dzemasoja” had a line which exhorted cadres “to teach the masses the objectives of the struggle.” Where did we lose it, we whose liberation praxis seemed predicated on firm, anti-colonial, anti-western epistemological foundations. When did we become so susceptible to the snare and inveiglements of hegemonic lies? When? Where?


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