Sunday, April 18, 2010

Zimbabwe at 30: Lessons For Africa

Zim @ 30: Lessons for Africa

Sunday Mail Reporter

ZIMBABWE has emerged to be the embodiment of true African sovereignty after an eventful 30 years of independence that have seen it crush undesirable colonial remnants and transform on various fronts.

From the days of reconciliation to the implementation of the land reform programme, the country depicts the unfolding story of independence that will provide compelling reading to many African states.

Lessons from the Southern African state’s experiences are to be found in two major areas. The first is the redress of the land question while the second is the on-going indigenisation and economic empowerment drive.

Historically, the basis of the battles that kingdoms fought was of a territorial nature. In most cases, the aggressor sought to overthrow a sitting authority purely based on a pungent desire to extort a particular kingdom’s wealth and expand their influence.

The affected kingdom would, in turn, mount heavy resistance. Some successfully warded off the land poachers but, unfortunately, others were conquered, resulting in them being shackled in servitude. Most African countries found themselves in the latter bracket following the advent of colonialism — a dark period that unjustifiably licensed colonialists to plunder the continent’s vast resources while developing their own countries.

As is well documented, the British settlers did not waste time on their first outing in Zimbabwe: They grabbed huge tracts of arable land while confining locals to the periphery.

They appropriated mining concessions to themselves, knowing pretty well that a sizeable measure of the country’s wealth lies beneath the surface.

Although majority rule was eventually attained on April 18 1980, the majority of the people still lived on the periphery of economic activity.
But in one bold stride, the Government vanquished unfair colonial tenets by addressing the imbalances in land distribution.

The indigenisation and economic empowerment vision also promises great benefits to the majority. The two-tier empowerment crusade re-asserts indigenous dominance over local resources.

Sadly, many other African countries are still in the clutches of oppression despite the term neo-colonialism offering them a degree of comfort.

The dream of every prisoner is to be free. Besides Zimbabwe, the rest of Africa is craving for economic freedom. Africans dream of one day controlling their resources, enjoying the fruits of self-sustenance and experiencing the sweet feeling that personal success brings.

However, a restive spirit of servitude seems to always arrest their inclination to freedom. An inherent fear of the slave-master cracking the whip on an errant servant always paralyses their thinking.

It goes without saying that the cunning colonialists successfully conditioned most of Africa’s children to envision punitive action where colonial shadows linger.

The plain truth remains, however, that colonialism has no place in the modern world. The continent must begin to actively acknowledge this fact if the dream of an African Renaissance is to become a reality. Many former French colonies will this year celebrate 50 years of independence. Yet, still, blemishes of colonialism taint the golden jubilee.

In 1960, France inevitably granted its African colonies independence.

The beneficiaries of this wholesale amnesty were to choose between gaining independence in partnership with France and weaning themselves “completely” off the former colonial power.
Most of them picked the first option. Mali and Guinea Conakry, however, elected the latter, prompting a harsh reaction from the settlers.

If it was total independence that was on offer, why then were the concerned African countries given options? And if it was genuine de-colonisation, why were the two latter states considered the black sheep of the flock?

Inadvertently, the French had exposed their plot to extend the colonial sphere of influence. By punishing Mali and Guinea Conakry they were, in fact, admitting to lifting oppression by nominal measure.
Fast forward to today, remnants of this ideology are still evident in West Africa.

The economies of many of the countries in that region are still structured to depend on France, giving them little room to develop independently.

Without viable industrial activity, they rely mostly on importing finished products, including processed foodstuffs.

Stark irony lies in the matrix.

The former colonies export raw materials and agricultural produce to Europe where they are processed before being exported back.
To top it all, these West African countries are compelled by the treaties between them and France to deposit 65 percent of their national reserves in the French Treasury. The European power also has control of the CFA franc while a fixed exchange rate deters each member country from adopting a monetary policy but only an individual fiscal policy.

Togo’s President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe put it candidly in an interview with New African magazine last month.

“They can only manage their economies through their national budgets, which is a major drawback and an inconvenience for us,” he said.

“We have different economic situations in the various Francophone countries, but we have the same monetary policy, which is not ideal.

“ . . . And what is difficult to understand is people are not even thinking about it. There should be some thinking, some debate, on the matter. But everyone seems to be ignoring it.”

The point remains: willing servitude is the bane of Africa. Years after the dismantling of minority rule (in the strict sense), a growing number of the continent’s leaders should be advocating total independence for their people.

But sadly again, only a few have mustered the courage to embrace this necessity by confronting colonialism when it rears its repulsive head.

Evidence on offer can only make one conclude that those who took the revolutionary path to independence seem to be the only ones least perturbed by confrontation. Will the remainder ever find it possible to openly defend their sovereignty? The present state of affairs suggests that this might be a long time in coming.

Well, at least one will draw comfort from the fact that many are learning and are likely to grasp critical lessons from Zimbabwe.
In 2000, the country embarked on the land reform programme, marking an important chapter in the history of African independence.

Though the West tries to deny this, it is a fact that the dispute between Harare and London is over land. It has always been — from the days of the First Chimurenga up to today. It has been a bitter battle that the British have fought both locally and internationally. At some point, think-tanks were commissioned at overseas universities to plot the demise of the architects of the land reforms.

One such broad scheme sought to undermine the Zanu-PF-led Government through eight carefully selected planks. Journalists and venom-spitting non-governmental organisations were roped into the sinister plot. But confronted by an alert revolutionary outfit, such attempts proved futile.

The British — with the support of their Western allies — ratcheted up a move that later saw Zimbabwe being slapped with illegal sanctions and being earmarked for international isolation.

The Southern African country seemed cornered. It, however, went on to display unparalleled determination by pulling out of the Commonwealth.

It also looked East, deepening its relations with Oriental states. The West was left clutching the air, wondering whether this dextrous nation could ever be pinned down.

The lesson to be learnt by African states here is: never relent on the march to full independence.

Over the years, pressure has been mounting on Zimbabwe while sanctions have had a debilitating effect on the economy. Yet, the country has stood firm in defence of the land reform exercise.

Today, Zimbabwe can boast of empowering its people as more than 300 000 households have benefited from the land reform programme.

Already, the number of tobacco farmers has increased to 35 000 from last year’s 1 700 while indications are that this year’s maize harvest stands at 1,3 million tonnes.

Of course, the agricultural sector is still being fine-tuned in different respects, but the land revolution remains the centre-piece of Independence.

Enter the indigenisation and economic empowerment drive in 2010. A lot of dust rose after debate on this vision opened, with the provision in the enabling law stipulating that 51 percent of the shareholding in foreign-owned companies should be ceded to locals being the bone of contention.

One school of thought adjudged the quota to be “too much” while another maintained that it was ideal. Speaking before thousands of tobacco farmers in Harare last week, President Mugabe re-asserted the irreversibility of the empowerment thrust. And as he mentioned this, 100 companies had lodged with Government their proposals detailing how they will comply with the indigenisation regulations.

From the look of things, the drive is unstoppable and this augurs well for a people seeking total independence. Empowering the masses brings self-sustenance and eliminates the dependency syndrome that colonialists have over the years used to perpetually shackle Africa.

One only hopes, though, that the rest of the continent will understand the true meaning of independence as told by Zimbabwe. Of course, Zimbabwe’s independence has come at a price, but the sweet fruit and gratification it yields is worth defending, toiling for and even being unjustifiably persecuted for.

Zimbabwe should be a lesson for Africa.

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