I cringe in self pity and sorrow every time I hear, “Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa…”
You just have to rub it in, don’t you?
I have always feared that Botswana is falling into the trap used on my country soon after we attained independence in 1980.
At that time, Zimbabwe was the darling of the world. We received accolades for just about everything we did.
But, to be fair, we deserved it.
We deserved the accolades just as much as we deserve the stinging criticisms today.
We were the newest nation on the planet; had the best education system in the continent, as evidenced by the presence of students in our country from as far away as the US, Britain, and Europe, not to mention Botswana and South Africa, along with other African countries; we were Africa’s third or second best medical services provider; we exported minerals and agricultural products beyond Africa and we had the second most literate labour force in the world.
We were on cloud nine, if that’s the highest cloud a nation can climb to and, just like Botswana, we had derogatory names for foreigners who came bothering us from other countries, especially our neighbouring countries, seeking employment.
As a Zimbabwean, I apologise to Mozambicans (makarushi), Malawians (maBrandayi or Munyasarandi) and Zambians (maBwidi).
It is not accidental that today I am derogatorily called mukwerekwere in Botswana. It’s payback time and it is a lesson we are going to talk about today.
We, in Zimbabwe, were even highly praised for our first cabinet which, at that time, was “the most educated cabinet in the world”, full of PhDs, Harvard lawyers, medical doctors, masters’ degree holders, etc.
The praise did not end there.
Mugabe did not only talk about forgetting the past and working together as Zimbabweans of all colours, he led the way and implemented that suggestion. He called it Reconciliation.
He formed a cabinet that was littered with persons from former political and military foes. He took Ian Smith’s most able cabinet members and incorporated them into his cabinet.
As head of the new army of Zimbabwe, Mugabe kept General Peter Walls, the man who directed Smith’s military might against Mugabe’s guerrillas.
Whenever war dissolves into peace and the winner salutes the defeated, hugs them and says, “You have a role to play, come join me in governing our nation”, it is, indeed, a great moment.
It was Reconciliation.
The Americans and the Europeans, of course, loved it the most. And one of their idiots went on to propose our Robert Mugabe for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Universities from around the world bestowed on our Robert numerous honorary degrees.
Even my Almer Mater, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, awarded our Robert an Honorary degree too.
Then the cloud we sat on became too thin because we failed to maintain what we had inherited from the colonial government.
Bodies started falling to earth. And we hit the ground hard.
Political cannibalism ensued. Those who would want to succeed our dear leader were declared enemies of the state.
Attempts were made to kill opposition leaders who were harassed, detained or chased out of the country.
The army and the intelligence units started killing our citizens.
Human rights and property rights vanished.
The Central Intelligence Organisation zeroed in on opposition politicians and supporters.
The media was strangled and independent newspapers were curtailed.
Industry and agriculture collapsed.
Corruption thanked the gods as it took over the nation from deep inside State House where a paranoid old man sat and did as he pleased with the nation.
During the most difficult times of low harvests and drought, Mugabe withheld donated food aid from men, women and children that he suspected to be opposition sympathisers.
In 1988, the Hunger Project awarded Mugabe the “Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger”, saying that Mr. Mugabe’s agricultural programs “pointed the way not only for Zimbabwe but for the entire African continent”.
But on August 8, 2001 they revoked it saying, “The Hunger Project wishes to be on the record as deploring policies that have resulted in increased unemployment, poverty and hunger in Zimbabwe. This situation is inconsistent with the spirit of the Africa Prize for Leadership and Zimbabwe’s need to work for the sustainable end of hunger.”
In 1990, Michigan State University awarded Mugabe an Honorary HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legum_Doctor” \o “Legum Doctor” LLD degree “…for his achievements as the president of Zimbabwe…” On September 12, 2008 the university referred to “…a pattern of human rights abuses…” and withdrew Mugabe’s award.
The University of Edinburgh in the UK did the same in 1984 but revoked the honorary LLD degree in June 2007, citing “events between 1982 and 1984 in Matabeleland, where 20,000 people are thought to have died…”
Even Queen Elizabeth II joined in the euphoria in 1994, awarding Mugabe the Knight Grand Cross in the HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_Bath” \o “Order of the Bath” Order of the Bath (whatever that is) for what she called “significant contributions to relations between Britain and Zimbabwe”.
On June 25, 2008 the Queen yanked back the Knight Grand Cross to Buckingham Palace, giving as reason to revoke the award as, “The abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided”.
I do worry when I read about people being killed by security personnel and then the killers get a presidential pardon. I have lived through such life.
I worry when the Presidency camps in the nation’s radio and TV studios and tempers with the free flow of information. I have worked for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and I know all about this chicanery.
Governments in Africa must leave the media alone.
I worry when political leaders view each other as enemies, instead of political opponents.
I worry when I cannot draw the line between what belongs to a political party and what belongs to the government.
I feel threatened when African leaders are showered with praise by foreign governments and outside organisations while their countries are rotting away.
I worry when the opposition parties, who are a necessity in a truly democratic society, are treated as security risks.
I worry when the judiciary is staffed by the president’s friends who got the jobs by bypassing the normal procedures of a judge’s appointment.
I worry when students are caught between the teachers’ unions and a government that won’t even listen to the grievances of its citizens.
And, just for the record, would you believe that I am talking about Zimbabwe and not about Botswana?
Or is it vice versa? Now I can’t tell.
Either way, don’t let Botswana fall apart, I beg. You won’t enjoy it when your democracy is always quoted in the past tense.
Like Mugabe has learned the hard way, awards and accolades should be collected from home, not from people far away.
Imagine what it would mean here to the government and the good citizens of Botswana were, instead of flying to New York to receive some obscure award from unknowns, the First People of the Kgalagadi invited the nation to join them as they bestowed their highest honour on their President or government.
Don’t let Botswana fall apart, please; this nation has given millions of Africans a lot of hope.
All Botswana has to do is to look at what has happened elsewhere and get lessons on how not to govern a country.
I am from Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa…