A few weeks ago I attended a bridal shower. It is usually at this occasion that the bride to be receives advice from family and friends about what to expect from her marriage. At this particular bridal shower the bride and guests were fortunate to listen to a presentation given by a very wise and gifted marriage counselor. Her words of advice were relevant for both the young and old navigating the often turbulent waters of marriage. Sitting and reflecting on the wise lessons given on that day I realised that the same insights and lessons can be applied to Zimbabwe’s and African politics . This realisation has been made starker by the events of the MDC Alliance aborted August 16 demonstrations. Applying these lessons to Zimbabwe’s situation may even provide steps that can help lead us out of this quagmire in which we seem to have found ourselves.
The first lesson was about the expectations a young girl is likely to have when entering into marriage. After being brought up on a staple of Hollywood’s romantic movies and romantic images shared on social media, a young girl may think that marriage is about romantic dinners, building a beautiful home together and having adorable children. This is because people don’t go on social media to post pictures of themselves struggling to pay bills. They wont tell you that the car in the picture has three outstanding installments that have not been paid. They wont post pictures of themselves eating a basic home cooked meal but will post pictures of meals eaten at restaurants. They wont post pictures of their kids’ poor exam marks or worn out school uniform. The effect is that an unrealistic picture of what married life is like is created and when one experiences the difficulties, they often think their situation is insurmountable and much worse than that of others.
Zimbabweans, like a young married couple are experiencing a crisis of expectation. This utopia that we believe should be delivered by the democratic model seems far out of reach. The belief is rooted in the fact that an event like a free and fair election will deliver good governance and a functioning economy that brings jobs and prosperity. This is however, a fallacy. Believing that a free and fair election will solve our problems is akin to believing that if you have a perfect wedding day then your marriage will be perfect and you will live happily ever after. The reality is that there is no link between a perfect wedding and a perfect marriage; one does not necessarily lead to the other. The same is true of elections. A perfect election does not necessarily lead to good governance and economic prosperity. In fact in Zimbabwe’s case the economic dye had already been cast by 2013 as the country had spent the last two decades digging itself deeper and deeper into debt. Any government coming into power would be faced with having to solve the huge debt challenge facing Zimbabwe. That being Zimbabwe’s reality, there was no government, Zanu PF or MDC that was going to take the reigns in 2013 and make these massive debts disappear. Any government that was going to commit to fixing the mess would have to make hard decisions that would result in things getting worse before they could get any better.
The wedding speaker told of how, a short while after she was married her husband lost his job and failed to find gainful employment for many years. She confessed that during this time she felt a great deal of resentment towards her partner and wondered how she had ended up with such a man for a husband. They struggled for many years with her as the sole breadwinner. It was only after some years that she realised that this was her life partner and that she should begin to take time to appreciate those things that were positive about their relationship and try to make the best of it. She advised that a key aspect of the way forward was to put effort into fixing your own problems before going out to seek advice from family and friends.
She pointed out two main dangers in seeking external help for every misunderstanding that took place. The first was the risk of sullying your partner’s image in the eyes of your family. In the heat of conflict there are many negative things that can easily be said about one’s partner to family and friends. After you have resolved your issues and are back on course, restoring your partner’s image in the eyes of your loved ones is very difficult. The hostility that has been created during conflict does not dissipate and often the ill feeling will affect your marital relationship and that of your two families for a long time.
The second danger in seeking external help is the possibility of receiving advice that is not in the best interest of your relationship but in the advisor’s interest. Within the African context where social and financial support is given to extended family members, a conflict between a married couple may be of benefit to the advisor. Advice may be given to ensure that resources are given to the advising relative and not put into building a good financial base for the marital couple.
In Zimbabwe’s case the conflict between the two main political parties has been outsourced to external advisors since it began. In fact since the inception of the MDC in the year 2000, there has been little attempt to resolve the conflict between the two political parties internally. It could easily be concluded that the conflict has been between Zanu Pf and western governments and MDC and the African governments. The MDC’s strategy has been to fight their battle using the muscle of western governments in the form of sanctions and the international mainstream media to amplify their side of the story. Mugabe garnered the support of the African community by daring to say things to western governments that other Africans knew were true but would never dare say for fear of being ostracised in the same way Zimbabwe has been. In the process Zimbabwe’s reputation has been sullied in the eyes of the whole world. The country has achieved pariah status and is looked down upon by both westerners and Africans. In fact Zimbabweans themselves have little respect for their country as evidenced by the unrelenting negative onslaught the country’s media and social media actors continuously pour on their own country.
And these advisors have gained a great deal. South Africa’s economy has benefitted immensely from the exports of basic goods as Zimbabwe’s industry has deteriorated. There is an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans living, working and contributing to the skilled labour force the South African economy needs. Europe, United States and The United Kingdom gain ground as they angle for control of the resources of the region as Zimbabwe’s destabilization threatens the security of the whole region. They are aware that there is no easier way to gain control over resources than through the creation of instability in a region. The Russians and the Chinese, quietly feed off the financial desperation of Zimbabweans to put their foothold in the country. All this while we demonstrate, have the police beat the demonstrators and then spend months fighting about which political party is worse than the other and achieve nothing except cause more suffering to the ordinary citizens.
The overarching message was the age-old Shona saying, “ Chakafukidza dzimba matenga”, loosely translated to mean “every home has its challenges which are concealed by the roof that covers it.” The message being that there is no perfect marriage, every marriage has its challenges. Like countries all over the world Zimbabwe has its challenges. At this time those challenges may seem insurmountable. However other countries have been through what we going through now and have found a way through. The leader of the Kenyan government Uhuru Kenyatta and leader of the opposition Raila Odinga have managed to reconcile and make peace with each other after the violent blood baths that have tainted the Kenyan electoral process. They have decided to work together for the good of their country and now have a healthy rivalry that works to take the country forward. Despite Raila Odinga refuting the election results, he has accepted that he is not the President of Kenya and knows that it is possible for Kenya to move forward with somebody else as President.
In our case the MDC Alliance’s claim that Zimbabwe’s problems cannot be resolved until the legitimacy issue is resolved is a fallacy. The installation of Nelson Chamisa as Zimbabwe’s President will not result in our debt arrears to African Development Bank, Afrexim or IMF and World Bank suddenly evaporating, nor will it pay off our ESCOM bills nor make it rain so that Kariba generates hydro electric power at maximum capacity. These things all need economic solutions not the installation of an MDC government to resolve them.
It is also time to stop thinking that any of our external allies will provide support that is to our country’s advantage. That is not the nature of the political beast, it demands that every nation takes any action in pursuit of its own self interest. Sanctions are not to our advantage that is a fallacy we have been made to believe. South Africa will build their economy using the skills provided by the millions of well-educated Zimbabweans until such time that they are no longer in need of them. The Chinese and Russians will take full advantage of negotiating with a country that has low international status because the world and its own people have a low opinion of themselves.
It is time to begin to do things differently, we cannot keep repeating the same actions and expect to realise a different result. The MDC cannot keep demonstrating knowing that there will be nothing achieved except a heavy handed response from the police and army. Zanu PF should do things in a way that does not leave the citizens believing that demonstrations are the only way they can make a change. There is need to let people know where we are as a country. If the Transitional Stabilisation Programme is the leading policy driving the government agenda then let us know where we are. It must be like the northern star for every Zimbabwean Citizen. It must be something every Zimbabwean is able to speak about and track its progress so that they know exactly where we are on the journey to recovery. Citizens should not have to wait to glean information from speeches made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to external players in some far off land. Zimbabweans should be so attuned to the government policy of the day that if given the chance a citizen should be able to articulate the basic steps being taken to move the country forward. They must also be able to tell each other and anyone who cares to listen how far the policy has been implemented according to the steps that need to be taken.
We must begin to restore pride in ourselves. The incessant self-denigration diminishes us in the eyes of the world and makes our recovery even slower than it should be. There are plenty of challenges in our country, but none of them are insurmountable if we take these lessons from a marriage counselor into our politics: Accept your reality, look to harness and appreciate the positives, seek to resolve your own issues, don’t be to quick to look for external advisors and then look to them to fight your battles, begin to communicate constructively. After all chakafukidza dzimba matenga.