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Zimbabwe political actors mere pawns

By Alex Magaisa 


RECENT events in the Middle East have been horrendous. With global attention currently focused on the Middle East one would hope that the major political actors in countries such as Zimbabwe would take time to pause and consider their own place in th

e hierarchy of priorities of the so-called “international community”.

Throughout the on-going crisis in Zimbabwe, political actors, particularly in the opposition, have often referred to the “international community”, without actually ever defining the nature and character of this community.

That the so-called international community has failed so far to take any specific decisive action in resolving the Zimbabwe question must point some harsh truths to the main political actors and possibly force them to appreciate that, ultimately, only Zimbabweans have the responsibility and indeed the capacity to resolve their differences and get on with business. There is never a perfect solution, only one that allows the political, social and economic wheels to start moving again with  minimum resistance.

What exactly do they mean when they speak of the “international community”?

In truth what is often referred to as the international community is an amorphous body of nations, often divided and operating without a single specific voice at all times. Within the Zimbabwean political context, as in most others, the international community means different things to different people depending on the platform of each individual or political actor.

Taking a rather more simplistic categorisation often used in Zimbabwe, the world is still seen through a pair of lens — one lens identifying the West and the other focusing on the East.  

Going by the alliances and the image that has been built over the years, it would appear that with slight variations between factions, to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and other opposition movements in civil society the “international community” consists predominantly of the West.

On the other hand, feeling ostracised by the West, Zanu PF has deliberately constructed its world-view through the lens of the East.

When the MDC says the “international community” castigates what is going on in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF finds solace in the silent and occasionally influential support of its Eastern friends such as China. Archaic as it might seem, that distinction between East and West in the post-Cold War global environment remains fundamental, at least to the extent that Zimbabwean expectations of the international community are concerned.

Zanu PF can always rely on the likes of China to block attempts to bring the Zimbabwe issue within the context of the UN Security Council.  

The sad fact is that Zimbabwean political actors do not seem to realise that they are mere pawns in a game of the big boys. If there is one thing that unites the divided community of nations, it is that each nation’s attitude, position and action in relation to any issue are motivated by self-interest. It is not necessarily the interest of the people affected by any specific situation that determines other nations’ behaviour.

The Chinas of this world have a voracious appetite for resources as do the West. It happens that they do not have all the resources. Sometimes they are found in other countries. Some benefit from the stability of those countries whilst others reap benefits from the chaos.

What is it then that we Zimbabweans do not see, that makes almost all of us have so much faith in the goodwill and support of this undefined body that we call the international community? 

There are at least two possible factors that influence Zimbabweans’ attitude to what we call the “international community”: either we have a very high opinion of ourselves (superiority complex) or a serious inferiority complex. Either way we have a serious problem that causes us, in all sectors of the political divide, to be so gullible and expect to be treated by others in some special way.  

First, the superiority complex: for many years after Independence Zimbabwe appeared to hold a lofty position at least among the largely deteriorating nations of Africa. It is the same position that South Africa holds today with great pride but events in Zimbabwe should be educative.

Zimbabweans felt special almost to the point of looking down upon neighbours that appeared to have got it wrong politically and economically such as Zambia and Mozambique.

Zimbabweans felt and thought they were different, and worryingly echoes of which I hear from some sections in South Africa. They even wondered how other countries in Africa could let one man rule the country for more that two decades. It was almost unimaginable.  

This superiority complex may have remained with Zimbabweans, so that when problems began to show, they turned largely to the international community to assist in resolving the crisis. Zimbabwe attracted a large amount of attention from other countries, especially in the West feeding into the belief that Zimbabwe was special and different from other African countries whose troubles may have been grave but received less coverage and attention.

The media focus on Zimbabwe post-2000 was almost unprecedented, more so than during the 1980s when the wanton and brutal massacre of people in the provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands had warranted such coverage. Indeed, post-2000 even those Zimbabweans who had been largely silent during those massacres became overnight converts to the cause of human rights.

The differential treatment of the two episodes (the massacres of the 1980s and the crisis of post-2000) by the so-called international community tells its own story in relation to the primacy of interests in determining its behaviour and reaction to issues. 

In the case of the possible inferiority complex, there is a school of thought which states that a person who habours an inferiority complex is more likely to rest on his laurels and expect others to take the lead. Such a person feels powerless and refuses to take responsibility for his own fate. Instead, he leaves it to others whom he expects to feel sorry for him.

The inferiority complex actually gives him comfort because he doesn’t have to take any responsibility and therefore takes no crucial decisions. Applying this theory on a wider scale, one suspects that Zimbabweans have developed a collective inferiority complex — that we are victims, powerless and expect others to feel sorry for us and therefore to take decisions and action on our behalf.

In terms of seeking attention and feeling special it makes little difference, if any, whether a person has an inferiority or superiority complex. Either way, there is a case of feeling special and important — of refusing to take responsibility and appealing for attention.

Central to these dynamics of superiority/inferiority is an inward-looking approach to the crisis affecting Zimbabwe which makes it appear as if what is happening in Zimbabwe is unique and deserving of special attention from every other nation that cares to listen.

There appears to be a gap in knowledge and awareness that what Zimbabwe is going through is to many people outside Zimbabwe nothing out of the ordinary within the African context.

There are some harsh truths that Zimbabweans will have to acknowledge. Indeed, it seems that to many people across the world, the behaviour of the Zimbabwe government is nothing out of the ordinary considering the history of poor governance, oppression and abuse of power in Africa.

The mention of Africa conjures images of fly-infested, naked children surrounded by poverty and gun-toting youths used by corrupt officials. Zimbabwe is simply travelling a well-trodden path. Not much attention was paid to the decline in those other countries and not much was done to halt it.

In each of those cases the people probably appealed to the amorphous international community, with minimal results in the few cases where perhaps there was full-blown war and interests of the “international community” needed safeguarding. Why then do Zimbabweans seem to feel that ours is a special case?   

It is the same with Zimbabweans who are now in the diaspora. The image of Zimbabwe that they have and want to preserve is the Zimbabwe they left years ago, one that is long gone and distant. Even when they dream of one day returning home, they never pause to consider that they are just another instalment of Africans who have left the continent for good — a similar instalment to those that have been leaving for decades from other African countries.

They too haboured lofty dreams of returning home but they are now great-grandparents in the diaspora. They too expected something to be done for them by someone to enable them to return home one day.

Likewise the diaspora asks the familiar question: “Why can’t they do something for us?” — taking themselves out of the equation and without accepting that it is in fact their own responsibility. 

There is no doubt that there are human rights concerns in Zimbabwe. This has been the central rallying point for international sympathy and condemnation.

But sadly, even those working in this field seem oblivious to the fact that the violation of human rights alone (without affecting the interests of whoever is considered the “international community”) is not sufficient to push them to take any decisive action on their behalf.

The UN for example acknowledged the tragedy of Operation Murambatsvina in 2005, but besides the occasional noises and condemnation, nothing of substance has been done to address the problems. Again awareness of events elsewhere and how nations react would help to focus attention on the immediate and more sustainable strategies in Zimbabwe.

* Dr Alex Magaisa is a UK-based lawyer.

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