Joshua Nkomo, the late Vice President of Zimbabwe spoke prophetically when he said, “Zimbabwe will not die, the young will save it.” These are uplifting words, feel good words which have inspired the young. They’ve been recited over and over again. They show great faith in the future generation that they can prevail where previous leaders failed. He uttered these words after acknowledging that his fellow leaders, advanced in age, had badly let the country down.
What no one explained to the young generation was the magnitude of the problems they must overcome in order to save the country.
Army v Democracy
The idea of a government of the people, by the people, for the people is yet to be realised in Zimbabwe. The proximity between the ruling party Zanu PF and the army has been an obstacle to strong and independent state institutions. They are so close that a senior government minister declared recently that the army is part of their political party. Such utterances do not only reflect that they have no hope of winning free and fair elections, but they are prepared to use the army to govern against people’s will.
In the 2008 presidential elections, former president Robert Mugabe said the opposition got seventy-three percent of the votes, but the army cooked the figures and forced a re-run. More than three hundred people were killed during the re-run. In 2018, the army was deployed the day after elections, and it’s alleged as many as eight people were killed. This led to an inquiry which made recommendations, but they’ve been ignored. In 2019, during the internet shutdown, the army was deployed and the number of those who died is believed to be between fifteen and twenty-one.
The way in which the army operates is contrary to democratic principles. By forcing people to be governed against their will, the army is effectively saying it cannot change its ways through logic and reasonable steps. It is essentially saying, you have to overpower us if you want free and fair elections. That’s not a responsible way of operating in a country of peace-loving people.
The young were born in a free country, have never been to war and they subscribe to non-violence politics. They don’t understand why the army is causing such havoc when it preaches everyday about gains of the liberation struggle. This is why the government is complacent and out of touch. It has the power to deploy the army against the people. There is no hope of holding the government to account.
Mission for Young Zimbabweans
Frantz Fannon said, “each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.” Democracy ought to be the mission pursued by young Zimbabweans. The main objective must be a politics without the army and creation of strong state institutions. This mission is so vital that the country cannot function properly unless it’s addressed. No investor or company is going to invest in a dysfunctional country. Unless the politics change, the country will continue with an economic system that is based on dishonest principles and a dodgy currency. Civil servants won’t get the living wages they desperately need. The infrastructure will continue deteriorating.
This mission is not a walk in the park especially in a military state. Freedom as shown by the liberation war, does not come easily. Prisons are full of political prisoners and the persecution against opposition members is unprecedented. It’s a different matter to be liberated from a foreign power but the need to be liberated from your own government must be soul destroying.
Although this is a huge challenge, there is a feeling that enough is not being done. There is a lukewarm approach in terms of formulating an effective plan against the oppressive government. In a country where it’s illegal to demonstrate, no alternatives have been seen. Does this mean that this is the end of pushing back against oppression? The government would want it that way, but it shouldn’t be that way!
The fight for democracy has been going on for twenty-three years. People seem tired for it has been a long struggle. It could be they believe there is no reasonable prospect of the situation changing. The violation of human rights is getting worse and it’s designed to shrink political space. The current case of Job Sikhala is a shocking example of a government that has lost the plot. The government is terrified of his ability to inspire people during election campaigns that they jailed him without trial and denied him bail. Selective application of the law is the guiding principle in the courts.
A mission of this magnitude does not just happen on its own. It requires teamwork, a shared sense of purpose, direction, and a clear plan. The plan should be able to inspire those executing as well as inspire the public. The team should be made up of thinkers, strategists, and competent people. There is no lovely way of pursuing this mission as highlighted by Nelson Mandela’s life or Gandhi. The oppressor will never set you free willingly. It may take some sacrifice as Mandela’s 27 years in prison. Many people have been jailed and some have died and yet there is still no democracy. It is not for the faint hearted. This is a matter that each person must ask him/herself. No one should feel forced or pushed. This is for people driven by the strength of their convictions. You don’t choose your country and the political landscape it provides. You find it however way it presents itself. It’s up to you to shape it, or it will shape you.
Leadership and Vision
The young generation must understand that when the mission of democracy has been achieved, the hard work of rebuilding the country must begin. Zimbabwe needs visionary leadership that can do the complex work of transformation. Trying to fix the current system without turning the country upside down wont work. It’s imperative to have a new foundation clearly defining what the country is about and what the country stands for and most importantly, who Zimbabweans are.
It requires an ambitious vision that has an appreciation of both Zimbabwe’s and the world’s history, modern realities, and Zimbabwe’s place in the current world, and Zimbabwe’s place in the future of the world. This kind of thinking is different to what has been displayed in the last 42 years. A country is bigger than a village and to impose village standards on a country that must operate in a world of eight billion people is counterproductive. A leader can keep his village philosophy as long as he can rise to the challenges of a country in an intricately linked world.
You can’t address a problem without acknowledging that it exists. The way current leaders address problems is by sweeping them under the carpet or pretending they don’t exist. This is because they are not affected by the impact of their inaction or incompetence. There are people in government who hold powerful positions, but they are not qualified to be in those positions. What this does, is subject the country to mediocre standards and often at the expense of the country in the long run.
The young generation must understand that Zimbabwe needs a new leadership culture in which those interested in serving their country, must be committed to higher standards. The difference between functional countries and failed countries is the leaders. It’s the leaders who make decisions that advance a country or decisions that hurt a country. It’s leaders who are comfortable flying abroad for their medical needs instead of building local hospitals that benefit everyone. It’s leaders who make space for an independent judiciary or a captured judiciary
The question that young Zimbabweans must answer is, are they going to pass the Joshua Nkomo test? Are they going to save Zimbabwe or not? Answering this question fits neatly with Frantz Fannon’s submission that each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.
*Maximilian Lion holds a Masters Degree from Warwick University in International Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation. He finds the world of ideas fascinating and currently researching on how developing countries can build ideas driven political systems*