Op ed

Response to Codewit Newsletter Edition Vol III 2009-04-04 – We should not demonise Mugabe

Dr Julie WeeI have read with interest this article. Whilst I can empathise and sympathise with the sentiments expressed, I feel compelled to respond.

The writer seems sadly to have locked into a rationale that I would suggest is limiting and likely to stifle debate and ongoing growth of ideas and development of long term solutions within Africa.  The writer might consider too that Europeans are as diverse in customs, ideas and beliefs as Africans ..surely generic terms which conceal far more than they reveal. I am not sure just which Europeans he means in his discussion.
The history of the world has been one of colonisation. It is almost impossible to think of a nation, state, country or people on any continent who have not been colonized by others at some time during their history. Throughout history,   the strong have imposed themselves on weaker, or less developed, people. This has been the history of tribal times as well as the history of the modern era. Today we believe ourselves to be more humane, more civilised or more developed. But are we?
I  strongly agree, with the writer, that a government has not only a constitutional responsibility but also a moral responsibility to its citizens. Good governance is about fairness, responsibility, equity and moral obligation to uphold the rights and wellbeing of all the people. One can influence the future but one cannot change the past. One can learn from it and choose not to make the same mistakes. It only blinds one from the realities and possibilities of the future if one holds onto old hatreds and prejudices and lays the blame for current positions solely on past grievances. There are plenty of examples from both inside and outside of Africa which illustrate this position.
One must also look objectively at current realities. Yes, Africa has a colonial past. Yes, Africa and its people have been disadvantaged. Yes, the colonial treatment of those within artificial borders was scandalous by any standards. But it does not serve the people of Africa well to continue to blame and take refuge behind the grievances of the colonial past or to look to skin colour and tribal affiliations as some negative element or to continue to have a “them” and “us” mentality as in the West versus us.  The past is just that. The nations of Africa have young and vibrant populations with enormous potential which should be viewed optimistically rather than be pulled down by continually recalling the negativity of the past. Nations in other parts of the world with similar colonial pasts are building strong countries and moving into the modern world successfully.

The current article talks of the West and Brown demonising Mugabe. As an outsider it would seem that Mugabe does not need to be demonised by either. Mugabe’s actions, treatment of his own people and his governance of Zimbabwe speak for themselves. Zimbabwe was once a highly successful nation able to feed its people and positioned to be a strong leader in Africa. It was within Mugabe’s control to engineer land allocations in the best interests of the nation, objectively and without prejudice. However old hatreds and grievances ruled and superseded the needs and interests of the whole community. That the successful farmers were white was an historical position which may have needed to be addressed. But as we have seen graphically, throwing successful farmers off the land has been a disaster and demonstrates the fatality and futility of vengeful governance. To lay the blame on the West or Brown is to ignore the inherent  misuse of power that has occurred. It should not be forgotten that Mugabe has pursued policies and programmes which have decimated his own people, brought Zimbabwe to its knees and that he has over ridden the voice of the Zimbabwean people by ignoring the recent poll results. History will be his judge.

I cannot comment on the treatment of Africans in Europe. Living in a land of immigrants, I can offer these observations. Newly arrived immigrants are known to have difficulties adjusting to a new environment  and may experience feelings of dislocation and stress in the host country especially during economic downturns. History shows that as successive waves of immigrants arrive, it is the  newcomers who may feel discriminated against. Older established groups begin to blend in. Attitudes are also important and when new immigrants are defensive they find prejudice, or slights, at every turn. Immigrants who continue to harbour anti-Western sentiments and or past colonial grievances, of course, could well find it very difficult to find acceptance in Western democracies or countries. Sometimes, where extreme cultural differences cause settling-in and acceptance problems, bridging programs and assistance are needed. New immigrants sometimes resort to violence or anti-social behaviours which in turn create difficulties for the wider group of immigrants even where the host country is, or has been, accepting and accommodating. These are things which dissipate with time and perceived lack of opportunities in the host country generally improve over time as well as immigrants establish residency and other rights.

I agree with the writer that Africans should take from the West that which is good. Africa needs to develop its own systems too remembering that good governance is about fairness, responsibility, equity and moral obligation to uphold the rights and wellbeing of all the people.  Western democracies and their financial systems have evolved over hundreds of years.  Perhaps a lesson to be learnt is not that the West can be wrong because,  of course, the West can be fallible  but that the people of Africa have the capacity and the willingness to learn the lessons of history. That the young men and women who are studying in the West can disconnect from anti- colonialism and help to develop effective governments in their home countries which avoid the pitfalls of endemic corruption, favouritism and misuse of power. Perhaps, they might strive to build inclusive communities and states which value the contributions of all people within their countries (black, white, Asian or tribal) and use the inherited good things from the West (or their colonial pasts) and the strengths of their local communities to build a better and brighter future for their children.

Dr Julie Wee
DEd(Melbourne), MEdSt (Monash), BSpEd (Monash)



Leave a Reply