Reason Wafawarova on Monday
I am a fund-raiser by profession, and I work mainly with aid organisations that specialise in international humanitarian work. Often it is not easy to balance between the dire need for humanitarian intervention and the issue of Africa’s continental identity, dignity, pride and sovereignty.
There are telling exaggerations that are sometimes convenient for fund-raising, but also humiliatingly misleading on the part of African dignity. Sometimes the brighter side of the continent is kept in silence while cases of extreme poverty are dramatised to move the hearts of prospective donors; in the process loosening their purse strings.
Dambisa Moyo writes much about the adverse effects of aid in the book “Dead Aid”, and of course she has courted significant controversy, as well as attracting a great deal of criticism, from not only the charity sector, but also from the intellectual community. While Moyo dwells on the economic effect of international aid in Africa, there are others who have raised the moral argument around the politics of humanitarianism.
Some of these scholars have argued that the image of Africa has been unjustly and unfairly damaged through the deliberate and intentional magnification of misery as a selling point in fund-raising efforts. Images of crying, mucous-drooling, dirty-looking little African children used to promote an expression of dire poverty have been criticised as a wrong portrayal of the continent.
Some have suggested that the use of such images as promotional materials in fund-raising efforts is unethical. As a fund-raiser myself, I know first hand the strong feelings some people across the races have in regards to this matter.
Such exaggerations are not always necessarily intentional, and they are certainly hardly ever made with the intention to demean the people of Africa. However, they inadvertently depict hopelessness – sometimes giving the targeted donor the impression that the destiny of their donation is a hopeless land that carries the definition of endless hunger and poverty. There is this feeling among the generality of Western donors that the governments in Africa have no other plan other than depending on Western philanthropy and handouts for survival. That generalisation is not entirely incorrect, much as it is far from the truth and reality on the ground.
Politically, Africa is perceived in the negative, particularly from the West, but also from the emerging Asian economic giants. Donald Trump used some telling colourful language to describe our status in world affairs. Essentially, Trump ranks African countries as the dustbin of world economics, and he is not that wrong factually, much as we find him unforgivably offensive. We obviously want to beg with our pride and dignity, and we will not allow anyone to insult our integrity, even in poverty.
No doubt the Western politician genuinely often sees himself as a saviour of a dark continent marred by an assortment of heinous problems, and this mentality reigns supreme in Western intelligentsia too, among the philanthropists, within the mainstream Western white community, and even within the framework of missionary work from various churches. It is sad when even faith reinforces hopelessness – it being meant to be the fountain of hope. We are the burden of the West, and we have accepted it too.
I was told of a church where the senior pastor said his church preached tolerance, and as such, “even gays, lesbians and blacks are welcome”.
We black people have often been viewed as a marginal group of people deserving a special sense of sympathy and tolerance at our best, and extreme caution at our worst. We know how our kith and kin in the United States are viewed as a highly dangerous species that can only be tamed by bullets and brute force, and other forms of tranquillisers, like jails. Some analysts have argued that this has become the prevailing mentality within the white-dominated law and order establishment in the United States; but I digress.
Many times Africa dominates news in Western media through its perceived miserable image of hunger, disease, refugees, wars, dictators, and debt. Lately the issue of bad governance has also become topical, and not without cause or justification. Our governments often have appalling priorities; they are by and large consumerist political conglomerates masquerading as genuine visionary leaders of the continent.
David Cameron once described Nigerian leaders as “fantastically corrupt”, and that was not without some reasonable measure of justification. The fact that British politicians are similarly corrupt did not exactly make the assertion any less accurate.
To Africa corruption has become a vocation for those who can win elections. We legitimise favouritism once someone we are related to or connected to is in a position of power. We ridicule those hardworking and honest politicians who get into office and come out with no material benefits to show for it after their term of office expires. “What was he doing as a Cabinet minister for five years if he did not enrich himself and his family?” we ask.
We often bombard the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation with criticism for imperialistic behaviour each time we hear demands for “anti-corruption measures” as a prerequisite for getting assistance.
We believe such demands are bullish, patronising, selective, unjust, and that they smack of supremacist tendencies. Sometimes this can be true, but not entirely.
Even the Chinese would not be too impressed to fund corruption in the name of trade and aid. We need to show seriousness in our commitment to make our economies work. We cannot expect to be taken seriously if we tell the Chinese that we hope to end our cash crisis by putting their money into our banks. That would be a meaninglessly lazy proposal, and our politicians must understand that.
It is true that the issue of corruption has sometimes been politicised to further hidden political agendas aimed at the greater goal of imperialistic hegemony. Any international relations scholar with self-respect will readily accept this observation. However, this diplomatic mischief does not in itself make the corruption in our system any holier or lighter; it does not exonerate our largely inept leadership of its many egregious crimes, and certainly it does not mean the issue of corruption becomes irrelevant because it has been pointed out by someone with imperialist interests.
The complicity of the West in the Rwanda genocide of 1994 did not take away the fact that we played the deadly role of massacring our own people in six- figure digits with the barbarity ruthless savages.
The ruinous effect of the illegally imposed Western sanctions in the past 18 years does not take away the effect of bad governance by our own politicians in Zimbabwe.
We used to argue and say former president Robert Mugabe was being let down by his lieutenants, but that was just an explanation for failure, not a reasonable excuse.
We have been inviting investors and soliciting for financial support from across the world: from Russians, Westerners, Asians and the Arabs. As usual, the West has been quick to put preconditions to do with political benchmarks packaged as “reforms”.
We know in international relations that the pre-conditionality for aid is always political. Aid and loans intentionally given to yield return economic benefits for the aid giver are not a matter of rocket science in international relations. They are a matter of common sense. Aid comes with a calculated profit-defined return on investment. This is not about some goodwill feel-good-factor after helping hapless fellows in some poor country. It is about material returns. Foreign policy is about the national interest of the country putting such policy in place; about material benefits to the country in question, not about looking after God’s poor people somewhere across the planet.
We are equally aware that many Western “experts” have written and suggested that the root cause of poverty in Africa lies in government failure and corruption, not exactly in the colonial legacy and its imperialistic aftermath, as our own African experts and writers often claim, if experts we were to call them.
There is no denial that we have rampant corruption across the continent, and it is beyond dispute that corruption presents an enormous problem for millions of our people who continue to languish in abject poverty – often within the vicinity of obscenely wealthy suburbs occupied by their corrupt leadership. Soweto in South Africa, Hatcliffe in Zimbabwe, and Kibera in Kenya are good examples of extreme poverty neighbouring obscene wealth.
Nothing has been spared of corruption in Africa. Our natural resources, foreign investment funds, aid money, and associated resources in kind.
If China or any other country, or financial institution were to lend us billions of dollars tomorrow, the greatest threat to that money would be corruption.
Most of our economic problems are a result of African laziness across the socio-political fabric. Our governments receive aid money and they loot the funds for personal aggrandisement; our farmers receive inputs and they find it far easier to sell the inputs on the black market and make quick money than invest the inputs into farming so they can produce and feed an entire nation.
We have heard loud cries about the mega looting that happened at Chiadzwa diamond fields, and once Kasukuwere promised us he would hunt down the looters and open their bowels in search of our diamonds. That was a very impressive call targeted at nobody, and that is how we dramatise our pretences at leadership whenever we want to get elected to political office.
There has been no official inquiry or investigation to help find the diamond looters, and I sincerely doubt there will ever be.
Our politicians are fond of this behaviour, and this is how the Chiadzwa villagers have been consoled and pacified over the missing diamonds from their area.
Of course, it is a massive distortion to view the problem of corruption and leadership ineptness as simply an African matter. These corrupt leaders often have partners in the West, and in most cases they have stashed their stolen loot in Western cash havens.
It is wrong to view corruption as a genetic characteristic of African leaders, or of Africans in general, tempting as the assertion might be, even among us Africans. Corruption and bad governance in Africa are in fact an extension of the widespread problem of the greedy – an underlying feature of the capitalist culture. It is part of our colonial legacy -an inherent problem within the capitalist system bequeathed to us by our former masters.
Corruption is not a monopoly of Africa. It is not restricted to African leadership. In the Middle East we have the murderously repressive regimes that egregiously oppress the Arab people with the complicity of powerful Western backers. The sectarian conflicts featuring the generality of Arabs against ISIL is in fact a creation from corrupt deals between the West and some rogue political players from the Arab world.
We are aware that Western multinationals are far from the models of success that they are often portrayed to be. We know they are in fact the epitome of corruption.
The examples of BP-Shell and the Nigerian political leadership, Halliburton and Iraq, or the Nestle saga may be among the most publicised, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg.
We know that any illusion of the West as an example of flourishing democracy is greatly undermined by the West’s double standards, like its alliance with dictatorial regimes like Saudi Arabia – the chief sponsor of the ISIS doctrine.
However, it is important that we Africans start taking responsibility for our own actions. The Nkandla scandal in South Africa was not an act of imperialism planned in Western capitals. Shrewd schemers in Western capitals never masterminded the corrupt land barons of Harare. These are our own born and bred criminals.
We know that our politicians have many times used land as a tool to woo voters, as a hoodwinking gimmick to fool us into believing that we have a committed leadership devoted to our economic empowerment.
The West has bemoaned the embezzlement of their money by political parties they have sponsored in our country. Even in the middle of fighting for a “new Zimbabwe” we cannot do it without corruption.
Corruption is an indictment on our collective conscience across the political divide.
How do we acquit ourselves when we cannot tame unscrupulous moneychangers openly trading currencies illegally before our own eyes? We should not defend a political system that breeds a dead conscience in our accountability institutions.
We cannot be proud of a political system that allows a coterie of elites to continue to enrich itself when everything it is presiding over is collapsing like a deck of cards. That must come to an end in this new dispensation.
We cannot continue to shun the principles of good governance simply because the concept has been used in the past as a Western pretext for political interference and meddling.
If we truly want to be sovereign, then we must aspire for accountability. We cannot be sovereign when we allow ourselves to rely solely on foreign aid. No nation looking for aid to pay its own civil service can be taken seriously.
Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome! It is homeland or death!!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.