@JAMWANDA2 ON SATURDAY – Zimbabwe: Chekhov’s middle age monks
@Jamwanda2 On Saturday
From a writer, critic, traveller, doctor
I am reading selected letters of Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer, critic, traveller and medical doctor.
The letters span a big chunk of his life, reflecting all the four roles rolled into one.
This gives this epistolary collection quite some depth and breath on the close of 19th Century Russia and Europe.
For me, it assuages my huge craving for both literature and history, making the whole reading effort indefatigable.
Best in satirical laughter
Chekhov writes letters to many people: family members, critics of his works, detractors and fellow doctors.
Expectedly, the tone ranges from the homely, the explanatory, right through to indignation and acerbic raillery.
Chekhov comes across more forcefully when he gets upset; or when he is made to defend his literary credo.
Or like Jonathan Swift, when he satirises human foibles.
Dissonance as himself
I was particularly struck by one excerpt where he comments on man’s instinctive defensive posture, especially as man vainly seeks to hide his ignorance or limitations.
I will let Chekhov speak for himself: “When a man does not understand a thing, he feels discord within himself: he seeks causes for this dissonance not in himself, and the result is war with something he does not understand.”
Chekhov gets more historically philosophical: “During the Middle Ages alchemy developed gradually, naturally and peacefully into chemistry; astrology into astronomy; the monks did not understand what was taking place, saw the process as war, and so gave battle….”
Eurocentric view of China
Last week I posted a tweet on China. It was very indicative, and was drawn from the British Guardian.
The background to it is broader: there is a growing body of opinion in the Western World that Western Governments have made a monumental strategic error to go to war against Russia, albeit indirectly through their collective pawn, Ukraine.
Russia, this body of thought maintains, is not a consequential foe to Western “Civilisation”! What is, those pundits state categorically, is China, arguably among the world’s oldest independent Civilisation with a whole range of great inventions in its armoury, among them gunpowder!
Fear not Russia, says West
Gentle reader, I take it as axiomatic that when the West talks about threats to its “Civilisation”, you competently decode that to mean threats to its “Hegemony”.
Global hegemony. Comparatively looking at both Russia and China vis-a-vis Western hegemony, it is not hard to grasp why there is greater fear of China than Russia.
While Russia is a nuclear power, spots an impressive and competitive Industrial-Military Complex, the chink in her armour has always been its Economy and its level of known scientific accomplishments. I use the adjective “known” advisedly.
Russia deliberately prefers to be underestimated, underrated, so it packs a knockout punch when its adversaries least expect it. That is one big lesson its ongoing operations in Ukraine continue to show.
But the West is quite confident that Russia lags behind on the chips industry, itself the cutting edge of warfare technology.
Expending slings on crows
The same cannot be said of China. China is a nuclear power, has been for quite some time.
Its army approximates a Continent, something acutely worrying to the West. I won’t mention its huge demography, which raises the ”yellow peril” in the dotard West. Singularly, China has a huge Economy to back up its Industrial-Military-Media-Market Complex.
This worries the West stiff, which is why to Western pundits, wasting weaponry on Russia, in futile defence of Ukraine, amounts to the proverbial hunter who wastes slings on crows when edible Guinea fowls are yet to come.
To the person, these western strategist know that China is acutely watchful on how Western weaponry fares in battle.
They are worried; they think the West is exposing flank, and denying itself the fear factor, which isn’t of inconsiderable strategic value as a deterrent, and in actual modern warfare.
Back to my tweet.
China’s perceived vulnerabilities
The tweet on China — as read by western experts behind the British Guardian — dwelt on China’s perceived vulnerabilities in the event of some confrontation with the West.
Two vulnerabilities are highlighted, neither of which comes from the armoury, as we all would have expected.
They are identified as food and energy! That in the event of confrontation with the West — with Taiwan as the likely ‘causa belli’— China will find its dependency on food imports from the West hurled against it.
And also that its far-flung energy supply routes interdicted.
The rest of the article pays tribute on how China is plugging both vulnerabilities in order to make itself formidable in war.
I do not need to go into that complex subject.
Courage to audit own vulnerabilities
What I need to highlight is the science and imperative of auditing Zimbabwe’s own vulnerabilities as a Nation-State. You notice I used the noun “science”; advisedly because assessing a country’s vulnerabilities require real courage own weaknesses with a view to doing something about them, definitively.
This is no mean or enjoyable task. It is far easier, nay delectable, to for Nations to lie about their own prowess; to brag about invulnerabilities — real and imagined —than to muster the candour to lay bare their weaknesses.
Manufacturing myths on national invulnerabilities is a time-worn industry. We are no exception.
Zimbabwe’s delightful myth-making
Let me just demonstrate an inconvenient elaborate myth we enjoy inventing about ourselves. We brag as “the most educated Nation” on the Continent, even popping fabulous figures and statistics to shore up that sonorous lie. It is as if we do not know about a manpower and skills survey we did which informed the remedial Education 5.0!
That comprehensive survey revealed staggering gaps in formal qualifications in a number of key disciplines; this is before we even bring in skills gaps! In addition, we have clear statistics on kids who drop out of school before reaching seventh grade, clearly suggesting we are de-educating as a Nation.
Yet we still hold fast to this myth of high literacy, all to exaggerate our invulnerabilities!
Haplessly ignorant Nation
Those of us who ply the social media streets will attest to how much of unkempt thinkers we are as Zimbabweans. Completely unkempt! It is not unusual to meet a Zimbabwean arguing that Zimbabwe last year “ONLY managed 251 million kilogrammes of tobacco, against an all-time high of 261 million kilogrammes”!
I cannot think of a worse form of innumeracy ever suffered by mankind!
Or just that capacity to view issues from a variety of angels — from a multidisciplinary perspective in order to dodge baneful bigotry and single-discipline zealotry!
All these point of sparse national mental faculty crying out for decent dressing.
Not squandering a good War
Here is my point: we have had a war; we have had a good crisis we should not squander as a Nation.
That “good” War and Crisis are the sanctions we have had for over two decades. They have amply shown our vulnerabilities, in spite of ourselves and our penchant for myth-making and self-panegyrising.
Happily, we now know we have not been able to meet the needs of our belly, and are beginning to do something about. But that is just one area.
Rather than going rhapsodic about what we have, and what we have in abundance, national focus must be on what we do not have, yet sorely need!
And that requires no divination; merely an audit of items on our import bill!
The vulnerabilities we cannot read
Let me get to a more recondite area of reckoning national vulnerabilities.
This takes us beyond armour, goods, services and technologies. It takes us into the highly nebulous area of correctly reading key disruptions needed in the Economy to plug those vulnerabilities.
In this area we are woefully inadequate, tragically inadequate in fact. One Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s era highlighted this sore inadequacy in and about us. Twice, too!
When he redirected spending away from economic growth to social spending in education — against advice of IMF — we turned around to attack him for “a tanking economy”! Did we not?
The late Robert Gabriel Mugabe
As we unashamedly bragged about ourselves as the most literate nation on the Continent! It is as if we are uneducated on the law of trade-offs; of butter and guns, both of which are so elementary in economics.
Today we comfortably introduce science, technology and innovation on the foundation laid by a man we blame for “tanking” the Economy! One.
Land Reform and vulnerabilities
Two, the Land Reform. Mugabe disrupted colonially developed commercial agriculture through drastic land reforms.
The lore of the day was that he did it out of political expediency — to buy votes! We accused him of causing hunger and degraded our coveted status as “the breadbasket” of Southern Africa to one where we became “a basket case”!
It was a painful sobriquet ever to be suffered by a Nation, and worse, where indigenes of that nation took delight in repeatedly inflicting upon themselves!
We, the beneficiaries of the Land Reform which Mugabe wrought, became foremost wailers on our despicable “landed basket case”, but without any sense of gainful paradox.
Building invulnerabilities through disruptions
Today we wax lyrical about our attainment of food security under the Second Republic; our wheat self-sufficiency under the Second Republic; our tobacco crop projected at 270 million kilogrammes — the highest in the 118 years since this country started growing tobacco — as if all those dashing and winning indices would ever be conceivable without Land Reforms!
I repeat: we cannot grasp and therefore fear disruptions which in fact are necessary en route to our invulnerabilities as a Nation.
When those who see better, inflict those disruptions we cannot grasp on us, on such “dissonances” we cannot grasp or understand, we, like Chekhov’s monks, “see the process as war, and so give battle”!
Spitting on own efforts
What irks me is that this national ineptitude persists even under the Second Republic.
Just look at how we daily reviled our leaders for getting the Chinese to help us build Hwange 7 and 8; for bolstering national lift power by acquiring some 36 helicopters from Russia!!
It is as if we have now mastered and tamed irascible Nature. For certain tactical concessions we making in the mining sector to grow national capabilities and capacities!
We read profligacy and surrendering sovereignty to “the Chinese”! As if we had that sovereignty when our mines and minerals belonged to Lonrho and Union Carbide where we had nil partnership!
It is worse in the Economy!
The illiteracy there is plain appalling! Including from people you think are literate and thus should lead us away from the temptations of greater vulnerabilities disguised as easy “solutions” or “economic commonsense”!
Why would a sane Zimbabwean argue for the continued retention and use of the United States dollar when the rest of the world is striving away from its dominance?
We, a Nation to which Africa has always looked up to for leadership, today tenaciously cling onto a hideously embarrassing argument built around American paper?
As if that piece of paper has an intrinsic value; is value itself, not a mere symbol of value imagined! And to even brag as formidable because “we are dollarised”? Goodness me!
Behold the blind monks!
Yet all around us the smell of Middle Age alchemy pervades; yet all around us neighbours astrologically peep the skies!
We catch no whiff of chemistry, no smell of astronomy!
Our nostrils are laden with some slimy matter like monks of yore; while our sinews are taut to give battle… against us, ourselves and our futures! Cry the beloved humans; I am only a donkey!