Tuesday, August 09, 2011
United Zimbabwe stands a better chance
by Lovemore Fuyane
NATION-BUILDING in Zimbabwe against a background of obvious ethnic diversity and the current reverberations about secession has become a generational challenge.
But whereas some -- driven to the edges of despair by an uneven share of the national cake -- would like to carve up the country based on ethnic lines, I am in the constituency that supports big country configurations. Indeed, this is the way that most of the world is going.
The world’s most successful and biggest economies exist in large countries or large blocs in various permutations and all with different levels of autonomy within them. What is key, however, in each of these successful large countries is the existence of the basic building blocks of self determination for the various ethnic groups.
The European Union was created out of the necessity of Europe to be more competitive against the United States of America, itself a virtual continent. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was at one stage one of the world’s top two super powers. India and China are in fact virtual continents.
At a recent conference, a logistics expert on India described a scenario where you could send a truck from the south of India all the way up to the north and he would go through various boarder regions, complete different sets of paperwork and not be able to speak any of the languages along the way. China too couldn’t be more diverse, from the state of Guangzhou all the way to Mongolia, the country is really a combination of multiple territories and sub ethnicities.
The big country effect gives you both economies of scale on the production and supply side as well as the availability of bigger markets. In China’s case, the world is finding it almost impossible to compete with their cost advantage owing to sheer size. Just 1% market share in virtually any sector in China makes you a multimillion dollar enterprise. Big countries or blocs are also able to enjoy much more favourable trade terms.
Much as one would like to congratulate the newly created state of South Sudan, the reality of it is that in order for their oilfields to yield value and achieve true autonomy for them, they will eventually have to spend billions on building an alternative route to the export market presumably through a friendly neighbouring state. Currently, their only outlet is via an already established pipeline through their now hostile neighbour Sudan (North). Quite obviously, given the nature of the relations between them, this arrangement is unlikely to last. These are the realities of the small country effect, it adds cost.
This brings me to Zimbabwe. A united Zimbabwe, if correctly led politically and economically, presents huge opportunities. However, the foundations upon which we have tried to create this united country are problematic. We have tried to create a forced homogenous society and this breeds resentment and ethnic tension which could potentially lead to breaking-up much like the USSR and Sudan did, and subsequently the loss of big country advantages.
At the very least, continued tensions are counter-productive. Indeed this is one of the biggest mistakes the architects of post-independence Zimbabwe have made over the last 31 years. This is the exact same challenge Nigeria faces.
What then is an artificially homogenous society? In my view, this is a society that seeks to equate individuals but to such an extent that you almost deny the existence of unique ethnic groupings. In such societies, you extrapolate the equality of the rights of individuals to virtually all facets of life including the opportunity to access state resources at the expense of groups, these are societies governed by the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest.
The statistical implication here is obvious: those with the numerical advantage are already one up at the starting blocks and this is where Zimbabwe is headed.
How many people know that we have such ethnic groups as the Bocha (to which the late Cde Moven Mahachi belonged), Shangaan (late Vice President Cde Msika), Nambya (the distinguished late Justice Sansole), ChiShangwe and TjiKalanga to which the late nationalist Dr Joshua Nkomo, Honourable Speaker of Parliament Lovemore Moyo and Deputy Prime Minister Khupe belong? Who has ever heard of the words Lilima, Tavara, Hungwe, TshiVenda or Tonga? I bet very few of the present generation of Zimbabweans have.
I recently met a well educated young man who thought he was Tonga and by virtue of his surname I actually corrected him and told him he was in fact probably Nambya. He didn’t even know this himself.
The kind of Zimbabwe we have set about building over the last 31 years has all but endangered these once proud groupings. We have falsely believed that the less we emphasise on the existence of these groups, the more united we would be and yet ironically this is exactly what breeds resentment and disharmony. We simply are not either Shona or Ndebele, Zimbabwe is a natural rainbow nation.
Why does such ethnic discontent begin in Matabeleland? Well apart from the obvious tensions that have their roots in the 1980s ZAPU/ZANU contests and the subsequent marginalisation of the region, it is home to quite possibly the most ethnically diverse population with no less than 15 ethnic groups. Yes there are Sothos in Zimbabwe too and the current type of homogenous state we are building will impact on a region such as Matabeleland more than most.
Contrary to the commonly-held belief that the majority of the people in Matabeleland are descendants of Ngunis, it simply has the largest number of minority groups. For whatever reason, it’s Zimbabwe’s melting pot.
Self determination is defined as a fundamental human right, expressed in Art. 1 of the United Nations Charter, and in Art.1 of each of the two main international human rights instruments: the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both covenants state that: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Put simply, this is a right of a people rather than states or mere individuals. The opposite of this equates to the dictionary definition of “genocide” and the reader is free to look this up for themselves lest I be accused of being alarmist. Indeed genocide goes beyond how we’ve come to understand it in terms of the physical impact of military conflict on the innocent.
Quite the opposite to Zimbabwe has happened in neighboring South Africa which attained majority rule in 1994 or 14 years after us. That country’s leaders very quickly acknowledged the multiplicity of ethnicities in their country and duly defined it as a rainbow nation and subsequent to that declared what then appeared as an insane number of 14 official languages.
Further to that, they also promulgated various pieces of legislation aimed at ensuring that there is economic empowerment of all ethnic groups taking into account local demographics. To date, the government owned broadcaster runs radio stations covering virtually all the country’s indigenous languages.
Democratic South African has yielded Zulu capitalists, Xhosa capitalists, and Venda capitalists, curricula in all these languages is available through the schooling system and not all policemen greet you in Zulu simply because the current president is Zulu.
Zimbabwe’s leadership needs to wake up to the need to return to the drawing board and begin to incorporate concrete actions aimed at promoting the multi ethnic nature of Zimbabwean society.
We need to reopen ethnic language radio stations, and not flood Binga Hospital with Ndebele and Shona-speaking nurses and doctors. Where possible, locals must not always be greeted in Shona at roadblocks in Gwanda. We need to expand the number of languages taught in schools and institute policies of affirmative action and economic empowerment, taking into account local demographics. We must get to a situation where Hwange Colliery has at least one Nambya member of the executive team, it is after all located in the land of Chief Hwange and Chief Nekatambe. These are the things that bring about true unity and cohesion.