‘When a madman speaks, pay attention’

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A YEAR ago, I was having a walk-about in the City of Kings (Bulawayo)’s Central Business District (CBD).
I stopped by the statue of the late Father Zimbabwe, Joshua M. Nkomo, to take some photos.
A madman stopped next to me and, either talking to me or to the statue, remarked: “Mdala sakutshela tshiyana labo….bahlakaniphe kakhulu…khangela bakutshiya umile khonapho!”
Unsure of the madman’s next move I moved away but determined to unpack and take his counsel with me.
Ever since we have debated with friends whether the remark was aimed at uMdala Joshua Nkomo, his statue or me?
But I have since learnt to give respect to a madman’s counsel.
Ibbo Mandaza, a couple of weeks ago, made a very profound statement whose import was probably lost to most of us due to current political polarisation and over-elaboration on his part.
This is what Mandaza is reported to have said:
“Events in Kenya are very profound and we need to reflect deeply about them.
Elections have become an exercise in futility except for those in power.
As long as the state in Africa is what it is — made up of people for whom the state has become the livelihood, for whom retention of power is the end and the all of politics — it is unlikely that we will have the kind of democratic processes that are familiar in bourgeois democracies.
Generally speaking, the previous five years are always a disaster in most of our countries.”
In order not to lose sight of the argument I have deliberately left out the second part of the statement.
What I hear Mandaza saying is that elections are a tool for underdevelopment in Africa.
In other words, electoral democracy in Africa is a futile exercise; it rewards participants for their election campaign expertise, including chicanery, and not delivery of development promises.
The insanity that comes with elections never ceases to amaze me.
Poultry projects, scuds and funding funerals are tried and tested campaigning platforms.
All manner of crooks sneak into winning movements in order to win a five year opportunity to also ‘eat’.
The electorate, not entirely foolish, generously welcomes the generosity of rich fools.
Every five years the circus is repeated.
And to think we actually fought for electoral democracy!
I recall my father’s one-man-one-vote sermons during my early childhood.
Back in the village and on his end of month visits from Mutare, he spoke eloquently about key players with strange names; Hume, Pearce, Smith and Muzorewa.
Naturally when the war finally arrived in the village, I assumed the war was against Ian Smith and was for ‘one-man-one-vote’.
What has been lost to us and which Mandaza had opportunity to articulate is that ‘vote’, as in electing rulers, is a concept alien to our political/cultural history.
There is no Shona word for it.
Fittingly we have had to create Shona terms around it ‘vhoti/kuvhota/kuvhotera/kuvhoterwa’.
We may term it ‘sarudzo’ and equate it to ‘sarudza’ but it just does not fit.
‘Sarudza’ is a courtship or selection concept as in the child’s play ‘Sarurawako’ or in ‘kusarudza nzungu’ as in grading nuts.
In courtship ‘kusarudza’ is a gamble influenced by mundane issues like facial beauty, complexion and height.
In our traditions and customs, leaders were not subjected to ‘sarudzo’ selection trivia.
They were identified and ordained.
It was a process based on established rules, implemented by elders under the direction of the ancestral spirits.
Leaders were born leaders and our earthly task was to identify and install them when their time came.
Since the 1950s, we have sought to inculcate in our societies the concept of choosing leaders for their earthly material attributes, in particular, vote-buying abilities.
Prospective leaders must buy scuds and donate various trinkets to ever-impoverishing communities.
We require medium to long-term planning but we are measuring our House of Assembly Members on short-term objectives. Consequently, they go for short-term plans, low hanging fruits as it were.
Beer to our youths, unsustainable income projects and bales of second-hand clothes and shoes for our mothers .
The more impoverished we become, the easier it is to meet our immediate needs and win our votes.
‘One-man-one-vote’ takaibatira pamusoro.
World examples support this view.
The US became the world’s leading industrial power at the turn of the 20th Century due to an outburst of entrepreneurship in the Northeast and Midwest and the arrival of millions of immigrant workers and farmers from Europe and Asia.
This was way before the 1920, 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that guaranteed women’s right to vote.
Civil rights were only extended to black-Americans several decades later.
So the US superpower status was not underpinned by so-called democracy.
China is today the world’s second largest economy not because of Western electoral democracy.
Nationalism, patriotism, progress, science and Chinese democracy were the overriding objectives.
Intellectuals struggled with how to be strong and modern, yet Chinese; how to preserve China as a political entity in the world of competing nations.
The results did not disappoint.
Under Jiang and Zhu’s 10 years of administration, China’s economic performance pulled an estimated 150 million peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of over 11 percent.
Surely that would not have been possible under our cherished Western electoral democracy.
The story is the same in South Korea.
In 1960, a student uprising led to the resignation of the autocratic, corrupt President Syngman Rhee.
A period of political instability followed, broken by General Park Chung-hee’s coup.
Park’s presidency saw rapid economic growth underpinned by an export boom.
He achieved this economic turnaround on the back of ruthless iron-fist control of internal political processes.
By the time he was assassinated in 1979, the Korean economy had developed significantly and key modern features were development of a nationwide expressway system and the Seoul subway system.
There could be a few exceptions, but generally, the Western electoral democracy system is an albatross that impedes economic development.
For a country that has sought to indigenise the economy and school curriculum, one wonders when the same shall visit our political governance systems?

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