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Father figures and lame duck leaders

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Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008 by James Hall

“It’s like a father, when the father is away, children always ask, ‘Where is the father,’ but father may make an assessment that it is not opportune at that particular time to do certain things,” he said.

A father’s place is at home President Tsvangirai and so is a leader’s. Morgan Tsvangirai is quoted as having said the above by a Canadian newspaper. There was a time when Nelson Mandela was in Algeria on his way to London in the early years of the struggle. He had one more trip to do to London and his colleagues and friends, worried at what would happen to him were he to return to South Africa, urged him to ask for asylum in Britain. His response was typical Mandela arguing, that a leader’s place is with his people.

President Tsvangirai, the people who worked, campaigned and risked life and limb for you to make it to State House are being hunted down and swatted like mosquitoes. Their blood is staining the walls of Great Zimbabwe. The leadership of the MDC is nowhere in sight. One of the values of a social democratic society is solidarity with the poor and oppressed. This is an opportune time to demonstrate the courage that has won you much deserved respect the world over and that led the masses to vote for you. Do not let them down now when they need their leader.

The attempted analogy with the father is most unfortunate because many a father would not abandon their children to such a fate. Come home and stand with us as we continue to stand with you. As we did on March 11 and as we will continue to do . . . if you show the leadership and courage of Nelson Mandela. This is not the time to be shuttling the region, it is a time to be shutting Zimbabwe down. In fact, if you get arrested as you fear, such action will achieve larger results for you than the current shuttle diplomacy in some capital cities that are hostile to you.

Where is the brink?

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Thursday, April 17th, 2008 by James Hall

It has been widely reported in the press, today, that Kenya has “stepped back from the brink” following the swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga in to the Prime Minister’s position. Over a thousand people died so that the “will” of the people could be reflected by this appointment. So it is it fair to assume that, had two thousand people died, Kenya would have gone over the brink?

Who sets the brink? Is present day Iraq before, in, after or recently back from the brink? Is Iran speeding towards the brink or does Dick Cheney think not fast enough? What about Darfur? Is Somalia, with its gung ho pirates who could not organise a piss up in a brewery, way beyond the brink and in the abyss? How many steps does Somalia need to take to climb out of the abyss and then take that monumental step back from the brink? How many people does it take to die for there to be brink?

Is there a crisis in Zimbabwe? Starting when? With the deaths of twenty thousand people in the early eighties or was that a different kind of brink? An inconvenient brink during the cold war? Should we colour code brinks and have a brink-o-meter? In fact, should we have a brink-o-meter for the economy as well? Because at 165 000% official inflation, Zimbabwe is not at the brink. It does not even have a crisis! It is simply setting a world record. The Tiger Woods of failed economies. There is, however a “crisis” according to many because election results have not been released. Mbeki does not agree; his benchmark for a crisis could well be that 1000 dead bodies mark. Before that, it is a manageable solution. Was Rwanda not manageable before the radio broadcasts began?

What about a stable country, like say Botswana or Swaziland, with some of the highest rates of HIV AIDS infections and related deaths? Does that constitute a brink or an impending catastrophe? Is Arsene Wenger, having thrown away what was to be surely a premiership championship on the brink?

Back to Kenya, a reporter asked who the opposition was going to be since everyone one is now in government. Given that there is no longer an opposition in place, is democracy there on the brink? Has Kenya really stepped away from the brink? What brink?

The affairs of men and nations

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Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 by James Hall

The egos of men are a dangerous thing. From the playground at kindergarten right through to affairs of state, a man’s ego can have a lasting influence, benevolent or damaging, that goes beyond the man himself.

Men’s egos are especially dangerous when they utter public vows that they may have to repudiate sooner or later. The ego demands that the public declarations come to pass rather than be repudiated by their originators or, worse, the unforgiving march of history. Once validated, a public declaration secures the ego of the man, makes him a prophet and makes him look strong before other men but especially in the eyes of his wife and children. The problem is greater, of course, when two egos collide. Because then, there are two groups of societies to face and … two spouses! That society could be a nuclear family, a board room, an extended family, a resident’s association, political party or even an entire nation! Sometimes, it stretches across two oceans like say the Atlantic and the Indian with consequences that reverberate in the land of the Euphrates and the Tigris. It takes a strong and unyielding uncle or child to pierce the egos of the two men with a timely word of truth, followed by wisdom which may or may not be received.

That wisdom was not received for Iraq because when you publicly order a head of state to leave a country within 48 hours live on CNN, you are far from being wise. That is why society invented the phrase ‘face saver.’ A face saver is designed to, privately, give a man and his ego a way out of the hole he has dug for himself with his very public utterances. For unless that happens, his ego will keep digging and quite furiously at that. If he is awarded a face saver, the man may go home and face his wife and say;

“I let them get away with it in the interests of progress.”

His wife will then smile sweetly and say;

“I know dear. You are such a strong and wise man.”

Then there is peace at home and, by consequence, peace for the rest of society.

Emotions got us into trouble in the first place

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Thursday, March 20th, 2008 by James Hall

Zimbabweans are being wooed with unromantic messages. This one says I fought the war and was imprisoned for it so vote for me. The other says, I was beaten up by my liberators and I have also been arrested repeatedly so vote for me. If this is the criteria to elect our leaders then surely all the people who fought the war and all the activists and politicians who have been arrested must stand for President? Why do African leaders like to do the “I died for this country” bit as the reason why they should be elected?

In 1980, emotionally we voted for an avowed Marxist-Leninist who straight away proceeded to do his best to create a one party state. The consequences are evident in every household right across the country today. From 2000 onward, we emotionally voted for a former trade unionist who failed us miserably in strategy, acumen and more importantly democracy within his own party.

Here we are again on the threshold of another crucial vote. After all that we have been through, it is time to drop the emotional rationale and revert to the logical rationale we have been applying in our day to day lives in post independence Zimbabwe. This is not the time to be voting for people who think you owe them because they were imprisoned or beaten up for participating in the fight against oppression. That comes with the territory! A soldier cannot go to war and then complain that the others were shooting back!

This is a common sense election. What the country needs is a good manager with the right credentials to attract the right investors, to manage the right negotiations for the right deals that are in the best interests of the country. Chiluba came in to power in Zambia and sold the country off to the highest bidder who went on to plunder the natural resources of the country and leave the Zambian behind! Mugabe has done the same with his Libyan and Chinese deals. Tsvangirai does not have the wherewithall to manage a decent deal and that is why Ben Menashe nearly took him to the cleaners.

That leaves Simba Makoni as the most suitable common sense manager for this country backed by the likes of Nkosana Moyo who are seasoned administrators. It is time for common sense to prevail and for Zimbabwe to reclaim a respectable place in the league of nations.

Exercise your right to be far sighted

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Monday, March 17th, 2008 by James Hall

News that huge salary increments continue to be awarded continues to flow out of the press and there must be jubilation out there. The beneficiaries will be like wives who receive flowers as an apology from a husband for errant and undignified behaviour that does not change one iota after the forgiveness.

These are interesting times for Zimbabwe and that is not meant to be interesting in the usual sense of the word. Indeed, the times are trying, exasperating, exacting and pushing the Zimbabweans way in to the wall. Any relief, however temporary, will thus be greeted like the second coming. Except the second coming is still a way off, if reports from the space station are anything to go by. Instead of ululating at this new found generosity that is dished out sparingly and to interest groups, Zimbabweans should instead be asking, what got us here in the first place? For us, in the coloured community that question is a no brainer. We have been shafted by both sides.

For the rest of you, remember that part of the reason why we are where we are now is because of the huge payout that was awarded to young war veterans followed by the adventure in the Congo. While this increase is welcome, the question must be asked: But where is the money going to come from? Does a father in a drought season hand all the food out of the granary to satiate every one’s hunger once and for all? Is that wisdom? By all means, take the increment, you have after worked for it and deserve it. Understand though that this is not the largesse of a political party, it is what is due to you as long suffering civil servants of an inefficient government. If the current government had not deliberately, and in a fit of a ten year long and on-going temper and tantrum, destroyed the economy you would not be in the position you are now. Accepting plasters for wounds that require surgery. The plaster might stem the outflow of blood but it will not save you.

You will have to be far more sighted than that and deal with the source of the wound so that you never have to be this undignified to the point where you only get decent increments at election time, again. Take the money, then vote him out!

Exercise your right to common sense

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Tuesday, March 4th, 2008 by James Hall

Eight years ago, Cynthia Boaz, assistant professor of political science and international studies at the State University of New York, found herself “telling a passionate, proactive, socially conscious student that his choice to vote for Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election was both irrational and counterproductive. I heard myself suggesting that in the future he seriously think about sacrificing his principles for a little common sense. I was suppressing my usual idealism for the skepticism wrought by the bleak reality of American presidential elections.”

She is referring here to the American electoral college system which makes it impossible for an independent candidate to win an election. The result was that Nader split the opposition vote, Gore lost and George W Bush was foisted upon mankind. Now let’s turn our gaze homeward.

Our election pits two opposition candidates against the incumbent. This argument assumes that if you are reading this, you are not in the 21st February movement. That leaves you with two candidates: Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai. You, of course have the right to choose the candidate of your choice. It is the making of your choice, though that I would like to discuss.

Since Zimbabwean society has not yet got to the stage of deliberately spoilt ballots to make a non-point, it is safe to say that many of you had a choice before the election date was even announced. Your choice was anything but RGM. The problem with “anything but RGM” is you may or may not have ended up with a Frederick Chiluba as none other than Dumiso Dabengwa was quoted as pointing out in The Standard on Sunday. That, up to now, was a real possibility since Morgan Tsvangirai has been accused of various un-democratic tendencies by his erstwhile closest colleagues. We have also seen him prevaricate between participating in elections – the Senate fiasco – and making a power grab – agreeing to participate in the Presidential election. What has changed? We have seen him try and create space for his new found friends and their spouses in the Women’s Assembly fiasco while he asks RGM to take the plank of cronyism out of his eye. This was our anything but.

Now there is a new kid on the block, although he has been around for a while and has the experience that Hillary Clinton boasts of (not that it will help her). He is a proven moderate (does not make statements like “Mugabe will be out by Christmas” or “we will remove you violently”). He is a seasoned administrator and is respected internationally. For instance, he would not fall for a Ben Menashe. So now you have a real choice between two opposition candidates.

I must point out that Morgan has “suffered” for the country but then so did RGM, and you go in Zimbabwean politics knowing you will suffer. So that cannot be held up as a yardstick for qualification for leadership. In fact, both Morgan and RGM have visited suffering on others as Trudy Stevenson and Dumiso Dabengwa will readily testify. Everyone has “died” for Zimbabwe.

So what is the common sense decision? To go for your original choice of “anything but” for President or for the reasoned choice of the new kid on the block who represents the best possible opportunity to haul our beautiful country out of its self-inflicted mess?

Think about it.