EDITORIAL: As Zimbabwe Goes for 2023 Elections, Are We A “Failed State”? Battling Global Myths And Harmful Narratives

By the Editor; The Zimbabwe Sphere. 

There is no doubt that the world has increasingly become polarized, and that intolerance is the order of the day. The angst prevalent among all peoples of the world – Zimbabwe included – points towards a prevailing wisdom of a world in absolute disarray. And with specific regards to our geopolitical context as Zimbabweans in the disadvantaged global south, we find ourselves grappling with pernicious forms of historical amnesia in which the present is widely interpreted as an atomized, universal epoch; a natural order which cannot be changed. 

This becomes exacerbated during vacuous electoral seasons, where the importance of our independence and sovereignty becomes discarded in order to align with certain global myths and narratives, from either side of the political divide.

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"Zimbabwe is not independent": An ahistorical narrative

It is thus not surprising that when the time comes for us to celebrate the country’s independence, for instance, there is always a flurry of cathartic and apoplectic narratives that Zimbabwe is not yet independent. Or when it is time for elections and certain players seek to curry favour with their external benefactors. The platitudinous trope goes, “not yet Uhuru”.

As Zimbabwe gears up for the 2023 elections on August 23, having recently commemorated our Independence a few months back in April, it is imperative we challenge certain discourses that are pernicious to the organic development of a progressive, truly democratic collective national consciousness.

Such narratives, devoid of the nuances and critical reflections that must accompany progressive collective thinking in any polity that had to wage bitter wars of liberation, become pervasive with immense and unparalleled ease. Such a reality is all the more conspicuous given the fact that “Zimbabwe is not yet independent” narratives commonly originate from those who do not side with the government. This is mostly conspicuous when the country celebrates its independence from oppressive colonial rule.

But it is always dangerous to indulge in such ahistorical discourses. Colonization happened, liberation struggles were brought to life, sacrifices were made, blood was shed, internal divisions were there; and this ultimately culminated into the genesis of our sovereignty – that inevitable political settlement we now call Independence. This is a historical truism that cannot be erased or negated willy-nilly. History cannot be singularly owned by any political enterprise, and neither can it be disowned by any party – ruling or opposition.

"Always on the brink of catastrophe!" — According to who, really?

To say Zimbabwe is not independent, or is always on the brink of catastrophe (making it a failed state) is a preposterous, populist, and vacuous political claim driven by a highly emotionally charged political environment. An environment where the present lived material reality is insidiously dissociated from historical and social contexts. These narratives fit snugly into the colonial and imperial tropes and stereotypes that inform the patronizing gaze of our former colonizers (now neocolonial masters). They view us as an irrational, incapable, inferior, barbaric, backward, irredeemable people.

The journey since 1980 has been, in all honesty, unspeakably turbulent: we have had moments of good fortunes, and we have had moments of torment, anguish, anxiety, and suffering. This cannot be denied. It obtains. But to totally discard the inalienable significance of our Independence as a watershed point for our sovereignty is disastrous. History is always replete with lessons. It further fuels the polarization characteristic of our post-colonial polity – as politicians vaingloriously push narratives that suit their agenda of the day.  

What is lost on those (opposed to the government) who insist the country’s independence is a non-event is that in as much as the attainment of political independence was an occurrence marked with its festivities and symbolism, the journey afterwards remains an ongoing process of collectively building the polity we inherited from the colonizers; to put our heads together and chart an organic, contextual, progressive way forward that is inclusive for all regardless of their standing.

It is an experiential journey that even demands more collective solidarity to muster the political and counter-hegemonic will to fight the incessant attacks of neocolonial white supremacist imperialism in our fight to assert our humanity as Subjects and not objects; the latter merely viewed as markets and cheap labour for the global ruling elite.

"Currying favour, hunting votes, neoliberal campaigns, nationalist rhetoric, and not yet Uhuru" - Is Zimbabwe a failed state? 

In all this, what comes to the fore with much palpability is the assertion that since we live in a state of “not yet Uhuru”, we are a “failed state” – or for those who prefer political platitudes, we are a country perennially teetering on the precipice of total chaos; seemingly dancing with the “apparent” risk of collapsing into anarchy. The lines between what is factual and what is sensational are obfuscated as those who insist on Western-dictated democracy wear their egos up their sleeves.

The fundamental question is this: 43 years after independence, and as we prepare for elections, are we a “failed state”; or this is a “myth” constructed by global superpowers to mask their responsibility for having created the African mess in the first place? The political space is filled with self-appointed merchants of democracy who proliferate mendacious narratives that 43 years after independence Zimbabwe is a failed state.

And they do so because they acutely lack the altruistic political will to articulate internal solutions for our problems – which should be gleaned in their global historical and socio-political context of colonialism and what has been termed as “the new scramble for Africa” in which both the West and East are fighting for hegemonic dominance of Africa’s resources.

It is indispensable that we cleave towards the importance of our independence as the embodiment of our inalienable self-determination right. Especially against the backdrop of electoral campaigns.

The more we critically reflect on this consciousness, grounding our actions in it, the more we counter the myth of the failed state – a myth perpetuated by global media narratives and our own leaders and media ecosystems at home that lack candor and critique. Without addressing the root causes of our current problems, vast as they are, we still have our sovereignty and the call to action demanded from all of us is that we work on this sovereignty to create material conditions that alleviate the lives of everyone.  

The myth of the "failed state" in Africa and the global motives behind such dangerous narratives

The reality of colonial domination and intrusion cannot be wished away; and before Zimbabweans are gaslighted into accepting the myth of total dysfunction as concrete reality, it is important that we realize how our prevailing problems are a direct result of colonial and imperial continuities. 

Who can gloss over the dehumanizing era of ESAP that was undemocratically imposed on us by the global north elites in collusion with our local elites? Who can hide from the fact that at the height of the 2008 political crisis British overlords contemplated foreign intervention in Zimbabwe? 

The “failed state” is a post-Cold War Western conceptualization of global south countries designed to justify intervention in those countries in order to “save” them.

The import of this is to shrivel the people’s sovereignty so that they blame themselves for problems that are caused by colonial continuities. The notion of a failed state has especially gained traction post-9/11, justifying the West’s “War on Terror” which has caused untold suffering to countries such as Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, et. al. And for others to say Zimbabwe is not independent and is a failed state is to curry favour with the narratives fashioned to decimate and obliterate our humanity.

The contradictory juxtaposition of a “failed” African state vis-à-vis a “successful” Western state serves as the disingenuous justification for structural adjustment programs which our leaders vaingloriously believe.

Rambling about tired tropes and harmful neoliberal global narratives during elections: Neocolonialism at play

The failed African states and successful Western states dichotomy presents Africa as a vortex of chaos, disorder, conflict, irrationality in which African peoples are “underdeveloped” because they are [supposedly] inferior culturally. That we are emotionally immature and inherently incapable of governing our affairs without external intervention.

It is why, 43 years after independence, and as we head for the 2023 elections, the country is always sold off to the highest bidders who are sanitized as “investors” – whether from the West or East – regardless of whether they genuinely help the country stand on its own or simply remit all profits to their “mother countries”. Most political parties do not have this consideration, occasioned by our tenuous independence, when it is time for elections. They simply reflect neoliberal capitalist aspirations. While others outright paint Zimbabwe as a completely failed state.

To say that Zimbabwe is a failed state that is not independent is to reify the self-righteous colonial platitudinous sermons that Africans are irrational, uncivilized, and backward. We cannot continue to wear our skeletons while we burn out flesh.

Transcending our polarization and partisan biases towards elections: Who caused the mess in the first place?

Independence, as well as our regular periodical harmonized elections, always remind us of our polarization – the loudest ought to win the argument. In such a context it is so easy to claim that Zimbabwe is not independent. That ours is a state failure but without asking the fundamental question: “Who is ultimately responsible for this so-called failure?” 

Where we circumvent these deep questions, we end up with a political climate enveloping narratives in our media ecosystems that all of this mess is due to “corrupt leaders” – that “state failure” is a natural, universal and ahistorical phenomenon that suddenly emerged with African countries’ independence and the end of Cold War.

No wonder why we always end up with dead-end debates (mostly conspicuous on social media) that do not critique the myth by global powers that we are a failed polity. We have our problems, but we are not a failed state. 

And this is a narrative that a number of Zimbabweans greet with glee when they are aired by global corporate media. 

They want the myth of dysfunction to be validated in global narratives so that certain political interests are deemed legitimate. And so that begging for foreign intervention is also deemed legitimate. It is not wrong to seek international allies, that one is a fundamental right. But context always matters.

The way forward? — Critical reflections and practical actions; and remembering that the past, present, and future matter equally

This moment we are in as a nation, and the globe at large, demands from us, as a collective people, to put aside our partisan interests and opinions so that we come together to chart a new progressive trajectory for our country. 

We have to do so in critical, sober reflections, guided by contextual actions – critical consciousness – so that we come up with counter-hegemonic discourses that continuously affirm our sovereignty. 

Our sovereignty is our pride. It was bitterly fought for. Colonial conquests came with brutal dehumanization, and we cannot fold our arms, engaging in dead-end debates soaked with vanity, while global powers persistently view us as sub-humans.

We are not a failed state: Defending our humanity and sovereignty

Independence and elections demand that we get rid of the image of the oppressor which we have internalized – politicians and the masses alike – and that we create safe spaces where all progressive voices are heard regardless of political affiliation. 

We have to fiercely oppose the notion that we are not independent, that we are a failed state, for this only serves to atrophy our self-determination and agency.

We become perpetually dependent on those who caused the mess first via colonialism. Now is the time to fix the generational errors that our country is reeling under, with a goal towards creating a kinder and humane country not only for us but for future generations. History does not belong to anyone. We all should work together for the better.

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