by Femi Akomolafe
"What then did you expect when you unbound the gag that muted those black mouths? That they would chant your praises? Did you think that when those heads that our fathers had forcibly bowed down to the ground were raised again, you would find adoration in their eyes?"
—Jean Paul Sartre
"We seriously hope that incoming US president (Barack) Obama and his new team will depart from this ignorant, ruinous and ineffective foreign policy that effectively undermines its intended beneficiaries, strengthens the targeted villains, while blighting the US standing in the world."
—Professor Arthur Mutambara, Zimbabwean opposition leader, The Herald, January 05, 2009.
(Swans - March 23, 2009)
What exactly do you Africans want?
What type of question is that? Of course we want what every decent and normal human being wants. Food in our stomachs; a shelter over our heads; clothes on our bodies; love of our well-endowed women; a drink now and then...
Don't put your tongue in your cheek, my friend. That's not what I mean.
What do you mean, then?
We are damned if we do, and we are damned if we don't!
Obroni [ed. Obroni: a term use in Ghana for white people, not unlike Musungu in Eastern Africa or Oyinbo in Nigeria.], tell me what is agitating you?
It is about Zimbabwe. Why are you people not supporting us in finding a solution to the problems?
You people? And what problems?
Yes, you Africans! In one breath you're begging for our assistance in sustaining your nascent democracy and in another breath you're collaborating with ignoble and brutal dictators like Robert Mugabe.
That's all you got to say, umh, that's all, ehn? The man has gone totally bonkers. He has ruined his country's economy and has reduced his people to eating grass, rodents, and things. The opposition is muzzled and the press is gagged. What more crimes do you want him to commit before you people start to take positive action against the monster? Former President Mbeki all but licks his ass, pardon my scatological term.
Obroni, the last time I checked the people of Zimbabwe were settling their problems. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has joined the government. What more do you want?
Ha, you call that joining the government? The Southern African Development Community and your useless African Union blackmailed him. Why should he join a government headed by that ancient monster, tell me? Didn't you hear that Mugabe recently tried to kill the opposition leader in a so-called accident that claimed the man's wife?
Ah! I thought they said it was an accident. Accidents do happen everywhere, you know?
Accident! You called that an accident?
Obroni, you are really worked up! I don't know what else to call it, but is yours not the case of crying more than the bereaved? Maybe it's a philosophical thing?
Philosophical thing -- what philosophy are we talking about when a brutal dictator is messing up the lives of his own people?
Obroni, one of your Western thinkers opined that you have no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. We in Africa do not hold such cynical views about humans, or any relationship for that matter; hence our saying that a dog does not forget its benefactor. Maybe you should try to understand the African perspective on the issues of Zimbabwe, especially the South Africans' views.
Are we not getting into deep denial here now? Are you not playing the usual blame the foreigner on anything and everything that is going bad game?
I am playing no game. I'm just telling you some plain facts of life here in Africa. Has it occurred to you that we are simply tired of you people playing games with us and with your fiddling our intelligence?
What has our game, as you call it, got to do with millions of Zimbabweans starving?
That exactly is part of the game. You have the argument about starving Zimbabweans, but you failed to tell us why they are starving. You also failed to tell us that the man you called a brutal dictator was able to feed his people decently until you white folks decided to punish him by slapping sanctions against his country. Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabe, was one of the best-run countries in Africa until Western governments decided to place their sanctions on it. And you want to drag the South Africans into your stupid imperial game. Mugabe was there for the South Africans when they needed him. Whilst you in the West were pontificating about "Constructive Engagement" with the Boers and helping them to build the weapons to kill us, Mugabe and others in Southern Africa were there helping them to topple the evil apartheid regime. And today you believe the South Africans should turn ingrates and condemn those who helped them at their hours of direst needs! Ingratitude is a serious taboo in our part of the world.
But people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu have...
Please don't mention the names of those pathetic clowns in my presence. You always manage to find your Uncle Toms, don't you? The West, through its illegal sanctions, is responsible for the mess in Zimbabwe, and you cannot run away from that fact.
That's a lie, an outrageous lie! Only smart and targeted sanctions were imposed on officials of the regime. There were no sanctions imposed on the Zimbabwean nation and its people.
Ah! I happened to have read the so-called Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act passed into law in December 2000, according to which Zimbabwe is denied access to loans from all international financial institutions (section 2). Zimbabwe is denied bilateral debt relief (section 4b1). How does a nation, any nation, conduct normal international business without access to loans from international financial institutions? And you are sitting down here and telling me with a straight face that the sanctions are targeted and that they are smart. They were smart in Iraq also, but they succeeded in killing millions of Iraqis.
You surely quoted the act totally out of all context. Why is Botswana now supporting our stance?
I'm not privy to the thinking of the workings of the government in Gaborone. What I know is that Mugabe continues to enjoy the overwhelming support of his counterparts in Southern Africa and he surely remains a popular and a genuine African hero.
But why are African intellectuals like you supporting a man like Mugabe?
Obroni, mind you, I hold no brief for Mugabe or for any African leader. I surely would not like to live under any dictator. When the occasion arose, I have used terms against African leaders that you'll never dream of ever using. My beef with the West has to do with your stupendous hypocrisy and amazing double standards. I am today being told to believe that the West's quarrel with Mugabe is the inability of the old man to maintain democratic institutions in his country. To this I say, arrant nonsense! Was it not he, Robert Mugabe, who introduced democracy to Zimbabwe in the first place? The British were in the country for a century, and they didn't deem it fit to introduce any form of democracy. The Perfidious Albion stole all the arable land and parceled it out among themselves, reducing the rightful owners to servitude! If democracy was such a good idea, why didn't the West introduce it to their colonies? We were treated worse than beasts. Today, the children of yesterday's colonialists are mustering the audacity to come and start making obstreperous and totally obscene noises to me about democracy and human rights. I say, go and hang!
Are you not hanging us for crimes of centuries ago?
For you it's centuries ago, but you still carry the same haughty imperial arrogance wherever you go. And you are still engaged in the same cheating game of lies and hypocrisy. Here you are telling me that your gripe with Zimbabwe has to do with absence of human rights and lack of freedom of the press. I say, bull.... I have access to online editions of Zimbabwean opposition papers and none of your so-called Western democracies would tolerate the type of vitriolic (sometimes treasonable) articles those papers are allowed to publish in "dictatorial" Zimbabwe. No government in the West would ever allow a foreign-sponsored and financed opposition to exist as is the case in Zimbabwe. And to your argument that you quarrel with Robert Mugabe's long stay in power, I ask why that is not a problem in, say, Cameroon, Gabon, or in Egypt? And before you mis-argue that the elections in Zimbabwe were flawed, I say we all witnessed the pathetic charade in Florida in 2000. The 2007 elections in Nigeria were massively rigged and no one made a noise about it. It might be because you got Nigeria where you wanted it to be: your classical vassal state. We are wise to you games, Obroni. As Bob Marley put it: "Slave driver, the table is turning." So, please don't come and tell me fairytales about the white man interested in fighting for anyone's, especially a black man's rights.
"Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold. I remember on the slave ship how they brutalized our very souls. Today they say that we are free, only to be trapped in poverty."
"So, my brothers, how is it that we do not understand that we have better things to do than to follow that same Europe? That same Europe where they were never done talking of Man, and where they never stopped proclaiming that they were only anxious for the welfare of Man: today we know with what sufferings humanity has paid for every one of their triumphs of the mind. Europe now lives at such a mad, reckless pace that she has shaken off all guidance and all reason, and she is running headlong into the abyss; we would do well to avoid it with all possible speed. European achievements, European techniques and the European style ought no longer to tempt us and to throw us off our balance. When I search for Man in the technique and the style of Europe, I see only a succession of negations of man, and an avalanche of murders."
—Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.
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