I’ve spent a lot of time on African issues over the last dozen years or so. I’ve observed elections, met a lot of folk living the most God-awful lives, and know quite a few leaders from the past, present and probably of the future too – some doing a so-so job, some making near-miracles happen. That doesn’t make me an expert, but it gives me a perspective which, for now, seems to be different from the mainstream in the UK.
The most common response in the UK to the Zimbabwe elections today seems to be intense cynicism about and resignation to another election steal: “Mugabe’s a monster and it’s all another fix” pretty much sums it up.
Well, here’s a few thoughts.
In 1980, Zimbabwe finally broke free of the rule of a tiny minority of white people who owned most of the land and the overwhelming proportion of wealth in the country. In the wake of that profound event, we in the UK were mainly wondering if South Africa’s Zola Budd was available for Team UK duty at the next Olympics. Meanwhile, this was the nature of debate in one European parliament.
Millions of people have just voted in high-turnout, violence-free elections and it’s quite likely that millions of those have voted Zanu entirely through personal choice. Meanwhile, over the last few years it’s been commonplace for ‘perfect’ European democracies like Belgium, Italy and Greece to be run by entirely unelected leaders; Spain’s leader rules by decree and rarely attends parliament – that country’s present head of state was nominated by an ally of Hitler. Few people have any idea who runs Europe’s institutions. And let’s not forget the most recent ‘appointments’ we in the UK have just made to our Upper House.
The African Union, led by a two-term president of one of the world’s most populous states and who handed over power in exemplary fashion, has effectively pronounced the elections a pretty good effort in an imperfect world. But never mind, they’re just Africans, right? What do they know?
Millions of people in Zimbabwe have suffered under sanctions and, thanks largely to the Chinese, their economy is being pulled into the modern era. Meanwhile, plenty of folk in the UK think continued sanctions are a super idea.
Welshman Ncube is a major MDC figure in Zimbabwe. He’s just stood against the MDC candidate. The MDC made some poor calls, in spite of some undeniable talent at their senior levels, and while they made up some ground during the election they entered it with a growing reputation for in-fighting and petty corruption.
Robert Mugabe is fetishised by too many folk in the UK. He’s a complex historical figure – his legacy will be hotly debated. But the near-future of Zimbabwe will be decided by others, quite likely of varying political hues – many of them manifestly capable people.
So let’s just be magnanimous on this occasion, as we can naturally afford to be from our lofty white European perspective, and cut the millions of voters in Zimbabwe some slack – just this once. Let’s, just this time, accept the judgement of fellow Africans in situ – just to encourage them, you understand. Let’s bite our tongues on this occasion at the way those Africans corrupt our pure notions of democracy. Because, you never know, something good might come of it.