HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAre we devoid of dreams of national grandeur?

Are we devoid of dreams of national grandeur?

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I was going to follow up on Think Big but changed my mind when I realised that the space shuttle programme was coming to an end. In a way, this is a continuation of Think Big, but not in the way I had conceived of the idea.

My first car was a mini which I bought for ZWD 4 000 many years ago, when I was a teacher. In a self-deprecating moment I had the words “illusions of grandeur” painted on, which was a fun way of stating both ambition and poking fun at the size of the car.

It is the news of the last shuttle mission that has compelled me to change topics, albeit slightly, and think of national greatness.

I normally receive correspondence from Innerzela readers on all my articles, except when I write about things national and so I ask the question: Are we selfish, self-centred people who mostly only look out for number 1? Hardly a way to endear myself to followers of this column!

As the space shuttle programme winds down to a close, readers might remember JFK, in a landmark speech, pledging to Americans that they would have mankind on the moon within a decade.

American spirits soared in response. The US has always been pioneer country and if you look closely, you will see that it is the same for other countries that have prospered because of a few good products or a few visionary people. Here are a few examples from Wikipedia:

Mike Lazaridis, the CEO of BlackBerry, who incidentally was awarded a prize at the Windsor Public Library for reading every science book in the library at age 12, was voted Canada’s Nation Builder of the year 2002 by readers of the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Last month, the company announced a drop in Quarter 1 revenues for the first time in nine years but hey, with a turnover of $19 billion, what a splash they have already made for Canada in job creation, tax revenues and country image. He was thinking big!

Leo Mechelin, co-founder of Nokia in 1871, founded the Liberal Party of Finland, wrote its programme and his government made Finland the first nation in the world with the universal right to vote including the introduction of freedom of expression, of the press and of assembly.

He was also a leading defender of the rights of women and minorities.

Nokia was originally founded as a forestry company. With a global device market share of 31% and employing 132 000 people in 120 countries, Nokia has brought honour and wealth to Finland because Mechelin persisted in convincing his board to switch to electrical products. He was thinking big!

The South Korean economy grew from almost zero to over a trillion dollars in less than a century, thanks largely to what they call the Miracle on the Han River.

The miracle refers to the country’s export-fuelled economic growth including rapid industrialisation, technological achievement and education boom.

Largely responsible for this growth was Samsung which today accounts for a fifth of South Korea’s exports.

The founder of Samsung, Lee Byung-Chull, started off with an unsuccessful venture into rice mills and later moved to electronics via the trucking business. He was thinking big!

When you think big for more than just yourself, for an idea that is bigger than you and for a societal dream, you move on to another level intellectually.

Some of the greatest companies in the world were born with the idea to provide a higher service, eradicate a disease, or even restore the honour of a country with the superiority of a product offering to the extent that in the end, the bottom line was taken care of.

The idea was not “let’s make money”! It was more to do with “let’s make the best phone or vaccine in the world”!

To give you an example of the kind of mindset that is ever-present as a latent motivation while people go about their work, consider this quote from Christopher Ferguson, commander of the four-member astronaut crew selected for the final flight of Atlantis:

“This is a day that’s decidedly American, a day where we kind of reflect on our independence and all the wonderful things that we really have as a part of being the United States of America.”

I mean, who speaks like this in Zimbabwe? Is there anyone saying “let’s build a great country”?

Is there anyone with an eye on the horizon in terms of a vision for Zimbabwe and beyond or are we just content to hang on to our parliamentary seat for the benefits it brings, our job for the security it offers and our place on the team for the short-term bonuses?

Who is thinking big for Zimbabwe, for our national grandeur?

Or is it because our country has given us little to be proud of, except for a brief moment when the late former national soccer team coach Reinhard Fabisch and the “Dream Team” gave us reason to wave our flag? Should it not be the other way round?

The same JFK declared: “Ask not what America can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.”

Americans are no more special than Zimbabweans, but they have this American dream “thing” and enabling environment that makes them believe conquering Mars is next.

Albert Gumbo is an alumnus of the Duke University-UCT US-Southern Africa Centre for Leadership and Public Values. Contact: gumbo.albert@gmail.com

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