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Africa 2011 – In the trenches


The post-colonial African experience has brought with it its own opportunities and challenges.

It is often easy to take for granted the distance travelled for it is common cause that yesterday’s pain cannot cure today’s injury.

The pain and suffering imposed by a colonial constitutional order on the majority of Africans cannot be erased simply by State action, but by a fundamental change in attitudes.

The struggle for civil rights is no different to the quest for economic emancipation. Post-colonial battles require new tactics and strategies. More significantly, new generals are called for.

Although most of us think of the struggle for independence in terms of life and death in the battle field, most of the people who get or claim credit actually never served in the trenches.

The trenches are the front lines, the most risky and dangerous places. In the battle for economic liberation, it is important to pose the question about the battle formation and who should occupy what position and under whose leadership.

The post-colonial political landscape was shaped and defined by the struggle for independence yet with respect to the shape and character of the economy, very little, if any, attention was paid on the kind of morality, leadership, values and principles required to reduce the frontiers of poverty.

The trenches are commonly the domain of the infantry. When you find a general in the trench then you must know that the battle is lost as successful battles are fought by generals before committing the infantry to expose their lives in battle.

What then has been the experience in post-colonial Africa on the question of eradicating poverty?

People who are most vocal about the unacceptable condition that the majority of Africans live in are political actors and yet regrettably they are less equipped to prosecute the war against poverty.

The State has its own role, but what must be accepted is that the answers to the economic questions of our time lie less in the minds and dreams of State actors, but in the dreams and actions of ordinary citizens.

Citizenship imposes its own obligations on human beings and less on other members of the animal kingdom.

Human beings have the voice and their ultimate wisdom can be found in how organised they are in confronting the challenges imposed by life.

Behind trenches lie supply lines, training establishments, stores, workshops, headquarters and all the elements that can be collectively described as a system of war.

Generally, you expect to find mortars and machine-guns in the trenches. Generals carry pistols and white handkerchiefs for in defeat, they know what to do.

The idea of digging trenches into the ground was to give some protection from enemy fire. Trench warfare began formally in September 1914 during World War I.

Before and after this war, battles were fought on the principle of movement. The war of entrenchment has its own rules. It means that you have to hold the ground and the alternative means defeat.

It follows that in the construction of post-colonial economic struggles it is important that the inherited ground be maintained.

What then are the lessons from the post-colonial experience? The colonial legacy bequeathed a system of government and an economic system that only served the needs of a minority.

The agents of the colonial system were in the trenches fighting to maintain what they believed to be a superior civilisation.

After more than five decades of independence, Africa finds itself sinking deeper in the trench where yesterday’s battles were fought. The generals that fought as infantry the war of independence chose to remain in the trenches instead of giving room to others.

Is it not ironic that in post-colonial Africa, generals and ordinary soldiers find themselves in the trenches complaining about the injury caused by past actions instead of fighting new battles with new instruments?

Each battle produces its own decorated soldiers. The battle for civil rights can be analogously compared to a path finder.

Once the path is identified or the door is opened, the new battle commences. The war against poverty is a complex one.

It requires less rhetoric and no physical arms are required. It is and must be premised on service and not on propaganda.

Before committing troops to battle, generals must know what victory means. Victory must produce prosperity and freedom.

The colonial order was informed by an idea that human beings can climb the opportunity mountain if they shared a common ideology.

It is in the battle for ideas that we have failed as Africans. In addressing the question of what kind of Africa we want to see, we often allow history to dominate our thinking instead of listening to the whispers of tomorrow.

Who then should be in the trenches? The war against poverty requires that we all pull our weight for no man has the obligation to carry someone else’s wagon.

We all have a responsibility to ourselves and yet all too often we surrender our fate and future to generals who have never been in the trench.

The working people who struggle daily to bring food to the table will not be comforted if others are rewarded for no effort.

Equally, no businessperson would look forward to an order where people can pick without paying for the choices made.

The kind of civilisation that we have opted for as Africans moves us from subsistence living to an order in which trade takes precedence. In any trading transaction, value must be exchanged.

One can convert paper (money) into physical goods or services and for such exchange to take place sustainably and predictably, violence whether physical or invisible is not called for.

Without the rule of law and respect of property and human rights, there can be no progress. Poverty can and must be eradicated in Africa.

What then is required for poverty to be reduced? In our daily conversations, we are compelled to respond to this question.

We can seek to blame others for our condition, but the sooner we know that the battle has to be fought in Africa by all who choose to be African, the better.

We have to dig new trenches and more importantly organise ourselves if we are to successfully bring economic freedom in our time.

History is pregnant with lessons, but the future belongs to builders. We have no choice as Africans to lean forward and embrace change that is in the air.

If China, India, Brazil, UAE, Qatar, and many others can change, we surely can begin by asking the right questions and being angry not at enemies of yesterday, but our own inability to confront poverty with instruments that have worked for others.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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