Develop me: Africans need to redefine their culture to escape poverty


Goodbye 2011, a year that was pregnant with threats of elections. Thank God those elections never happened, but WikiLeaks did.

For once politicians felt the punch. We can only hope people used the time to mend relations broken down by election violence of the past, all in the name of democracy.

As we welcome 2012, talk of elections seems inevitable. The six reforms which should lay the foundation of an averagely fair election are far from being accomplished.

We all know that Zanu PF has lost elections before under the current electoral set-up and the main problem is not in the laws, but interpretation, implementation or none of it. What guarantees that things would be better even after reforms?

The year 2012 also marks 100 years when literacy was introduced in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) as part of the voting requirements. In 1912, voters were asked to write at dictation 50 words in the English language failure of which would forfeit one’s voting rights.

Of course, this was meant to sideline the black population from voting as the majority at the time were not educated in Western literacy.

Given the current calibre of our politicians, it may be vital to ask if what we need is an election or a way forward for the development of our country.

None of the political parties seems stable or inspires confidence, raising the big question about the long-term future of our country.

Zanu PF is still grappling with the succession equation, while the MDC groupings have struggled to keep themselves together to an extent of threatening to exhaust all letters of the alphabet to suffix their party names.

The Mavambo project does not seem to have started yet and if they did, the only notable achievement so far is their ability to find a bedfellow before elections. And this time, they seem to have found comfort in the arms of Zapu.

While, this is dominating our lives, Zimbabwe like any other African countries, is hungry for a better and purely African future. We hope 2012 will provide that defining moment where people’s minds can focus on getting out of poverty and reclaiming or reshaping their identity.

Developing an African country takes more than just holding free and fair elections. It takes more than just the presence of institutions of justice and democracy. Democracy alone is not and will never be enough a solution to African poverty. There is a serious need for a change of mindset.

Africa is not only poor because of the value of the human and natural resources stolen during the slave trade and colonialism. I can safely argue that if the equivalent of those resources plus interest is returned to Africa today, the continent will still remain as poor as ever.

Colonialism was a repressive social transformation system tailored to relegate the African race into a subservient beings carefully designed to serve the system that created it.

This explains why our lives, our way of thinking and doing things, even without being forced, replicate that of the West. In short, Africa seems lost without the West, that explains how much colonial stupor haunts our thinking today.

In order to understand the damage caused by colonialism, just picture this. Image the next morning you wake up to realise that the language you spoke for all the years of your life is no longer valid and you need to pay someone to learn the new one in order to function.

And it is going to take you several years before you can comprehend the language. The food you were eating in is no longer acceptable.

In fact, you now need to learn how to produce a new type of food and how to eat it. Your belief system is suddenly invalid and the cultural and traditional repository is washed away. In fact, you are lost in your own country.

You are rendered knowledgeless, powerless and useless and you can only be useful if you submit to those who crafted the new system.

That’s what colonialism did to Africans. We are products of a system that abrogates us to followers and we cannot lead even where there is an opportunity to do so.

And suddenly that repressive system subjects you to a serious mental reconstruction, re-orientation and re-identification process to effectively function to serve its needs.

Still, even learning the new system under duress would take so many years as the intention of the creator of the system is to produce a human object that serves its needs, not to help redefine themselves.

This is what African leaders must deal with first and foremost. In fact, this is what we expect our ageing President, Professor Arthur Mutambara, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and all the bickering politicians to deal with.

Yes, they need to instil a sense of identity and confidence before we can venture into the avenue of promoting African innovation and creativity, the fundamentals of any meaningful development.

It may take time, but it is possible. Despite numerous attempts by Western countries and Japan to colonise some areas of China, the country stood by its own culture including their belief system and identity.

Even when they felt the need to borrow new ideas to develop their economy, the previous Chinese governments sent their young professionals to the West to acquire new knowledge which they infused into their culture and still maintain the core. That’s why today they are global leaders, not followers.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa