The black man’s burden

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The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the same political structures that we have blindly adopted since 1950’s.

Guest Column by Vince Musewe

Reading Martin Merendith’s book — State of Africa, has shocked me to appreciate that the pattern and results of black rule has hardly changed from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

We are such fools indeed, we never learn.

Black governments took over political power motivated by the passion to create more equitable and developed societies. Liberation struggle leaders came into power while promising to correct the wrongs of the past and to fight poverty and discrimination; that was their ticket to State House.

It worked to get them there, but it seems that, as soon as they did, they forgot why they were there and, more importantly, who had helped them to get there.

Virtually all of our leaders behaved in a similar manner once they moved into State house; they became arrogant and selfish in pursuit of personal wealth.

Liberation ideals became an inconvenient truth while those who fought with them were neglected.

Once they took over, and after getting used to the trappings of power, they all started to decimate their economies, starting with agriculture and then industry under the guise of black economic emancipation.

Political and business elites emerged overnight and had unfettered access to huge government contracts. While doing that, the country’s debts soared and became unmanageable; food shortages, poverty and unemployment increased while their currencies became worthless. Zimbabwe has not been spared from this burden.

Country after country, we see that all African leaders left their countries worse off. It is as if they all came from the same mother with one purpose in mind; to loot as much as possible.

They all oppressed their own people, justifying one-party state mentality, while they lived like kings. Black politicians and the elite acquired unimaginable personal wealth and abused State resources to entrench their interests. They deliberately stifled the media and any dissenting voices. They surrounded themselves with family and praise singers in an orgy of primitive accumulation. They ruled by instilling fear and not through earning respect. They centralised power while ensuring their safety through patronage, corruption and if necessary assassinations of those seen as threats.

Viable state enterprises established during colonialism became their playground to reward cronies, party officials including the army. As a result, the State enterprises became inefficient, unproductive while running huge public debts. Large infrastructure projects which were unsustainable were launched for the wrong reasons and were soon abandoned. It was more about prestige than economic development. Africa’s bloated bureaucracies still exist today in most of Africa; their role being to provide jobs, contracts and favours to kinsmen and political supporters.

From Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe, they all blamed imperialism as the root of all evil. They became insular and most of them were eventually ousted from office by their own followers who aspired to wealth and power as their leaders had once done.

The interesting fact is that almost all of these past leaders died broken men, lonely and melancholic; the fruits of their lives were similar and brutal.
Now, when someone like Julius Malema stands up and threatens to nationalise and do exactly what has failed in Africa since 1951 and gets applauded from the masses, it shows the sheer lack of the understanding and appreciation of history. African leaders created poverty and devastated the productive assets of their economies under the banner of nationalisation and empowerment of the masses.
The challenge for us is to break this pattern which, if left alone to persist will create the same results — poverty, hunger, patronage, waste and dictatorships.

It is important that we do all we can to prevent the emergence of personality cults, dictatorships and abuse of power. This means we must avoid political parties that are structured or operate in such a manner because they merely transfer their existing power relations into government structures once elected.

Political parties reward loyalty and popularity among other despicable behaviours, but these qualities do not result in good leadership. They tend to reward everything besides integrity and good leadership. These are then the very people we elect into office; no wonder why Africa is still so backward.

The idea of a one party State is totally unacceptable. Funny enough, all of Africa fell into the myth that having a singular political entity is better than multiple parties. This contributed to the widespread failure of politics to serve the needs of citizens. One party State mentality is bad for democracy and accountability.

Unfortunately, Africa is not learning from the past; our government structures and how we elect leaders continue to produce the same terrible results. The black man’s burden continues to be his thirst for power and inclination towards primitive wealth accumulation. Add superstition and witchcraft to this then you have the typical African leader; self-centred, ruthless, uncaring and fearful of change.

The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the political structures that we have blindly adopted from developed countries. Our political parties have failed to drive the inclusive development agenda throughout Africa, even in cases where the resources are in abundance.

In my opinion, it is necessary that we first change the structure of political parties and what they stand for before we can see different results.
The people come first!

Vince Musewe is an economist based in Harare and you may contact him on vtmusewe@gmail.com

42 COMMENTS

  1. Keep telling them brother Vince.And may i also remind our political elite & their loyalists to read Jeremiah 49 v 16

  2. The problem lies with us, vanhu vatema. Yes we may be as educated as the whites but in terms of civility we lag 500 years behind. THE BLACK MAN IS TRULY BACKWARD IN THINKING. Just look around in our own neighbourhoods, noone cares for the collective good, ingori mbimbi ndoga. When you see a black man you see a backwardness, animalist, baboonish character, the absence of civilty. VANHU VATEMA TINOZVINYADZISA.

    • I look around my neighborhood and I see beautiful black women, great mothers, grandfathers with wisdom, enterprising men working to feed their families, I see my children ever so bright and a source of joy, family is cherished and elders are respected, we are full of hope. There are some among us who are corrupt and evil but they are not the majority; the saddest among us are the self haters who worship that which despises, degrades and abuses them the most: the West!

  3. Economists have no business commenting on political history. It is a fact that black emancipation lays in redistribution of natural resources. You can criticize the manner in which the redistribution has been carried out, but not the soundness of the effort or principle or need for indegenous economic reorientation. Your analysis is warped.

    • Don’t be rude; don’t collate everything he said to be negative. Let me break it down for ya. He is talking about the political structures failing to develop their states. Intrinsically, he sustains the argument that Zimbabwe/Africa does not understand their favourable position in IPE (International Political Economy), thus being said, development is at the core of this politically and socio-economically. Every development has to be done systematically, indigenization is a positive aspect of it as long its done in an economically and politically cultured manner.

    • what is more warped is refusing to see wrongs and correcting them. Where people repeat the same wrong and expect different results is the definition on insanity

      • @ Tom, wrongs are there for all to see, who has ever denied the corruption in African governments or nepotism etc? I am yet to see one person who has refused to see wrongs which are in plain sight. @ Watchman is very correct in that black emancipation lays in redistribution of natural resources. If we all agree on this one fact then we will make progress as we all come together to formulate the best policies, to create the most feasible models and forge the right partnerships moving forward. To be in support of economic reorientation is by no means an endorsement of bad governance. Why do you fight the principle of fairness? Why do you fail to see the obvious link between the greedy self serving hidden hand and opposition parties that push for unbridled capitalism and private profit? There will always be 2 opposing sides and everyone is free to choose one side; inventing tales of a one sided coin does not make the other side disappear, believing in a one sided coin is like believing the earth is flat!

  4. Warped,biased and shallow article! If u cant see the hidden fist of our erstwhile colonisers in the current hardships in Africa then u are beyond help. Indeed u hv missed the whole plot. Do u think the ex-colonisers were willing to giv power without setting mechanisms to scuttle any shift frm the systems they had set?

    • Is one forced to indulge and take part per se in those political economic mechanisms (corruption) for example, you answer that!

    • If you have seen that what are doing to make things right for the fellow african. They played their games well put up structures to strengthen colonialism and you saw it. So change the situation dont perpetuate it and focus on blaming. 50years without crafting a solution to change what they created for you is sure vindication of backwardness. Develop dont just blame the past. take charge unless if you do not have the capacity. Check the Asian revolutions they were also colonised by the same people. Read wide and travel afar

  5. Vince you disappoint me brother. Your analysis shows how very educated you are but also proves how much you have been educated to defend the fist that hits you. You have a lot to learn.

  6. Interesting article,reminds me of ‘The Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ by Franz Fanon.

    It is indeed true that an African’s worst enemy is the self.

    For decades we have blindly followed political ideologies which are bereft of any tangible benefit to the subaltern.Of course at the end of each closing year our political parties embark on these lavish gatherings disguised as ‘national/people’s conferences which have themselves failed to offer any meaningful solutions to the myriad of social,political and economic challenges facing the continent.

    Rather,these wasteful and meaningless gatherings are exercises in self congratulation,which,at the end of the day will come up with a lot of hollow economic blue prints that are recycled year after year with the same dismal result.Changing the nomenclature of the resolutions doesn’t make them fruitful.

    The tragedy of our politics as a continent is that our programmes and policies are warped within the inherently weak explications of partisan political ideologies which are themselves centred around pandering to the whims of the so-called revolutionaries.If ever we are going to extricate ourselves from the numerous ills that surround us we need to transform our politics into national,not ideological, meeting points where we come up with truly nationally representative and inclusive programmes that aim to emancipate every Zimbabwean regardless of political affiliation.

    For as long as we fail to transcend the limitations of the party in power,we shall forever remain at the periphery of development yet we are always making these erroneous claims that we have the keys to the world.

    Granted,we might have the keys but we do not know which door to open.

    Indeed the people need to be empowered but it must be done in a manner that promotes oneness.We are one people,even those that do not have the same skin colour as us still remain a part of us,we do not deal with them by excluding them or chasing them,we embrace them.After all that’s the essence of diversity.

  7. Indeed it is so pathetic that in most African countries after inheriting function systems @ infrastructure we can”t even maintain and watch as it collapses .was recently in Zim@ The roads are Pathetic to say the least!!!! corruption so so entrenched in the officials psyche!! blaming the West for all our shortcomings is a tired excuse.just like the ANC blaming Apartheid for each cockup made hence the Boos @ Mandela”s memorial!!!…. until our Leaders are prepared to acknowledge that they have messed up big time instead of Politicking @cheap hot air then Africa shall remain a Basket Case!!! Can we ask how the Batswana of Botswana got it Right!!

    • Botswana got it right mostly by chance because their entire population is just over 2 million, their diamond revenue accounts for about 33% of GDP. They have managed their resourses well despite corruption but if their population was as large as Zimbabwe those diamonds may not have made much of a difference. At “independence” in 1980 we had a fairly sophisticated and diversified economy, no body starved ue to lack of food. Zpf’s poor economic policies, rampant corruption and mismanagement have reduced the country to a basket case, no book need teach that fact most of us have lived it for the past 33 yrs. In 1980 we had the expertise locally to build roads and maintain them, now we have to contract a South African company to do the job we could do a few decades ago on our own.

      • What did Botswana do differently? Unlike what Watchman, Mac etc advocate, that great African hero Seretse Khama DID NOT UNDERMINE COLONIAL INFRASTRUCTURE – instead, he COLLABORATED with white business and STRENGTHENED those institutions. In other words, Sir Seretse Khame was NOT a Liberator. He was a pragmatist, like Mandela. He did not impose marxist Fanonist ideology, he focused on the development of Botswana into the future without seeing white people as the ideological enemy.

        Result? Despite being landlocked, Botswana is one of the most stable and richest African nations. Food for thought. Is it really necessary to tie African identity to ‘opposition of white/Western’?? Instead of going on about ‘the colonial fist’ and other such nonsense (reality: the world is far too busy on their own stuff and doesn’t care enough to plot against Africa), Africans should confront their own taught propaganda. This ‘everything is the imperialists fault’ mantra might serve the elite, but it provably does not serve the poor. A very good book on just how bad self-enriching Liberators are for Africa’s wealth is outlined in ‘The Architects of Poverty’ by the economist Moeletsi Mbeki.

        Mac and Scotv: that story is just soo tired. Why are other colonised nations thriving?

        Here is Moeletsi Mbeki’s very neat explanation: “Liberators, having no access to the means of production, use the revenues of the state to pay themselves. When given a choice between investing in or maintaining infrastructure (roads, hospitals, ports, schools, state owned enterprises, railways, etc) and paying themselves, they choose to pay themselves. THE NETT RESULT is deindustrialiation, declining investment, factory closures, job loss and increasing unemployment, and poverty”. This is so obvious, you have to be mentally enslaved blamer of ‘the colonisers’ in order not to see it.

        THE KEY to African wealth is wealth creation. Instead of our resources being shipped to other countries to be manufactured, value added and then sold back to us, WE AFRICANS need to innovate and manufacture goods the world wants, cheaper than anyone else (the Asian model). For that we need African scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. That means investing in black development: schools, technical colleges, apprenticeships, universities. Confronting corruption, insisting on good government, voting out Liberation parties, insisting on strong institutions and EMBRACING BUSINESS AND CAPITALISM – collaborating with white people as Seretse Khama did from the beginning. We have wasted time and generations. We do not need any more revolutionary comrades.

  8. I agree with some of what Vincent has stated but I absolutely disagree with the statement “The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the political structures that we have blindly adopted from developed countries”. Are you saying we should continue trying and reinvent the wheel as what is happening now all over Africa? All African governments are presently trying to reinvent the wheel which is why we are having problems. We were very lucky colonialism catapulted us from the Stone Age to modernity in record time. Colonialism was by far and away the best thing that ever happened to Africa – the biggest force multiplier ever. There was no single school in the land and everyone knows how education transforms lives. Not a single factory in the land and we all know how working can one’s life.
    I also absolutely disagree with Vincent that “Liberation struggle leaders came into power while promising to correct the wrongs of the past and to fight poverty and discrimination; that was their ticket to State House”. What you call “liberation struggle” was just an almighty scramble to be the first black person to take over from the whites when the British government announced its intention to give up its overseas colonies. It had nothing to do with righting the “wrongs of the past” but more to do with fighting for leadership, end of story. Even when they are making lives worse than they were before black rule they cling on mercilessly. The truth is when the whites came in 1890 they found a backward society in this land – poverty was not caused by whites. The whites who came here were very rich, with unique skills and at a different level of advancement than our forefathers. Initially, our forefathers resisted any attempts by the whites to change their way of life. They refused to work – working for someone all day long was a new and unfamiliar phenomenon which they found very disgusting. I don’t buy this nonsense about fighting poverty. Short of giving every person a bag full of money I cannot see how anyone or any government can fight poverty. The only way to fight poverty is going to school and getting a good job (working). The whites gave us schools and industries to achieve this – there is no other way. Which wrongs of the past do/are these leaders trying to correct? Most people conflate poverty with racism. A poor person can only do so much but a rich person can do anything and you cannot stop a rich person getting even richer. Phillip Chiyangwa cannot stop buying more Bentleys because some of the workers at one of his firms come to work on bicycles. If Chiyangwa had been white then some people would call it “racism” but because he is black I don’t know what they call it?

    • The whites gave us this and that, the whites did this for us, the whites are the best thing ever, the whites the whites the whites!

      How you display such a high level of intelligence! I am filled with wonder and astonishment at your knowledge and wisdom!

      One such great pearl of wisdom from your writings that I will forever hold dear is this, “..a rich person can do anything and you cannot stop a rich person getting even richer”

      Wow!

      • white people are generally better than black people and the last 400years of history will bear testimony to this.

        • The least among us black people is not the corrupt strongman; but one who not only hates himself but loves and worships the white master who abuses and despises him the most!

  9. @Musona- You took this straight out of my throat! Why reinvent the wheel? Vince has destroyed an otherwise readable and enlightening article with this one sentence. That said, it was quite readable until we got to this part, he could simply have left it out!

  10. Unfortunately Africa has not been well endowed with progressive leadership except for Botswana & Namibia. South Africa started off quite well with Nelson Mandela but it has been progressively downhill since then. As for the rest I must regrettably agree with Vince. The evidence of our beloved continent’s demise is so overwhelming that the mind boggles at the comments of Mac & Watchman. Lets be objective even if it’s hard to swallow.

  11. Masuna,

    Once again you have got it spot on. Even Robert Mugabe himself acknowledged the fact that Zimbabwe had, quote ( We had the very good fortune to have been colonised by Britain ). Why cant we just accept the fact that some country was going to colonise us , whether we liked it or not. Just as there were many negatives there were many positives as well. In 1980 we should have moved forward with all the positives and left all the negatives behind ” Not forgotten but definitely not current “

  12. The Africa situation is a lot like Lee Child’s 2005 novel One Shot, recently adapted into the thriller film Jack Reacher . Africa is the guy framed for all kinds of evil, the guilty hidden hand remained hidden until Reacher uncovered it. Africa has made mistakes, is not terribly sophisticated and finds herself manipulated by a sinister friend. The intelligent among us dig deeper to reveal the whole truth and a lot more while most of you simpletons are quick to believe the narrative given to you that suggests the patsy acted alone; you do not question the planted evidence and can not see beyond the patsy’s many past sins. To you, morons, giving Africa a tongue-lashing is a sign of intelligence, enlightenment and advancement; you have cracked the case! At least have the decency to look at both sides of the coin for Pete’s sake.

    • Come on Falcon, you are way too smart to be impressed by yet another simplistic tale of Africa the lost cause!

  13. If you follow George Tavengwa’s life history in S Rhodesia you will find how he overcame poverty to became the first black millionaire. He is the man who built the Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfields in 1972. He was the father to the ex-Mayor of Harare, Solomon Tavengwa. He was engaged in transport, retail, hotel and agriculture industries in Rhodesia. In 1960 he was the first black person to purchase a 1,872.0 hectare commercial farm (Zimdale farm in Marondera) from a white farmer. By 1977 he had purchased 5 other commercial farms for CASH at Shaka Hills, Sheba amongst others in Hewdza district. He never went to school. At the age of 12 he was chased away from home by his father in Goromonzi and wandered towards Marondera in 1927 where he got a job at a white man’s farm herding goats and sheep.
    In 1936 he took up wood work in Salisbury (Harare) and early in 1941 he tried his hand at hawking, which was such a success that the same year he had enough capital to open a store in Wedza at Chiwengwa Village Hall. His means of transport at first were donkeys until 1947 when he bought a lorry, which he later converted into a bus. By 1951 he was running a fleet of four buses and this year (1953) he has opened a new store.
    He later established Mushandira Pamwe Buses with a fleet of over 150 buses, had several retail outlets throughout Rhodesia, including his first major building project Mushandira Pamwe Centre in Dombotombo, Marondera. His nine large commercial farms averaged at least a 1000 hectares each.
    If you had the money you could buy a commercial farm in Rhodesia – George Tavengwa proved it. George Tavengwa was richer than most whites in Rhodesia.

  14. One sentence should read, “By 1951 he was running a fleet of four buses and in 1953 he had opened a new store”.

    • Unfortunately Musona some people such as scotv appear much too young to have lived the facts, so it is good you recall such history as George Tavengwa and others who proved honest work and good business acumen is possible rather than the easy root of forcing 51% from someone else who worked hard to build a business over many years. People like scotv would like to reap where they did not sow or be given as a God given right, wealth. Instead he/she should use his God given brain and develop his own business idea and start from scratch like most civilised people have done. Musona keep educating “the young and the Ignorant”

      • I am making a call to fairness, balanced and honest criticism, how this translates in your brain wanting to reap where I did not sow is perplexing! If anything, Musona is an alias of an unknown person sitting behind a computer as much as scotv is also an alias; there is no way of you knowing for certain who I claim to be or who Musona claims to be. It is no surprise to me that you actually believe that I am an ignorant youth and that Musona is a wise old man writing from his experience of a rhodesia that was a blessing to us the blacks; hardly surprising seeing how you don’t have the ability see beyond the 400 year old narrative that is given to you by the man!

  15. Introspection is useful as a precursor to personal revoloution that precedes growth in any one body yet it is vitally important that black people recognise what is POSITIVE within them..and what black society has that is beneficial for growth.

    In Africa we begin with the fact that FAMILY structure remains often strong .

    In Europe this goundstone to development in any society is today cracking in many places and dramatically so…many European nations face declining populations as people do not abide marriage and child upbringing..people have become selfish in Europe…the price is fragmented and disunufied immigrant based society.

    Africa is well placed for the future on this key point.

    Are Africans not fairly straightforward and willing to embrace diversity of opinion?…I think so when given the freedom to do so…another strong point.

  16. The reason why George Tavengwa became a millionaire was because he was operating in an economically stable environment – an environment conducive to prosperity with no political interference and sheer hard work. He kept getting richer and richer but would have been very disappointed with the present set up which is chaotic had he been alive today. He had 9 large commercial farms averaging at least 1000 hectares.
    His son, Solomon, the late Mayor was a Director at Rio Tinto Rhodesia during white rule.

  17. scotv scotv, ,,,,,,,,,,y cant you swallow your pride and admit that blacks have a big hand in the evils plaguing the continent…..the west has a hidden hand in the conflicts, but it just doesnt register in your black minds that im taking arms against my fellow black men, ,thats y we see the viciuos civil wars…..you hate the west just as i do…..but are you brave enough to take the fight to them, ,,,,rather you love their lyfstyle and i see that you got a good command of their language….and africans cling onto the western education system that has made them stupider, ,,,then why swear my brothers, ,,the boko haram when they attack schools…..we not cowards….my people have taken the fight to them….u scotv just talk a whole load of bullshit

    • Let me paraphrase my own words for you, perhaps you are blinded by self hate. I said, Africa has made many mistakes, has sinned and is not developed to a high degree of complexity. The case of Africa, like a coin, has 2 sides, all I wish is for opinion leaders to stop pretending this great coin has no flip side. Marashika papi wakoma? Are you berating me for not admitting that Africans have a hand in the evils plaguing the continent or for admitting that Africans have a hand in the evils plaguing the continent? Perhaps you are just berating me because it is what you do? In that case, you are the one who must swallow some pride, wakoma.

      Do you not find it particularly disturbing that in this system of rhodesia you and your mates are defending, praising and worshiping, you reference just one example of a black man who made it out of millions? Perhaps there are a dozen others with a similar story but it is still a drop in the ocean compared to millions who did not successfully swim against the tide to overcome overwhelming odds just to acquire a farm and to purchase things that are within reach to the average white man. Is that perhaps because that system was designed specifically for that? Call it youth or ignorance all you like asi makarashika wakoma kana musingaone zviripachena!

  18. WE must force ourselves to understand structures and the resulting patterns of behavior. we can then make intelligent decisions on how to develop Africa by changing structures to produce different results. Africans must THINK instead of having elections every five years and creating the same if not worse results. We do not have to go through the same development trajectory as the West. We can leapfrog using technology to spread new knowledge quickly unlike in the past. After all that is why we are getting educated. Now its either you get this or you dont. WE must look at how we have behaved in the last 50 years and change that and not focus on how others have behaved because it is of no consequence.

    • This is a slippery slope Vince..having elections every five years is not really the issue but we should have permanent structures that are not collapsed at will. We should have a judiciary, parliament and executive that does not subordinate each to the other but work as compliments. Our warped case can hardly be used as sufficient evidence to rubbish a system of democracy (numbers) which appears to have survived the test of time. We all saw cruel proof of what happened to the Communist countries who tried a system of allowing one strong man dictate how society should function…Perhaps I have missed the gist of your statement..maybe what sort of sytem do you have in mind that is selleble we can use to replace democracy..What we have in this country is still to have a name, I am sure like most of us, you dont call it democracy!

  19. We all desire a great life and to develop as a people and as a continent, at last we have that much in common and that is wonderful. However, self examination and self excoriation will not get as very far unless we also examine how ‘others’ have and are behaving; how do we develop a true vision without all the pieces of the puzzle in place?

  20. Democracy structured as it is is NOT delivering the economic emancipation for AFRICA. See my next article for solutions.

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