HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsTransition or instability?

Transition or instability?

-

There is nothing as cold, cruel and cowardly as pumping six bullets into an unarmed, unresisting suspect – if ever he was one.

CONWAY TUTANI ECHOES

But this was the fate of a black American teenager, Michael Brown, a fortnight ago, with a white American policeman pulling the trigger.

People are angry – and rightly so – because of this medieval cruelty in modern times. Those Dark Ages when ignorance and barbarism prevailed are supposed to be behind us. Yes, blacks were brought to America as cargo, but this is unconscionable some 400 years later.

That was way back then when lynching of blacks was commonplace. Was it the policeman’s duty to be the judge and executioner?

Here in Zimbabwe this week, peaceful protesters marching under the banner of not only a legally registered political party, but the main opposition, were allegedly beaten up by the police and, as it stands, denied bail as if they are flight-risk murder suspects.

Since mob mentality works both ways, could the alleged police beating of the demonstrators have been a manifestation of that?

United States President Barack Obama would not be seen and heard saying demonstrators in Missouri had it coming. He does not have the luxury and latitude to do that like when President Robert Mugabe openly said MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai “chakadashurwa” (more than got what he deserved) after the main opposition MDC-T leader was subjected to heavy beating by officers at Machipisa Police Station in Highfield, Harare, in 2007 for the “crime” of leading a peaceful demonstration.

In contrast, Obama this week said: “There is no excuse for excessive force.” It goes without saying that the US Presidency has limited powers because the country is a constitutional democracy in both letter and spirit.

In the wake of the killing of Brown in the US, we have had headlines here such as Time Obama acted like a black president and Brown shooting shows US hypocrisy.

You cannot highlight the senseless, shocking tragedy in the US and completely ignore a similar outrage though not of the same magnitude in Zimbabwe.

It’s so glaring an omission as to point to duplicity.

Obama did not set out to be the first black President of the US, but to be the next President of the US. There is no doubt that his election was a hugely significant political development, but politics is not merely the sum of interest groups or identity groups jockeying for position, but institutionalisation of equality by whoever.

Obama, having assembled a new voting coalition targeting demographic changes in America, is not solely there for African-Americans, but they remain a core constituency. Would anyone then blame him for the school shooting rampages across the US which have targeted mostly white children?

So, “it is not to ask what the first black President is doing for blacks; it’s about what a Democratic Party President is doing for the most loyal Democratic Party constituency – who happen to be black , and who happen to be in dire need of help”, observes Frederick C Harris, political science professor at Columbia University.

And this constituency will not automatically be inherited by another Democrat. For what it’s worth, Bill Clinton (who served from 1993 to 2001) has been described as the first black President of the United States despite or in spite of being white. Wrote one blogger: “Actually Clinton is a lot more black than Obama: he loves jazz, grew up with black men with poor grandparents, and is open-minded.”Some have even gone back a century to say Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) was the first black President who fought against slavery, supported equality, freedom and justice. We should start the narrative at the beginning, not in the middle, not somewhere convenient.

Obama knows racism is very much alive in America. That is why he said at a White House briefing that while the world rises up to meet him as leader, but as a black man he might have a hard time hailing a cab outside the White House.

So, most African-Americans won’t be tempted to look in the wrong direction like some opposition politicians in Zimbabwe are doing, blaming last year’s electoral loss to Zanu PF on individuals.

On such a false premise and false conclusion, they won’t make headway with the voters who daily see the unevenness of the political playing field as vending markets, etc are dished out on partisan grounds and their duly elected councillors and MPs are completely shut out.

If they insist on that, they ought to be reminded that they are firing blanks. Is it not obvious that Zanu PF – caught between reforming fast enough to revive the economy and doing that slow enough to maintain political control – would rather maintain control than reform and all genuine opposition parties have been victims of this lockout? They have all been made a political underclass like blacks in the US are still a racial underclass.

Looking at Obama’s foreign policy, it has been characterised by strategic restraint. This is after observation that US military intervention has not always created a stable, new democratic order, but has often unleashed negative consequences. Iraq and Afghanistan are recent examples he inherited. Similarly restrained has been his domestic political approach. There is a thin line between transition and instability. There is need to be less parochial and less bellicose.

Zimbabwe could have done with a restrained, less noisy and less disruptive indigenisation process and similarly, before it, land reform – not by making a bad situation worse.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading