The Sunday Mail
There is a familiar but very illuminating quote in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” which says, “When we gather together in the moonlit village ground, it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound.”
Achebe further makes the point that kinsmen gather because it is good to do so. He expresses his reservations on young people who seem not to understand and value the strong bonds of kinship.
As if in reference to modern day Zimbabwe, Achebe continues: “You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you; I fear for the clan.”
I was reminded of Achebe’s timeless prophetic voice when President Mnangagwa launched the historic Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) last Friday in Harare where several political players emphasised the need for constant dialogue. Notable absentee was the leader of the MDC-Alliance Mr Nelson Chamisa who even before the official launch of the dialogue, the opposition leader had already snubbed any initiative for a national conversation demanding a one-on-one talk with the Head of State and Government and Defence Forces Commander President Mnangagwa.
While it is Mr Chamisa’s democratic right to abstain from any gathering he deems unhelpful, we wish he had taken time to listen to Achebe so as to appreciate the invaluable contribution of kinsmen meeting to deliberate on issues affecting their domain
President Mnangagwa could not have put it any better when he told representatives of 17 political parties attending the dialogue that; “This platform is designed to be a vibrant forum through which we proffer solutions to the challenges that confront us as a nation — through peaceful, open and transparent discourse.”
The ultimate goal as enunciated by President Mnangagwa, is for the dialogue to ultimately lead towards improving the country’s democratic practices and culture.
In fact, the launch of the dialogue was a culmination of President Mnangagwa’s consistent message of openness, freedom, servant leadership and transparency that he articulated at his inauguration as he ushered in the Second Republic.
In fact, President Mnangagwa is not inventing the wheel. As a leader keen on creating a new trajectory of a modern unitary state, President Mnangagwa is appropriating frameworks that have scored successes in other countries.
In the modern era, national dialogues are increasingly becoming popular tools for conflict resolution and political transformation. Beyond the official state apparatus and platforms of engagement, political players have realised the importance of including other active players who might have ideas on how to make the country prosper and resolve contentious issues.
This is also the thinking behind the President’s engagement with various interest groups like the Bulawayo Collective, the youth, women and the setting up of the Presidential Advisory Council.
So in essence, national dialogues are essential in that they broaden the debate about a country’s trajectory beyond the usual group of elite decision makers and offer potential for meaningful conversation about underlying drivers of conflict and ways of holistically addressing pertinent issues.
What is unique about Polad is that its wholly home-grown and takes on board all 2018 presidential contenders who are leaders of their own political parties. Given the enthusiasm exhibited by political players so far, it is not too early for one to be optimistic. There is a higher likelihood of success given the transparency, openness of the platform which goes beyond issues of elections.
What might need to be inputted are clear rules of procedure and an implementation plan. It is hoped that after the launch on Friday, some of the nitty-gritties will be ironed out by the participants to the dialogue.
Historically, Zimbabweans have always resorted to engaging with each other as a way of dealing with contentious issues. The 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu and Zapu is a case in point and an important reference point for home-grown solutions in dealing with domestic issues.
It is for this reason that many question the rationale by Mr Chamisa in abstaining from a critical platform for kinsmen to exchange ideas, highlight problems and proffer solutions. Who are Mr Chamisa’s advisers and do they really have the interest of Zimbabwe at heart?
We, however, note with interest that the same demands Mr Chamisa is making are almost the same as those being raised by some strangers in far-off countries. Again Achebe offers a warning when he says, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
Was Achebe aware that in years to come, Zimbabwe will have a similar problem of a presidential contender who fashions himself as a pastor or Man of God who must never be defeated in an election? Was Achebe aware that in years to come Zimbabwe would have a young impressionable leader who seems to listen more to the advice of strangers and discard all “the things that held us (successive generations) together.”
Since I began by quoting Achebe, I think it is also appropriate that we end by quoting the Nigerian author again. In a paper titled, “The Novelist as Teacher”, Achebe recounts a story relayed to him by his wife, which exemplifies that as Africans we are yet to fully recover from the traumatic effects of our first confrontation with Europe.
Achebe talks of his wife asking a pupil at a boys’ school why he had written about winter when he meant harmattan — a season between the end of November and the middle of March characterised by dry and dusty north-easterly trade wind, of the name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea.
The boy responded by saying that he was afraid that his fellow classmates would call him a bushman.
Achebe then asks: “Now you wouldn’t have thought, would you, that there was something shameful in your weather. But apparently we do. How can this great blasphemy be purged? I think it is part of my business as a writer to teach that boy that there is nothing disgraceful about the African weather, that the palm tree is a fit subject for poetry. Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse- to help my society regain belief in itself and put away complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement.”
Someone must tell someone that there is nothing wrong in kinsmen talking to each other.
There is nothing sacred in inviting strangers to our compounds and to open our armpits for their amusement. Achebe is a prophet. I rest my case.