Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Robert Mugabe: Thoughts on Celtic Imagination No 8



In 1987 inflation averaged 11.9 percent. It surged to an official record of 100,586 percent in January 2008, but economic experts say the real rate is much higher.


Average life expectancy dropped from 63 years in 1990 to 37.3 years in 2005, according to World Bank and U.N. figures.


Estimated at about 80% of the working population.


Lives in a palatial mansion and is addicted to power. Uses violence, brutality and coercion to achieve his aims.  


The majority are hungry, disenfranchised and powerless to put an end to Mugabe's megalomaniacal tyranny.

OK. The last two categories are not facts, they are my personal opinions about the unfolding tragedy in Zimbabwe. I happen to believe that they reflect the truth of the matter. On his campaign poster Mugabe expresses opinions of his own. The call-out which proclaims "100% empowerment. Total Independence" is a sick joke right out of the pages of the dictators handbook. Mugabe's record in government itself, let alone the recent accounts of beatings, murders and rape, tell an altogether different and horrendous story. If he believes that "All good things are possible", then that is a truism reserved for himself and his political cronies and military thugs.

Paradoxically, the sooner Mugabe is gone and proper democracy is restored to Zimbabwe the sooner its people can begin to experience the reality of his campaign slogan. The picture of the mooring post is an apt metaphor for what has happened to Zimbabwe under his rule. Mugabe has failed utterly to care for and empower his people. This failure right at the centre has compromised the whole country and imperilled its people.

But look again at his poster. Are there some inconvenient truths here for Brits like me? When I was a lad I can remember looking at maps of the British Empire in books. Great swathes of pink coloured the map. It all seemed so natural and normal. In History Class we learned of the Indian Mutiny and the Black Hole of Calcutta. On television the violence in Northern Ireland was told from the normative perspective of us being at war with the terrorists of the IRA. As a child growing up I knew no better and my worldview reflected it. History was always one-sided and incomplete. A whole set of voices were missing. I can just recollect John Pilger's reporting from Vietnam striking a discordant note on our black and white TV. Voices and pictures from the underside of history started to tell a very different story about the world I took for granted. Gradually I came to see the story of Empire from an altogether less rosy viewpoint: that of the British Empire doing what Empires always do: conquer, exploit, oppress and subjugate native and indigenous peoples.

Try reading Irish History from the Republican perspective and it all looks very different. Take the interplay of landlordism, the potato famine and mass migration for example. To some Irish commentators this catastrophe of 'the great hunger' is nothing less than a 'managed genocide'. These are voices which we have needed to hear. The same applies of course to American history and the colonisation of North America. The French, Spanish and British all devasted the native peoples; it was left to the westward expansion of the white settlers in the late 19th century to finish the job. Films such as Dances with Wolves and  books such as Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee attempted in part to set the popular record straight, but the pace of revisionism can seem heartbreakingly slow. And what of Africa and the Middle East? As a palaeoecologist I knew that you could not make sense of the present without understanding the past. So as I condemn Mugabe I am tied inextricably to the colonial history of my own country and its imperial past. Mugabe has not only played on this, one could argue that he has been made by this history. The picture of the white guy in the pith helmet being carried by two Africans and Mugabe's facts about colonial rule reminds me of Desmond Tutu's sharp saying: "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land." As we hope and pray for Mugabe's removal from power I think it only honest that we recognise our complicity in so many of the world's political dilemmas.

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