Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 28, 2007
Rebuild a moral culture in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe and its ruler Robert Mugabe were seen as Africa's great hope when Mugabe ascended to power in April 1980 in the country's first black majority government. While the transition to majority rule was far from peaceful, the final victory was won with ballots, not bullets. Zimbabwe, at that time, stood in sharp contrast with the apartheid regime in neighbouring South Africa.
How things have changed. Zimbabwe is now an international basket case, its socialist experiment in ruins and the people having the shortest average lifespan of any on the planet. Starvation and AIDS are rampant and human rights virtually non-existent. The media are tightly controlled and elections are rigged.
The turning point for Zimbabwe was likely the controversial land redistribution of 2000 in which the more than 4,000 white large farmers were driven off their land and Mugabe gave the land to his buddies. The country has since been unable to feed itself, suffers from hyperinflation and Mugabe rules with an iron fist.
But the militarization of the country began long before that as Mugabe entered into several foreign military adventures, many of them aimed at overthrowing racist or corrupt regimes in nearby countries. However well-intentioned his efforts may have been, they had the effect of creating a military culture that now ruthlessly represses Zimbabwe's own people.
Mugabe blames his country's problems on Western government's sanctions, a convenient excuse which explains few if any of Zimbabwe's problems.
A Catholic, the president is clamping down on the Church and lashing out at Archbishop Pius Ncube, a long-time critic of his government. In a 2004 interview with the WCR, Ncube argued that Mugabe has deliberately created starvation in the country to bolster his own power. A strong political statement from a bishop!
Ncube's outspokenness is all that more important given the government control of the media. The BBC and CNN have been banned from reporting in the country. A state-sponsored newspaper called the Zimbabwe bishops' Easter letter, God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed, "the height of political mischief."
In their pastoral letter, the bishops said Zimbabwe's crisis is one of governance, leadership, spirituality and morality. To avoid "further bloodshed and avert a mass uprising," a new constitution is needed to guide democracy "chosen in free and fair elections that will offer a chance for economic recovery under genuinely new policies."
The bishops point to solutions that do not involve mere political restructuring, but also the building of a new moral culture. It is not enough to reform the constitution and choose a new leader. The country's abyss is so deep, the spirituality and morality of the people have been negatively affected.
A sort of national conversion will be needed even if Zimbabwe somehow finds its way to freedom.
Respected institutions and systems of accountability cannot be built overnight. They require a stable society where there is a reasonable measure of equality.
Zimbabwe was once a great nation. Bantu ironworkers who settled in the region in the fifth century discovered gold, copper and tin. Slowly they developed goods to trade with the Arab world. From the seventh to the 15th century, the region was home to a prosperous civilization.
The causes of economic decline were complex, but arose largely with the arrival of Europeans.
Zimbabwe may one day rise again. But its revival will not be the result of simple solutions. Removing Mugabe and his henchmen from power is a first step. Rebuilding a moral culture that can sustain true development is work for the ages.
- Glen Argan
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