Powerful Men versus Powerful Ideas
By Mutumwa Mawere
To whom should Africa look for economic, political and social salvation? Are we are own liberators? What is required for Africa to advance its cause – powerful men/women or ideas?
The enterprise of nation building is a complex one that needs to be informed by certain basic and fundamental foundational principles. Africa’s divisive past has tended to confuse and distort its present and future possibilities.
In as much as the continent’s past was ugly filled with racial injustice, backward looking reflections and policies will not lift the continent’s prospects up. We often look to powerful people around us to guide us and often we surrender our future to the few, underpinned by a rational thought process, that powerful people can be better angels than ordinary people.
We often defer decisions that we must and should make in our interests to other people forgetting that no individual; however, powerful possesses the power to know what is between another person’s ears. One thing I have learned is that you can and should not trust another human being to do that which you cannot do for yourself. History has shown that great nations can trace their origins to great ideas.
Such great ideas have to be understood by ordinary people for them to be of value. I have often used, for illustrative purposes, the ideas that informed the foundation of the United States of America as an independent nation to make the point that without such foundational principles, values and beliefs, the progress that the country witnessed over the last 233 years would not have been possible.
The value of citizenship lies in the nobility of the ideas that underpin a society of human beings. With respect to the USA, the second sentence of the declaration of independence that states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has inspired many to seek a better foundation for their societies.
I have no doubt that this sentence inspired many oppressed people including Africans to begin to question the utility and morality of the colonial state. There is no doubt that these words have universal application and are not time specific.
Yes, we are all created equal but human history has shown that in the pursuit of happiness, some men/women conduct themselves as if their lives are more important and indispensable than others. In the sphere of political morality, it is not unaccepted that citizens often look to their political leaders to make the decisions that they should ordinarily make in their self-interest.
Any civilization that is founded on a principle that men are not equal is bound to fail as any civilization that is premised on powerful people being the custodians of social, political and economic change.
The unsung heroes/heroines are many and yet we preoccupy our minds looking for the face of a hero/heroine that comes from heaven forgetting that even the most powerful men cannot defy the laws of nature and, therefore, should be accorded no better status than we accord to ourselves.
Any republican ideology would necessarily have to be founded on this cardinal principle that all men are created equal and any variation will have consequences in terms of economic, social and political change and progress.
The right to life is a basic human right and even the powerful must and should not have a right to interfere with the lives of others. Human beings are the most complex assets and can be mobile if exposed to tyranny and abuse. You can only abuse people so far and it is common cause that abusive situations produce their own consequences including migration and revolt.
Liberty is a fundamental foundational principle that is more potent and consequential than the might of the powerful. Free people can produce extraordinary outcomes and people in bondage produce suboptimal outcomes and at best can undermine the very interests of the people that wish to benefit from the bondage.
It is not entirely inaccurate, for example, to observe that the end of apartheid produced more meaningful benefits to the very people who were its advocates. Apartheid like colonialism in the final analysis was an immoral ideology that undermined the humanity of the people the system was meant to serve.
It has been observed that the crafters of the declaration were men ahead of their time and the words that came from them were angelic and no doubt inspired by the creator. They were simply looking for a new beginning and must have been occupied with basic construction issues dealing with the kind of society they wanted to see.
Equally, as Africans we must and should reflect on what kind of Africa we want to see. When we think of an African what face comes to mind? Is it a black face or any other face? Should citizenship be divisible?
There are many who believe that the place of birth should be the only determinant of citizenship. Using this thinking, it is not surprising that in as much as we may wish to create an Africa with no borders, borders do exist in our minds and it would be naïve to expect an automatic change in attitudes on citizenship.
For example, I am a Zimbabwean born naturalized South African with no different status and profile to many who, for instance, came from Europe and decided to adopt South Africa as their new home. They normally do not suffer the indignity of being asked when they are going to go back home to Europe. Instead they are easily embraced as South Africans.
In the enterprise of nation building, one cardinal principle is the indivisibility of citizenship. No nation that seeks to advance its cause can have strips of citizenship where natives as they may wish to call themselves acquire a superior level of citizenship and those that decide to naturalize acquire another.
Although we all know that we are born to die one day, we would like to believe that we have the capacity extend or manage life. What is significant is that in life we all wish to be happy people and live life to the fullest. This can only be done in societies that believe that such a right is not negotiable or happiness is a privilege.
What ideas influence us to consider ourselves as African? What are the foundations of our own post-colonial political philosophies? What principles should be used for guiding African constitutions? We all want an Africa that works for its people and yet rarely do we pause to reflect on what kind of Africa we want to see and what are our obligations to make it happen.
The future is our business and it is shaped by our actions. The powerful only become powerful because we allow them to be and more importantly we easily surrender our future to other people forgetting that we are the shapers of the future.
If the future is our responsibility then why is it the case that we often consume productive time debating about the qualities of leaders instead of focusing on what we should do to create the kind of Africa that guarantees citizens the rights that are necessary for progress and change.
I would like to live in an Africa founded on powerful ideas than informed by the choices of powerful men/women. It is in the ideas game that we should focus our attention than on the whims of the few wise men that like prodigal sons have been placed in an invidious position to make the kind of decisions that should ordinarily be made by us as the governed.
Any leader that is elected cannot and should not be allowed to transform him into a fountain of intellect or wisdom because no electoral process was ever designed to produce the kind of outcome that we expect in terms of enlightened wisdom.