On Being Complicit

On Being Complicit

Ndizvo Zviripo!

(This is what is there…we have to accept it)

The above words ‘…this is what is there’ or just ndizvo zviripo were used to help explain a very uncomfortable situation that we found ourselves in when we were visiting close family. The temperatures were very high, it was humid and also mosquitoes were having a feast on ‘new blood’. Our daughter was struggling, she could not sleep for more than two hours continuously, I was equally very uncomfortable and definitely the wisdom made a lot of sense…we were visiting and had to be polite to our hosts who were doing their best to make us comfortable. So, I had to live with the…ndizvo zviripo advice.

The advice made a lot of sense at that time as a tactic to cope with difficult circumstances and as long as you are in Africa there will be many other austere moments and all you can do is to suck it up and move on- especially for fellow travellers.  However, there is a danger that this could turn out to be a more long-term posture of despair and accommodating what we can otherwise change. We can become used to mediocrity- most of the situations that we face are not natural conditions- take poverty for instance- no matter how dire it is man-made and does not need rocket science to address. Many other conditions and circumstances that we face are literally man-made (manufactured problems) we just a need a higher level of thinking to resolve them. The BIG challenge is us-we have come to a place where we do not  care anymore and have literally become so used to the mess that we do not see how we can get out of it- very sad. At the point where we resign from being active agents of change to accepting what life throws at us, we have become a part of the problem- we are complicit.

Look around and see what you could have stood up against, but you let it be or you ranted a bit but eventually developed a coping mechanism. Let me give you an example- power cuts have become so common across Africa, even in Mzansi of all places- TIA (This is Africa)! Do you remember way back at the turn of the century when we started to feel the pinch of power cuts here in Zimbabwe- remember the blackouts and 12-hour outages- there was so much rage and all sorts of threats calling for leaders to be more accountable and the state more responsive etc…but what has happened since then. Things have become worse, it’s not only power that is in short supply even water but and here is the contradiction we seem to have accepted an abnormality. We have instead re-organized ourselves around an apparent collapse of the state- through generators, inverters and others are even contemplating getting off the power grid completely. Seems like a sure clever way of addressing what looks like a problem that is going nowhere. But in it are we not being complicit to the failure of the state to provide essential services. In areas where we were supposed to create sufficient pressure for improved services, we are letting the state off the hook.

I could go on about how the middle class (those who have some little money) has without intending to do so become complicit in perpetuating ineffective local and national government regimes. Take water supply for instance- have you seen how the middle class has installed boreholes to an extent that we actually face a threat to underground water supplies. Those who cannot afford boreholes have supported the emergence of new water merchants- who would have thought that people could make money from selling water- privatization of public goods! How about education? Same story- there are more elite private schools registered in the post 2000 period –thanks to the collapse of the public school system. So why do we still need a government if we can take care of all these needs?

We are not investing in making the state responsive but instead we are taking matters into our own hands- others call it agency- that is well and good. But at some point tax dollars and being in public office should mean something- accountability and effectiveness. Not all of us can afford to recreate what should be public goods on our own.

We are complicit in the rot that we are currently going through as a nation, instead of confronting mediocrity we disengage and create our own little bubbles/islands of comfort. Very sad. It is easy to crack jokes/gossip about government’s failure and the insatiable greed of political leaders and other office holders instead of openly confronting the injustices they perpetrate- we are all complicit. Here is what James Allen in his classic book. As a Man Thinketh, written over one hundred years ago had to say:

“It has been usual for men to think and to say, many men are slaves because one is an oppressor, let us hate the oppressor. Now, however, there is among an increasing few a tendency to reverse this judgement, and to say that one man is an oppressor because many are slaves; let us despise the slaves. The truth is that the oppressor and the slave are cooperators in ignorance, and while seeming to afflict each other, are in reality afflicting themselves”.

So, we are all responsible- instead of blaming just one man. I will not even write about those amongst us who have entertained thoughts of joining the political bandwagon as a strategy to be part of the inner circle. I doubt if democracy can ever work without citizens engaged in a continuous process of what I call ‘humbling power’ through demands for accountability, effectiveness and justice. May I conclude by quoting Malawian Author Chiku Malunga.

“Fear is a key obstacle to surmount. The great tragedy in Africa today is not the powerlessness of the grassroots but the silence of the enlightened and educated people who are paralyzed by fear”.

I appreciate that many of us are afraid, and you have your reasons for being afraid but please don’t convert into praise singing of what is blatantly unjust. We have to be careful about the legacy we will pass onto those coming after us-history has a way of not creating neat divisions between the rulers and the ruled but will only talk about what happened to Zimbabwe after the turn of the century and guess what, just by the coincidence of us being alive during this period we are complicit in the ruin.