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  • Zimbabwe and the weapons of 'mass distraction'
    Tendai Mauchaza
    February 09, 2009

    SO much of what we understand depends on who advances the story. The story, for instance, of the Bush Administration toppling Iran was most often told as a victory for George W. Bush-s politics of confrontation, superior technology and a readiness to confront the "Axis of Evil" with all weapons at their disposal.

    The language used talked of getting tough, of war against terror, no negotiation with terrorists, us against them. Those who advanced another discourse were called naïve.

    In retrospect, one is curious what traction this version gained, given that every journalist, every participant and every witness to the televised embedded journalists- reports of the "War on Terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan was perfectly clear in what he or she saw: that ordinary people, especially women and children, died in the offensive and the weapons of mass distraction were never found.

    Rather, "weapons of mass distraction" were uncovered.

    Yet so much traction was gained in peaceful initiatives during the same period: for instance in Northern Ireland, where on 9 May 2007 the power-sharing government at last began its business of governing. It took a gruesome thirty years to achieve that feat and Tony Blair today has an affirmative tick on his 'Premiership Report Card- courtesy of the Irish power-sharing agreement.

    Yet many people fail to realize that Ireland brought peace to itself, of course with a lot of help from friends. Unity building is very hard work, but it requires internal commitment.

    Those of us who are away from the effects of conflict, sometimes intractable conflict, benefit from other people-s tragedies and grow frustrated, hopeless and indignant by proxy.

    We 'scholarize- tragedy and irk out a living out of it. We take comfort in our luxury of alternatives and urge others to toil "a little bit further" on the hope that "change is imminent". We sometimes allow actions that we know to be pointless to roll on, ashamed of the ineffectiveness of our own frustration.

    Hope is too complicated to comprehend, especially when threats to our basic existence are clear and present.

    As we celebrate the power-sharing agreement and the formation of the inclusive Government (and the accompanying efforts at tackling the economic challenges), we should not forget the social tragedy confronting us — the broken down families and communities, heightening crime rate, the political and social polarization and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

    Reading the political and social commentaries coming out of Zimbabwe, and Zimbabweans, the widespread disillusion with politics in general and our leaders should find a remedy for this and re-engage citizens to take part in civic activity, without which development remains a mirage.

    This is possible only insofar as it is possible to restore a sense of community to the nation. That, in turn, requires a belief in the common good.

    In the face of grotesque inequality, governmental and corporate sleaze, and generalized anomie, we need, as Barack Obama once remarked, "to affirm our bonds with one another".

    We should also accept that history has played a large part in defining the structure of our current struggles. Proper narratives are needed to explain the age-old tensions and how consent was manufactured against the government of Zimbabwe.

    Those narratives should guide our discourse on race and economic relations in the country and chart a clear path to development and the restoration of the sense of community.

    Democracy is not an event, but a "conversation to be had" and if that conversation is not promoted democracy will remain utopian. After so many years of political acrimony, the democratic project sounds easy and blissful; but it is not.

    It is still as challenging today as it was yesterday. Our expectations should be restrained and controlled and realistic. But our hope should be maintained.

    The more I have listened to, and read, some of the alternatives to our economic development being proffered, the greater my sense of opacity. That shows how difficult the journey is going to be for the ordinary citizen and the political decision-maker.

    Many alternatives have mixed real issues with opinion and have been devoid of the appreciation of the present. Some of it has been horror vacui, trying to suck in everything to cover the emptiness.

    Sometimes in our desperation we identify with these ecstasies, but they are ecstasies nevertheless. We need real talk about the challenges confronting our nations, not cosmetic patchwork.

    Peace-building, and the accompanying value shift, is exacting, unglamorous, long-term work. It requires patience and virtue.

    Having treaded the hard road of peace up to this point, the political parties in Zimbabwe must now do the needful to ensure peace. It will take time and effort to bury their hatchets. All the parties sharing portfolios in the government need to be tamed so that they do not go around sending the wrong message to the people.

    They should hold meetings with their activist wings and convince them not to be involved in cudgels marring the overall march towards peace and prosperity.

    As the National Security Council Bill is being tabled, we should remember that there is no such thing as 'national security- if it fails to bring security to every citizen.

    G.W. Bush was heralded as a success in the war against terror by a section of America. But, when Obama came on the scene with the alternative, he was embraced with appreciation showing that American citizens never really felt safe and secure.

    A nation that is at peace with itself, is at peace with others. To be at peace with itself, that nation has to appreciate the nature of the challenges facing it and come up with proper social and political narratives to extricate itself from those challenges.

    The weapons of 'mass distraction' are in full force. Our conflicts are made more intractable if we do not begin to think as a nation.

    *Tendai Mauchaza is a Zimbabwean social worker based in Leeds, UK

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