The African nations that comprise the 2nd largest continent in the world have been aiming for prosperity in all sectors of society since the independence era of 1950s. Has much changed? Some argue no, others argue yes. In my opinion, the answer is all relative. Geographical location, Geopolitical importance, economics, cultural values, religion, health, and history are the key factors that determine the answer to such a question. There are arguments that claim that colonialism is also worth noting. However, that is a topic of discussion which I will not divulge into, yet. For this specific piece, I want to examine the current state of a specific country that has been in the news recently: Zimbabwe. The general history of Zimbabwe is not that different from that of the other 51 countries comprising Africa. However, there are key differences that have brought the country to its current state. The key issues that led to the occurrence of the events from the last 2 weeks are: colonialism, land reform, and African political traditions.
Why was there such uproar the past few months in Zimbabwe over Mugabe’s refusal to turn over power? Perhaps it is the displacement of natives from their wealthy, fertile lands by the black natives. Perhaps it is a very complicated statement to say the least. In my opinion, the answer is all relative. As are most issues that plague us day-to-day.
Recently I had a very heated discussion with a group of people about the current political climate in my native country of Ethiopia. There were prominent business men, students, blue-collar workers, and the unemployed amidst the crowd. We discussed the current food crisis, effectiveness of previous administrations, role of the upper-class and gender rights. We argued back and forth for several hours; sometimes it escalated into shout matches amongst the seven of us. However, in the end it was clear that there was no clear resolution; the progress that an up-and-coming business man from a prominent background sought was drastically different than the one envisioned by the young radical student. Progress for some meant support the current administrations usage of corruption, money laundering, and U.S. appeasement as a necessary towards widening the country’s foreign investment, expanding its export/import market, and deepening the pockets of the few and privileged. Progress for some meant criticizing the current administration meanwhile supporting the national church that remains silent in times of social upheaval and injustice and for the few of us left, progress meant reacting and implementing change.
Initially I remained quiet as the discussion progressed over time, mainly out of exhaustion, but also because this type of discussion is what I live for, what I studied, what I really know (but not limited to). In addition, I knew in this specific discussion, I would be the radical; the militant, the extremist, the feminist, the idealist, the Marxist, the socialist, etc I could go on and on about what labels you could tag to my shouts and cries of injustice. Personally, I don’t mind these titles. I think it suggests that you’re not afraid to think differently and more importantly you’re not afraid to commit and implement the change necessary to bring life to these words. And as I tried to gather my thoughts, feelings and frustrations at the comments made throughout this group discussion, one specific word resonated in my ears: prosperity.
What does that even mean? As it was blurted out of one person’s mouth because he was arguing that the country was prospering and things were better than they have been in hundreds of years, comparatively speaking, I thought about what the other 72million people thought of such a statement. Hell, even I agreed with him to some extent. Things were better in some ways and devastatingly worse in others. But then I removed myself from the circle and looked at everyone. The same person who made this comment was a prominent business man, whose wealthy well-respected father built the foundation for him to have the success he has today; person of his position is allowed the ability to reap the benefits of a corrupt government that poorly manages its national funds and schemes the world into giving it more “aid money” to fatten their pockets a little more as the poor and destitute are starving and ravaged by disease.
And how did they view me? Well, they saw me as the Americanized unknowing young radical who was too-educated and empowered, perhaps for her own good; a young woman who could never understand the way things were and would “always” be in African realm of politics. I was the outsider.
So at that moment, I became even more enraged and helpless than I already felt at the onset of the discussion.
And in my anger, I blurted out: Ignorance is bliss. And it is. Sometimes, it really is. But I pressed on, as in my eyes; it couldn’t have been that simple of answer for why no one addresses all of these issues.
So, I started shouting out questions to everyone, as to whether they voted in elections, they donated to charities, they adhered to international labor laws, they had food drives, sponsored a child, or helped fundraise to rebuild a school or clinic . I could go on and on what I thought they could do to give back. What was I met with? A mixture of murmurs and shouting, as everyone was grasping at an opportunity to either avoid my questions or completely dismiss me again as the ignorant-judgmental-slightly ethnocentric outsider. Completely unaware of the day-to-day life struggle in the city and countryside faced by the masses. And as the discussion progressed and they provided their own personal day-to-day problems of living under corrupt and difficult times, I realized that I too was feeding into the very ignorance I slandered their names with; that I was enjoying a little bit of this same bliss being here in the US.
So where did it go from there? Well, there was no real agreement met on anything except that things were different in Ethiopia, that whether life was better or worse was relative to each individual citizen. That even the very nature of how we engaged in this discussion is display of how African politics play out: great initiatives suggested but minimal to nonexistent cooperation and implementation occurs. It’s this idea that life goes on, and it really does. Whether the deaths of the masses are seen as a form of population control (pc) or a result of ineffective economic development policies seems irrelevant at this point. I share this story with you, not to rant on and on about what movement needs to develop, or what changes need to occur to create some utopian world, but rather to be a soundboard of thoughts, opinions, and initiatives.
As the author of this article, I didn’t intend to go on a tirade about the injustices of the world and how a revolution of sorts will be televised, because in my opinion, it won’t, (at least not all at once) because much of the world is full of talkers and not doers. Many speak of progress and desire for change, but yet they are the same people who don’t exercise their right to vote or even make the attempt to register. Many speak of ideals but fail to practice them in their day-to-day existence. We all are a part of this human chain linked across all seven continents; the relative prosperity felt in the favelas of Brazil, does determine and effect the standard of life in Accra, Ghana and wraps around all the way to Manila in the Philippines.
So back to the first statement regarding prosperity: yes, prosperity is relative. And yes, ignorance is bliss, sometimes. But this relativity is dependent on the type and manner of action and initiative we take towards that very progress and development we so desire. So experience, grow, and act, because if not, there’s no guarantee that you won’t meet the same fate as this guy: