When a people lose their dignity


The late Chinua Achebe

Godwin Chigwedere

“THE worst thing that can happen to any people is the loss of their dignity and self-respect.” This is the teaching that Chinua Achebe bequeathed to us.
The history of man-kind is that of struggle against an untenable situation.  In most cases the most difficult the adversity, the most creative the human mind becomes.  I recall Chinese kung-fu films that we used to watch as children.
In the films, the actors would jump up and down trees and rooftops like monkeys, in bizarre costumes, savagely kicking each other to death.
The films portrayed the Chinese as foolish mortals who ate flies and all sorts of obnoxious things. In western movies and capitals, the Chinese were mocked with the title “Peking, Peking”
Today, the Chinese have flooded even Silicon Valley as the brains behind the technological advancement of western corporates.
And they are not a people to be humiliated at every turn anymore. The Chinese have transformed their image into intelligent, dignified and self-respecting people.
I will not be preposterous and claim to know how the Chinese achieved this feat. I do not know.
What I know from my experiences is that Zimbabweans are at the stage where the Chinese were perhaps in the sixties and seventies or even before then.
Nations around us poke fun at us. And it looks like we are hell-bent on proving them right. You get the image of everyone holding the sledge hammer, busy battering the walls of Zimbabwean dignity to pieces while another group is cheering!
What is disturbing is that no Zimbabwean is engaging the question: “What is the problem?”
I mean, seriously and honestly interrogating the issue in an inclusive platform for real answers. Those that attempt to answer the question, do it dishonestly. Others deliberately change the question to: “Who is the problem?”
Take for instance the rot at the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA). Reflect on the medical aid societies. Remember the cat and mouse games between police and sex workers in the Avenues area. Think of many other challenges around you. And then come back to the state of affairs in the City of Harare.
As a conflict transformation practitioner, I prefer to tackle the question: “What” rather than “who” is the problem.
Here I know I ruffle feathers. Quite a number of people would rather point fingers at specific people for being the problem.
My experience is that while this approach sends the blood racing through our veins, we are less likely to find answers. It will only push us into picking up pieces of rock and throw them at the problem person.
The problem person will pick up whatever they can and hit back at us. We all know the consequences of violent confrontations. Coward? Perhaps yes, because my principle is constructive resolution of all forms of conflict.
Engaging the question “who” rather than “what” will not lead us to the answers we need. We need to shine the light of consciousness; on places where we are likely to find answers, so Marshall B. Rosenburg cautions us.
In Harare, the city fathers have decided to engage the question ‘who’ rather than ‘what’. As a result they have gone out in full strength to deal with the vendors. There have been injuries and there have been losses.  Some of the so called vendors have also picked up their own pieces of rock and fought back.
Whether this is actual rock or whether they are taking up legal action or other forms of recourse to realise their kind of justice, the truth is they are fighting back. This is what I referred to as dishonesty engagement. And because we have decided not to shine the light of consciousness; on the places where we are likely to find answers, resolution of this conflict is nowhere near the horizon.
The city fathers have used the same approach before with kombi drivers and ‘mshika shika’ operators. Hararians will remember innocent lives being lost, injuries sustained, damages and destruction to property and attendant traumas. This conflict has still not been resolved and kombis and mshika shika continue to run the show in the city centre.
In conflict transformation we use what is generally referred to as the Conflict Tree. What is fascinating about this tree is that if you divide a community into groups and ask each group to agree on what the problem is, what the root causes of that problem are and the fruits, they will come back with varying answers even if they are analysing the same problem.
I guess if we asked the residents of Harare to do the same, they would find this challenge equally difficult to resolve. I am sure, however, they would find it a lot easier to identify ‘who’ the problem is.
Unfortunately, when you don’t know what the problem is, you cannot resolve it. You spend your time barking up the wrong tree and still not achieve the intended result.
I am sure the city fathers and many other people still have the 1980 image of the City of Harare at the back of their minds. Yes, that was a city and we all miss it. But that city did not stand in isolation of other things around it. It was a result of functioning entities that altogether made a system.

It was part of a system. That 1980s City of Harare is gone. We don’t have it anymore. No city can stand apart from the socio-political and economic environment around it. It is like expecting a mango fruit to maintain its freshness long after the parent tree has dried up! It is being dishonest.
Now, imagine this man who lost his car keys in an alley. He decides to look for them under a lamp post where there was abundant lighting. When a police officer asked him what he was doing. He informed the officer that he had lost his car keys and was therefore looking for them. When the officer asked whether he had lost the keys under that lamp shade, the man replied that he had dropped them in the dark alley but because there was no light there he had decided to look for them where there was light. This, too, is dishonest.
This is what the city fathers have opted to do. It is so much easier but it will not resolve this issue. Neither will it resolve many others the city fathers are facing. I am not one for chaos, disorder and lawlessness. However, I feel the kinds of engagements we prefer to use are in themselves the antithesis of law and order.

They are dishonest. Let us come back home and be honest with each other. Let us reclaim our identity, not by battering each other up, not by flooding Silicon Valley with our best brains but by engaging here at home in a way that shows respect for self and others like the Chinese have done at home. Let us start afresh to restore our image as a people. Let us shine the light of consciousness; on places where we are likely to find the answers we so desperately seek.
I write for peace.
Godwin Chigwedere is programes manager with the Center for Conflict Management and Transformation. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at godwin@ccmt.co.zw