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Without innovation Zimbabwean independence is an illusion

Children play at a borehole in Mbare township, Harare. Aid agencies are recording high levels of malnutrition and stunted growth in Zimbabwe. Photograph: Aaron Ufumeli/EPA via The Guardian

It is a fact that Africa’s political independence has failed the ordinary citizen; independence has not met many of its promises and expectations, and there are no signs that is about to change. Generations past fought hard for a politically and economically free and independent Africa yet the independent Africa today is not only less free, it is more oppressive and even more dependent on the East and West for basic commodities than the territory ever was during the colonial period.

First, let us make it clear that we do not condone colonialism, after slavery, it remains the worst system in the dehumanisation of black people and it has no place in human society. Here we make emphasis of the failings of the independent Africa; African governments have not improved people’s lives, the ordinary citizen is worse off economically and politically today than he or she ever was during that evil racist system.  

Our forebears desired for every child to have access to opportunity to be the best he/ she could be but Africa of today is filled with paranoid xenophobes who are threatened by diversity, difference, change, and fearful of losing political power and personal benefits associated with that.

We shall focus our conversation to Zimbabwe as direct victims of its political and economic failings. Throughout its independence history, ZANU PF’s Zimbabwe has become a dangerous environment for ethnic minorities and people with new ideas who think differently and attempt to change things.

Decades of lost opportunities cannot be recovered but let us look at the opportunities we can save. We want to be closer today to the dream nation than we were yesterday, but that is not going to happen when we lack the independence of creativity and innovation, when change is delayed merely to protect fragile egos up the chain of command.

Our goal is for citizens to be able to defend their local economic and political interests and succeed in doing so. Desire alone will not begin to alter our fortunes. To achieve that, we need to address key factors within our socio-political ecosystems. Endemic corruption, tribalism and lack of innovation have long been identified as Zimbabwe’s biggest handicap, and correcting these modifiable risk factors is where our energy should be concentrated.

Although here we make reference to independent Zimbabwe, we believe the expressed experience is shared across the African continent at large; Zimbabwe has regressed, where before independence cities supplied clean piped water, electricity and provided reliable transport to residents all year round, today ceremonies are held to celebrate the opening of a borehole in a township and residents have normalised poor energy supply, not to mention passable roads are a rare sight across the country.

Ruling liberation movements departed from the main development goals the day they acquired the keys to State House; corruption has turned countries into political party fiefdoms; the leadership has turned independence into an elitist and self-enrichment project and a living nightmare for the rest of the citizens; the gap between the haves and have nots has widened many fold because this is a regime where economies are only working for the elite and extracting wealth away from everybody else; in the case of Zimbabwe the middle class has been wiped away.

As alluded to in the last paragraph, the main problem has been the liberation movements; they have prioritised the concentration of political power and privileges that go with it on themselves, the connected wealthy and elite over principle and failed to create a conducive environment for innovation.

Not everything should be a political matter; indeed politicising creativity and innovation damages confidence and compromises decision-making about investment in ideas. Corruption is a cancer that eats away at citizen’s faith in the country’s institutions, it diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity and muscles out essential national investments.

The long-term damage of corruption is there for every Zimbabwean citizen to see; corruption has wasted the talent of entire generations and scared away investments and jobs.

If you desire something new, you have to stop doing something old. We need to accept that without innovation, our independence is dead. Innovation requires an innovation friendly space where people are allowed to be themselves, be both brave and vulnerable – this is a safe setting where human interaction and exchange of ideas takes place, where honest debate occurs, where transparency is encouraged, where diversity is celebrated, where conflict is addressed without fracturing communities and where fearless argument about ideas takes place.

Greater changes and development in Zimbabwe will start with a big vision and decisive small steps taking us there. Space has to be created for all citizens to participate in the development of their communities and country. Government needs to be humble in its execution but visionary and gigantic in terms of its aspiration. The ZANU PF government must learn to respect the fact that its power to govern is not drawn from its participation in active combat during the liberation struggle but from the people, and people must be central to all decisions about the developmental projects and international relationships the country forms. Development that does not reflect local culture and does little to address local needs is not development but a sham.  

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