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Value the national interest

08 Apr 2019 at 06:39hrs | Views
Since the days of the French thinker, Niccolo Machiavelli, the primacy of the national interest has always formed the basis of foreign policy, and has been the foundation of every country's strength or weakness.

I live in Australia, a country that is largely multi-cultural, but it is not difficult to identify and see the economic and political rallying point of Australians, diverse as the citizens may be culturally.

The more defined the national interest, the more acceptable it is to citizens, and the more the citizens rally to defend the said national interest. This is what makes the power of a nation, and it is the philosophy behind the popular saying, "United we stand and divided we fall".

In the absence of a defined national interest, it is hard for any country to rally its citizen towards one common cause, and it is safe to say Zimbabwe at the moment does have a national interest crisis, and that is why there is so much evident self-hate among us. Instead of having national pride we deride, hate and demean ourselves in a very telling way, even on social media.  

The concept of the national interest comes from the French term "raison d'état" and is based on the economic, political and cultural interest. What this means is that all governance processes and all political processes in a country should be in observance of the supremacy of the economic interest, the political interest and the cultural interest.

In International Relations, the realist school is founded on the pursuit of the national interest, and this is what makes it very difficult to see the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans in the US, when it comes to that country's foreign policy.

There is going to be an election in Australia in May this year, and listening to the Reply Budget from opposition leader Bill Shorten, one can easily see where the governing Coalition and Labour are both coming from.

The economic interest is the same, the political interest is the same; and what makes up the differences are priorities and policy modalities.  

Generally the Coalition wants to keep growing the economy and creating more surplus so there will be a filter down effect in the long term, and Labour wants to balance a growing economy with a humanitarian welfare expenditure regime targeting vulnerable people like cancer patients.  

In the United States, the two major parties can afford to differ on strategies of pushing the country's foreign policy, but cannot afford to fight over what that policy should attain, basically imperial spreading of capital from the US for the realisation of the maximisation of returns or profits.

That national interest breeds wealth for the US and whoever suffers along the way is treated as collateral damage.  

So we do not see the Democrats supporting Nicholas Maduro and the Republicans supporting Juan Guaido in Venezuela. We do not see the Democrats siding with the Russians, the Cubans and the Chinese over the Venezuela crisis.  

This piece is not about the US or Australia, but about Zimbabwe. Why is it that our political processes seem to be above the national interest? Why is it some among us can afford to betray the economic interest and call for sanctions to stifle the very economic interest we are supposed to be rooted on as a country? Why must a Zimbabwean ever think of helping to strangulate our own economy?

By the way, the economic interest is based on the primacy of survival and security as well as the pursuit of wealth, economic growth and stability. The question is, if one calls for any form of economic isolation of one's own country for whatever intended ends, to what extent are they destroying the power, status and reputation of the same country they purport to love?

This is when some will talk of burning the house to kill an intruding snake. We are reminded quite often that Zimbabwe used to be a shining jewel in Southern Africa, a power base that neighbours used to envy.  It is ironic that instead of being worried by the reported loss of that yesteryear status, some Zimbabweans are at the forefront of campaigning for more pain, even celebrating the devastating effects of calamities like Cyclone Idai.

We had some among us in the past celebrating the free fall of our currency when we still had the Zimbabwe dollar, and today they continue to celebrate any mishap with the RTGS monetary regime.  We have people who are happier when we have fuel shortages, and angry at any sign of economic success or revival, including even the mere painting or face lifting of Matapi Hostels in Mbare.  

Just how low can we sink as a people? This is the question. Why are we fighting each other so recklessly while trampling wantonly on the national interest, the core of our nationhood upon which we should be standing? The sad answer is power struggles — fighting for power for its own sake.  We have among us selfish politicians who will do anything to attain power for power's sake, politicians that hanker to rule us as opposed to governing us or leading us; those politicians who are driven not by principle or cause, but by a hero mentality.

We now have an opposition leader who cannot wait to be in power that he would rather stop the country from functioning until his personal ambition to be at State House is achieved.  Some will argue for the supremacy of democracy and fairness in the political processes. This writer does not think that such an argument, even if it were well founded, which it is not; can be an acceptable cause for one to betray the national interest.  

Let us assume one dishonest politician was grossly unfair to another politician in an election. Would it make sense for the unfairly treated politician to start campaigning for economic sanctions on the whole country so as to get even with his adversary?  

In 2000, the world saw a historic flawed electoral process in the US as the Florida follies unfolded and George W Bush stole the election from Al Gore in broad daylight. The Democrats did not immediately join hands with Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, China, Russia and each of America's rivals to make the US ungovernable for George W Bush? While one cannot condone democratic shortcomings as good political practice, it is equally unacceptable for one to use unproven perceived democratic shortcomings to undermine the national interest.

We had an election in this country in July last year, and one candidate disputed the election result and went to court. He lost the court case, and still failed to accept the election result, choosing to campaign for ruinous economic sanctions against our country, ostensibly to force the arm of his political opponent into submission.  

This writer is of the opinion that whoever calls for economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, openly or covertly, should be ashamed of themselves regardless of whatever reasons they may have for doing so. There has to be a deterrent law to ensure this practice becomes punishable at law.  

Morgan Tsvangirai openly called for sanctions in 2002 and he was widely condemned for that, but there are many others who have continued to lobby for the isolation of this our beloved country, Tendai Biti being the chief culprit.  So what do we have in the end? We have three groups of people around the economic aspect of our national interest. Firstly, we have those in the opposition who are ruthlessly disregarding the national interest and what our liberation legacy stands for in the belief that they are hitting President Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF hard. Secondly, we have the hypocrites who pretend to be fighting to protect our national interest by preaching patriotism and revolutionary ideology while siphoning all they can from our ailing economy. These are the archenemies of the people of Zimbabwe.  Lastly, we have the true patriots whose determination to protect the national interest is motivated by the political interest, and not by the pangs of hunger in their stomachs.

This writer mentioned the political interest at the beginning; and for Zimbabwe this interest is based on the ideology of self-rule and majority-rule. We are a country driven by independent nationalism.  This last group is the group that is wary of external interference in the affairs of the country, the group that believes that the land, minerals, water and vegetation within Zimbabwe are primarily for Zimbabweans to benefit.

These are people who stand for fair trade, fair investment, as well as fair sharing of the nation's wealth. As it is, the first group has attracted support from some in our urban middle class, or is it former middle class, as well as from our unemployed youths. The second group comprises people from some of our middle and upper class, or aspirants to these classes.  The last group is our majority poor, commonly referred to as peasants and urban lower class by some — the proletariat.  

While these groups are not necessarily categorical, they give the general pattern of how we have foolishly fought among ourselves while trampling on the heart of our nation, the national interest. The last part of our national interest is the cultural aspect. This covers our language, history, dress, beliefs, tradition, reputation, identity and self-esteem.

Many countries still treat this aspect of the national interest as being of paramount importance to their foreign and domestic policy. In Zimbabwe, those of us who may choose to push for the protection and defending of this part of our national interest run the risk of being labelled partisan, as some in our opposition have decided to politicise everything that threatens to unite the people of Zimbabwe, sport, tragedy and calamities included.

Our youths would probably be the worst culprits in betraying the cultural aspect of the national interest, as they embrace this disrespectful culture of rebellion. They are just frustrated, and perhaps justifiably so. We have let them down.  Now that we are once again in another era of talks about talks to do with talks about "national dialogue" between Zanu-PF and the MDC-A, or whatever it is the party Nelson Chamisa leads; it is time those who hope to attend such talks, (or are attending), were reminded that Zimbabwe, like any other country, has a national interest.  

That interest is not the legitimacy of Mnangagwa or lack of it. That would just be politics.  Democracy, change, human rights, elections, and all these things are important issues that should be discussed within the framework of the national interest. They do not in themselves have supremacy over our national interest; and let no one ever fool themselves thinking that they can successfully govern Zimbabwe after attacking and destroying its national interest. To lead a people, you need to have them rallying around a certain point, and that point is the national interest.

People cannot permanently rally around the concept of change; be it change of leadership or whatever it is that may seem to need to be changed. Even our Constitution is within the framework of our national interest.  

The economic sanctions imposed on us by the United States today are camouflaged in what the United States claims is our plight, and Washington can easily sanitise this brutal strangulation of the economy of a weak and small country by pretending they are sanctioning us for our own good, and on behalf of us all.

People like Tendai Biti will pick up the microphone and chant well done, keep up the good work, and that way it all looks legit and justified.  I think the time for introspection and self-judgement is now. We owe it to the world to show our own national pride as a people. Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!!


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Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.

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