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The dangers of a long colonialism

17 Sep 2022 at 06:41hrs | Views
Walking the last mile

BY the time you read this piece, Queen Elizabeth II, late sovereign of the United Kingdom and titular head of the pizza-like Commonwealth, will be two days away from her final interment.

I condoled with the British Royalty following her demise at a ripe age. Pizza-like Commonwealth because the easy criterion of seeing it as a grouping of "former" British colonies under one reigning sovereign, no longer does for taxonomy.

Some pizza of a Commonwealth

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, is now a long member; Rwanda, the latest host of CHOGM, was part of the French colonial sphere.

At that CHOGM Summit in Rwanda, Gabon and Togo were admitted. Both did not come under British colonialism.

I will not risk a diplomatic row by further asking in what ways Gabon and Togo are more democratic than Zimbabwe, whose re-joining of the Commonwealth continues to be forestalled on grounds of failing the Club's democratic credentials and standards.

To do so would gladden the white world, and fulfill it's "divide et impera", or divide-and-rule philosophy, which the Romans invented, and which Britain's Lord Lugard perfected while working in West Africa, when he invented the kindred notion of Indirect Rule. I come from a school of thought where Africans should refuse to be set up, or set against one another in useless altercation which only profits the West.

Whatever the democratic shortcomings of these two latest members of the Commonwealth, we should never use a foreign organisation or its decisions to start a debate at our own expense as Africans. Let them enjoy their new membership.

Africa's Subliminal text

My interest is how Africa and, in particular, Zimbabwe, has reacted to news of the demise and burial of this sovereign of Empire.

Often, who we are subliminally comes through by how we handle tragedies and stresses of the powerful Other. More so when that Other's history imperiously intersected with our own at some point. Our reflexes betray who we are by what we fear, vicariously import into ourselves or by sheer defiant indifference.

When Zimbabwe made me proud

I must state upfront that my country, Zimbabwe, made me brimful with pride. It greeted the news of the demise of British Queen with telling nonchalance, treated it like some death of a known but distant potentate.

This was remarkably different from the way other African countries reacted, principally those which once fell under Britain's colonial thraldom.

A notable number of them declared many days of mourning: some 10, others from the day of the announcement of her death until interment! In our case, we just acknowledged, condoled with the Royal Family, including signing a book of condolences at His Majesty King Charles III's Mission here.

Flying national flag at double half mast?

About the same time, or more accurately soon after the Queen's demise, we lost Brigadier-General, Charles Kaneta, our national hero. Flags immediately went on half mast in his honour. I dread to imagine how this would have played out had we declared several days of mourning for the British Queen.

Something like pulling our flag half-down for the Queen, herself a symbol of British imperialism, and then pulling it another half further down – right to the ground – for General Kaneta, himself a hero and veteran of anti-colonial struggle! Which would have meant a country with no flag flying for the duration of the double mourning!

Or the other way: getting these two polar characters to share the same symbolism in our one flag of Independence, as it flew mournfully at half mast. The same flag the Queen symbolically dislodged and replaced with a Union Jack, to proclaim and make us her colony; the same flag Kaneta risked life and limb to get it up again, and to flutter gayly in air of a free Zimbabwe of his first love! That would have been invidious, and needlessly so. It is always good and elating to have your principles as a nation straightforwardly right and clearcut; you do not get ensnared into, and enmeshed by a concatenation of unexpected events of contrapuntal significance, to borrow a word from the world of music.

Importing a funeral

I have no beef with African Governments which chose to mourn with, and in some cases, to mourn more than the bereaved British. That was their funeral, literally. My beef with those Governments is when they sought to make their citizens feel bereaved, feel sad, on account of a faraway death of a symbol of an occupying power which traumatised their societies for over a century.

It is not fair to import and impose a funeral in my compound which is enjoying fullness by way of membership, and happiness it rarely gets. We die a lot here in Africa, without the British Government, let alone its Royalty, betting an eyelid of grief. Should our governments, so wont to kowtowing and exhibiting demeaning obeisance to the British Monarchy, even in death, force us into vicarious bereavement, turn us all into vicarious mourners?

Confirmation on sanctions

The Zimbabwe Government took a very principled position. Until yesterday, it was not going to even sign a book of condolence.

How could the President of Zimbabwe who is under British sanctions, step onto British soil - which is what the British Embassy here represents - merely to sign a condolence book for a dead Queen?

Luckily, the lady at the helm at the Embassy had to clarify that the President is not under sanctions anymore, and could fly in and fly out of the United Kingdom at will, like any venerated visitor! It was only then a decision was taken to sign the book of condolence at the British Embassy! You make me proud Zimbabwe, my country; you stood on principle and secured a huge concession from the jaws of death.

The day Coltart cried

How did the Zimbabwean society react? It is very difficult to summarise without being reductive. I am not too sure who and how many more David Coltart represented. He "cried" for the dead Queen, to whose regal dead body he showered with plaudits, heaped his own regrets. Well, Coltart fought for the retention of a tip of the Queen's Empire, rebellious though that tip was. He lost the fight, meaning he can only hanker after the colonial halcyon days, which will never come back except in the form of feelings of nostalgia. If the white part of our community also mourned, it did so discreetly, without any detectable public spectacle. That makes such grief private; never a national issue, in which case it cannot concern us here.

Did Chamisa sign the book?

Interestingly, Douglas Mwonzora went to pour out his heart on the page of condolences. I do not know what he said, but he went, presumably representing a tendency in the opposition.

As for Chamisa, there is no public record he signed the book of condolences. But I am sure he did, in the dead of the night, well away from the madly watchful nationalist crowd.

Spoiling a happy day

But there is something which happened, which I think allows a peek into an aspect of the national mind, vis-a-vis the British Empire, its traditions and its once-upon-a-century African underdog.

Thursday 15 was the President of Zimbabwe's Birthday. Happy Birthday, Mister President; may the good Lord grant you many more years, in the process ensuring we are properly and progressively led by those who deserve to sit on the throne. The President was in Angola, to witness the inauguration of the re-elected Angola President. Against a happy birthday and an equally happy inauguration, someone decided to spoil the fun, or so they thought.

Poorly executed prank

A letter was composed, and then computer-generated under a pilfered crest of Buckingham Palace. An equally pilfered signature of a staffer was pasted at its bottom. Written in very bad English, the letter still insistently purported to come from the home of English and its King. The import of its message was to turn down a supposedly self-solicited invitation from Zimbabwe, requesting that the President of Zimbabwe attends the Queen's funeral service and burial!

A few gullible readers fell for the prank, which soon got exposed for what it was/is: a poorly composed and executed prank! I have already revealed its poor English, ironically coming from a writer representing the acme of Englishness. I, too, revealed the forged crest and signature which, tellingly, had no Buckingham seal to authenticate it.

Propaganda versus propriety and protocol

Then you have a whole host of protocol issues which begged. It was quite amateurish to expect a Nation which showed nonchalance over a death, to suddenly plunge itself into a stance of deep mournfulness, so deep as to accost for an invite and physical attendance by its Head of State. Or to expect Buckingham Palace to communicate its disfavour to such unseemly accosting by a foreign government on social media. Propaganda and protocol simply clashed disastrously! And then Cc the letter to other imagined interlocutors! It should never be lost upon the reader we know who loves the letter C! Clearly the prankster is a consummate amateur with no clue how sovereigns communicate!


 off the wall

But the real bombshell was yet to come. Disgusted by this fake letter, the British Embassy disowned this work of monumental awkward fakery.  It went further to disclose that the President of Zimbabwe had in fact been invited to attend the Queen's funeral!

The Office of the President wasted no time in confirming the invite, and in disclosing who would stand in for the President whose prior schedule required that he set off for New York, America, on the day of the Queen's funeral, to attend the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA. The whole propaganda effort collapsed so spectacularly, so embarrassingly. But that's a small tragedy.

Worrisome predisposition in national psyche

For me the big tragedy was a certain predisposition in the national psyche which made such a prank conceivable and worth trying in the first place.

In other words, there is a part of us which expected Zimbabwe's participation at the funeral at the highest level.

And what is more, an expectation that an invite for such participation would bring glory and consequence to our stature as a nation, a people and a country!

Or the obverse: that our lack of invitation and our absence therefore at this all-important funeral and burial amounted to a demeaning tragedy for us! Some you-are-important-by-whose-funeral-you-are-invited-to-attend syndrome!

Additionally, that if the President of Zimbabwe is not invited, there is political and propaganda capital to be milked out of such a snub! It is this which makes me despair as a mere donkey.

That in donkey world, we should feel inadequate, shunned and ashamed if we are not invited to Uncle Lion's funeral at his den? Chaff-eating donkey though I maybe, I still warn you Zimbabwe: beware of long colonialism my brother! It persists long after its tenure!

Source - The Herald
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