A story is told of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe back in April 1980, just after he had resoundingly won his country’s first election to become prime minister. It is said that after he had formed his government and installed it in office, he received a delegation of two white officials who he had met in torture dungeons when he had been a “terrorist.”
It is said that Bob looked up from his files to welcome them and asked them what had brought them, to which they answered that they had come to tender their resignations, because, they said, they knew what they had done to him “back in the day” and knew there was no way he could trust them to work under the new government.
The new prime minister just laughed and said to them something to the effect that he had seen how they had treated him when he had been a “terrorist” and he wanted them to continue with their work, which he had seen.
Fast forward to last month and Hakainde Chikilema (HH) taking over as Zambia’s brand new president, proceeding almost immediately to purge all the ranks of military, police and security forces of all the top brass who had served under his predecessor, Edgar Lungu.
There is an obvious mismatch here: The first case involved officials of the old minority regime, clearly and intractably anti-African colonial officials, while the second one is of people who had served under an independent African state established since 1964. How could the former be more trusted that the latter?
The answer could be discomfiting, but I will give it a try. The Smith regime was that naked, transparent settler-colonial set-up whose only raison-detre was the continuation of the racial subjugation of the majority of the majority of the people of Zimbabwe, and about which there was absolutely no pretence as to the will of the people. So, if it imprisoned thousands, killed many and tortured others, including Mugabe himself, that was its job. These were honest people working for an unjust system.
Compared to the colonial Rhodesian security forces, the Zambian security forces who were doing what the colonial security agents had done before them were dishonest thugs who were killing the very people they were supposed to protect, the very people who had ostensibly put them in power.
It is a sad reality with which our countries are forced to contend. At the point of “independence” all our post-colonial states inherited the old instruments of our former masters wholesale, unreconstructed, except for the colour of the skin of the oppressor.
So the old oppressive colonial laws were kept on the statute books, sometimes made even more obnoxious, to deal with new challenges that were brought to the fore by the new realities of fragilised tribal states.
It is thus that most of our rickety states established in the 1960s— and those which came on the heels of, ironically, heroic liberation struggles — are most identical in their barbarity and thievery. They are technically at war with large chunks of their countries where their ethnic groups do not have the majority, and their principal activity is stealing the natural resources of their countries. They are very hard to distinguish from the erstwhile colonial oppressors, except that they are mostly black, like most of their people.
Now, in our concrete situations, how does a country organise political competition so that the formation that manages to convince the people to vote for it forms the next government? In very few dispensations in African countries will this be allowed, because incumbents will do everything in their power to make sure those who are on the outside never come in.
They will rig elections using all the measures that subterfuge can invent, including disenfranchising whole groups of people, declaring large numbers of contestants disqualified, corrupting all the electoral processes, or simply stealing whole elections and running with them into the nigh.
And who does that for our rulers? “Security,” a term loosely used, but which includes all manner of thugs in private militias, who soon abandon even that pretence of serving the state and become fixers for the person who controls the Treasury, and pays them
That is why I have doubts even with HH as he kicks out the crew he found in place in Lusaka, as I suspect that, in short order, he will find himself surrounded by his tribal boys and girls, who will have their “It’s our turn to eat” on their minds. Some observers have pointed out that at his inauguration there seemed to be indicators that he wants to do things his own way, ignoring State structures and processes, and that could spell problems for him very soon.
Our states and their structures are definitely fickle, feeble and fragile. But they are all we have; the thing to do is strengthen them, not strangle them. The developed states of today have been constructing themselves for the past so many decades, even centuries.
If new rulers arrive on the scene to wipe out everything done by their predecessors, we’ll become perennial beginners, with nothing to show after a few centuries.
But, in the case of Hakainde, if the plan is to set up a private militia right from the get-go, then the die is cast, early.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]