As a mostly white person, I have decided that I would like to be the next colonial occupier of Zimbabwe. It’s a great country-fertile land, fabulous people, rich mineral resources. I think I should be able to set up operations fairly quickly and I love to tell people what to do. So my life’s ambition to be a benevolent dictator will be satisfied far quicker than I ever dreamed possible.
I always thought that to establish said benevolent dictatorship, I would have to buy a private island and import my friends to serve as my minions. So imagine my surprise at reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times last week where he reports that apparently every Zimbabwean he spoke with really wishes Britain, the former colonial power, never left.
In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.
First of all, Mr. Kristoff doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that foreign journalists have been allowed back into Zimbabwe for nearly a year. While said journalists are advised to operate with caution, and there have still been hiccups, the whole “cloak and dagger/new passport/kids as camouflage” routine was a tad overkill. Things aren’t great in Zimbabwe, but let’s not exaggerate the situation.
Second, Mr. Kristof admits to speaking to no government officials and he “can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.” I’m pretty sure, however, he didn’t bother speaking to any of the members of Zimbabwe’s civil society fighting for changed circumstances. Perhaps the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise who were arrested today protesting poor service and exhorbitant rates of the electric service. Maybe the lawyers of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who promptly showed up at the police station and secured the release of many of those detained today. How about Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, kidnapped and tortured for her efforts to hold the government accountable for its abuses. I bet every single one of them would gladly step aside and let me take over because I could do the job so much better than they.
I appreciate that Mr. Kristof chose to highlight these remarks as a way to sensationalize the situation in Zimbabwe because he has a job to do selling papers. The rest of his commentary about the West focusing on white farmers at the expense of black laborers, the state of the medical and education system and the need for free and fair elections are all accurate statements. But the reader is initially and predominantly captured by this idea that Zimbabweans feel that if the white people had never given up power, things would all be better, disregarding the thousands of Zimbabweans fighting on their own to improve their country.
So while Zimbabwe is a bit tattered around the edges, her will is strong and her beauty is evident. So I will gladly resume colonial control and begin my benevolent dictatorship. All the civil society leaders mentioned above and Zimbabweans in general know where to find me when they are ready to cede their struggle. Until then, I will continue my efforts to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and help tell their story without unnecessary dramatic flourishes.