Wednesday, 16 March 2011

It's happening again - Zimbabwe

Zim has been a little calmer in the past couple of years. It hasn't gotten that much better but at least it hasn't been quite as bad as it was. 'Not quite as bad' is a positive. It's moving in the right direction. That's what we aim for here. Not what we aim for, but we're pretty happy when we reach it. We get excited when a convicted fraudster whose "medical parole" has made a mockery of the justice system is rearrested. It's exciting. It's a change. When an African election is happening, we hold our collective breath and breathe a sigh of relief if there isn't violence. Because we anticipate the worst. We're pleasantly surprised when leaders take a moral stand against Gaddafi. We hope that something can be salvaged when countries are ravaged by drought or floods, again. This is realism.

Too often, it is confused with stupidity. Perhaps it is because so many foreigners who come to Africa are idealists. We often don't talk about the ideal. This doesn't mean we don't know it's out there. But we live in the real world. We live in a reality where lots of people are poor and unemployed, HIV infection is high and growing, governments are not necessarily efficient and economic policies generally don't help most people. We're not resigned or pessimistic, we work tirelessly to improve things. We don't necessarily work in the way you'd like us to. Quite often, this is because there are things that you're not aware of - context, history, things left unsaid. There are lots of things left unsaid. Always. And sometimes things are said which we, both speaker and hearer, know to be untrue or unlikely. This is the way it is done. It frustrates and irritates you. Don't try and change it before you understand. This is not a gentle land.

The unity government in Zimbabwe was never a unified government. The situation wasn't fixed in the sense you think of it. Things weren't made okay. Things can't be 'made okay'. Namibia has been independent for 20 years - things are still not okay. Malawi is facing serious challenges. Things are never really okay, when the underlying reality is poverty, disease, desperation and fear. ZANU-PF is determined to have an election this year, so it's happening again. No, don't oversimplify. Don't pretend that it is a simple matter of human rights and that "someone should go in there and make them stop being violent". Or that South Africa should just go in there and knock it off. Diplomacy is complicated, whether it's the US and China or South Africa and Zimbabwe.

I wish there was some way I could help. Not get involved in the politics, not stand in the way of the violence, just help the people who are struggling. Crops will probably fail this year, because rains came at the wrong time, and the country may not have enough forex to import food. Health systems will also take strain. So much to do. It's not unexpected or shockingly surprising. It's just happening again. And things need to be done to deal with it.

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