The black man’s burden – Vince Musewe

via The black man’s burden January 9, 2014 by Vince Musewe NewsDay

The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the same political structures that we have blindly adopted since 1950’s.

Reading Martin Meredith’s book — State of Africa, has shocked me to appreciate that the pattern and results of black rule has hardly changed from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

We are such fools indeed, we never learn.

Black governments took over political power motivated by the passion to create more equitable and developed societies. Liberation struggle leaders came into power while promising to correct the wrongs of the past and to fight poverty and discrimination; that was their ticket to State House.

It worked to get them there, but it seems that, as soon as they did, they forgot why they were there and, more importantly, who had helped them to get there.

Virtually all of our leaders behaved in a similar manner once they moved into State house; they became arrogant and selfish in pursuit of personal wealth.

Liberation ideals became an inconvenient truth while those who fought with them were neglected.

Once they took over, and after getting used to the trappings of power, they all started to decimate their economies, starting with agriculture and then industry under the guise of black economic emancipation.

Political and business elites emerged overnight and had unfettered access to huge government contracts. While doing that, the country’s debts soared and became unmanageable; food shortages, poverty and unemployment increased while their currencies became worthless. Zimbabwe has not been spared from this burden.

Country after country, we see that all African leaders left their countries worse off. It is as if they all came from the same mother with one purpose in mind; to loot as much as possible.

They all oppressed their own people, justifying one-party state mentality, while they lived like kings. Black politicians and the elite acquired unimaginable personal wealth and abused State resources to entrench their interests. They deliberately stifled the media and any dissenting voices. They surrounded themselves with family and praise singers in an orgy of primitive accumulation. They ruled by instilling fear and not through earning respect. They centralised power while ensuring their safety through patronage, corruption and if necessary assassinations of those seen as threats.

Viable state enterprises established during colonialism became their playground to reward cronies, party officials including the army. As a result, the State enterprises became inefficient, unproductive while running huge public debts. Large infrastructure projects which were unsustainable were launched for the wrong reasons and were soon abandoned. It was more about prestige than economic development. Africa’s bloated bureaucracies still exist today in most of Africa; their role being to provide jobs, contracts and favours to kinsmen and political supporters.

From Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe, they all blamed imperialism as the root of all evil. They became insular and most of them were eventually ousted from office by their own followers who aspired to wealth and power as their leaders had once done.

The interesting fact is that almost all of these past leaders died broken men, lonely and melancholic; the fruits of their lives were similar and brutal.
Now, when someone like Julius Malema stands up and threatens to nationalise and do exactly what has failed in Africa since 1951 and gets applauded from the masses, it shows the sheer lack of the understanding and appreciation of history. African leaders created poverty and devastated the productive assets of their economies under the banner of nationalisation and empowerment of the masses.
The challenge for us is to break this pattern which, if left alone to persist will create the same results — poverty, hunger, patronage, waste and dictatorships.

It is important that we do all we can to prevent the emergence of personality cults, dictatorships and abuse of power. This means we must avoid political parties that are structured or operate in such a manner because they merely transfer their existing power relations into government structures once elected.

Political parties reward loyalty and popularity among other despicable behaviours, but these qualities do not result in good leadership. They tend to reward everything besides integrity and good leadership. These are then the very people we elect into office; no wonder why Africa is still so backward.

The idea of a one party State is totally unacceptable. Funny enough, all of Africa fell into the myth that having a singular political entity is better than multiple parties. This contributed to the widespread failure of politics to serve the needs of citizens. One party State mentality is bad for democracy and accountability.

Unfortunately, Africa is not learning from the past; our government structures and how we elect leaders continue to produce the same terrible results. The black man’s burden continues to be his thirst for power and inclination towards primitive wealth accumulation. Add superstition and witchcraft to this then you have the typical African leader; self-centred, ruthless, uncaring and fearful of change.

The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the political structures that we have blindly adopted from developed countries. Our political parties have failed to drive the inclusive development agenda throughout Africa, even in cases where the resources are in abundance.

In my opinion, it is necessary that we first change the structure of political parties and what they stand for before we can see different results.
The people come first!

Vince Musewe is an economist based in Harare and you may contact him on


  • comment-avatar
    Nyoni 8 years ago

    Vince that is our problem and why Smith tried to hang on. You have told it as it is. Thankyou

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      Mistakes have been made in the past. If people knew ,me included this was going to happen we would have done things differently. The time has come for Black Zimbabweans and White Zimbabweans to take a time out and access what has happened in the past, document it then take a shovel and bury it .Not the document as it is our history. It is time to look at ones self and say “is this what we really wanted”. It is time to rid ourselves of the demon that has dogged us for years.Not so long ago the English Monarchy ruled in England.If you so much as looked at the King your head could be chopped off or you would be sent to the colony (Australia now) never to see the motherland again. They sacrificed and persevered and now you can curse Cameron and you will not be arrested. If David Cameron commits a crime he can be arrested and charged.You can curse the ruling party and you will be protected. What I am saying my friends is that this era will end. I ONLY FEEL SORRY FOR THOSE WHO WOULD NOT HEAR AND THOSE WHO WOULD NOT SEE. I am Doctor do little but I wish I was Doctor do a lot.

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    Friends I know I have posted these lyrics before but I don,t think you will mind because they are so relevant.

    Come gather around people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone
    If your time to you
    Is worth saving
    Then you better start swimming’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changing.

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no telling who
    That it’s naming
    For the loser now
    Will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changing.

    Come senators, congressmen
    Please heed the call
    Don’t stand in the doorway
    Don’t block up the hall
    For he that gets hurt
    Will be he who has stalled
    There’s a battle outside
    And it is raging
    It’ll soon shake your windows
    And rattle your walls
    For the times they are a-changing.

    Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly ageing
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changing.

    The line it is drawn
    The curse it is cast
    The slow one now
    Will later be fast
    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is
    Rapidly fading
    And the first one now
    Will later be last
    For the times they are a-changing.

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    dayford 8 years ago

    Everything evolves and developes over time. The African situation reflects a Democratic process in its infancy often distorted by irresponsible leadership. Time will tell…this will change over time.

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    Maverickzw 8 years ago

    Changing “the structure of political parties and what they stand for before we can see different results” is a cop out. What needs to change is attitudes of individuals within the parties and within the population. As long as individuals see that involvement in politics is a route to wealth and power then the looting will continue regardless. At various times in ZanuPF’s history since Independence attempts have been made by the party to monitor the accumulation of wealth by its members. All of these attempts disintergrated. What is also required is an educated population who are willing to stand against the corruption and violence. Unfortunately those in power realise this so control the army, police and militia who instil fear into the population. To be very cynical about the “liberation struggle” it was never about bringing equality but about acquisition of wealth and power for a select group of individuals. From a pure economics viewpoint there is no reason for Zimbabwe to be in the situation it is in. It has/had incredible wealth that should have benefited everyone but has instead been destroyed or at best benefitted the few. To rewrite Winston Churchills quote “Never in the field of human conflict was so much taken from so many by so few.” Aluta Continua

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    Great article however many, many people have died for these Dictators accountability is well overdue.

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    What is even more surprising is the tendency for African countries to compound their issues even further and partner with other countries who have an even worse model. China comes to mind. For all the criticisms of ‘imperialism’ this is just continuation of the same but without any accountability. To their credit, the Chinese don’t even pretend to care about the average African and just continue down further the path of exploitation with the encouragement of African leaders.

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    dzungu 8 years ago

    Excellent article Vince, however I still have hope for our country Zimbabwe. My hope & optimism stems from the fact that I feel we have seen the worst in Zim & it cannot get any worse. I say so because VaMugabe has been so disappointing that whoever comes after him will not want to emulate or follow his policies & philosophy. All including Zanu will distance themselves from 33 + years of his reign & that being the case we can only start to move forward. Kuna va Mugabe I can only say you can still be heroic even @ this late hour- by letting new leadership take over & let the people & country move forward- which was the real reason we all fought & died for. Your Excellence – please do the right thing & let the people & country be free.

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    Murimi Wanhasi 8 years ago

    According to Vince,all African leaders are villians,past and present,dead or alive.Interesting.
    As for Juju,he might seem a bit eccentric now,missing it now and then,but he realises what black south africans will see 20 years(40yrs afta independence) frm now,that they are under economic apartheid.

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      Do you honestly believe 1 day africa’s leaders are going to stand up and say lets change for the better of everyone, and actually defend their ill gotten gains like murimi and defend an election freely , honestly and fairly.Why put all the effort in when the culture in africa is “ME FIRST”

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        Tawanda 8 years ago

        @ Tourist, your comment smacks of ‘I told you so’. There’s no place for that nowadays.

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    Richard 8 years ago

    Well written Vince. I think that all African politicians knew that good governance would never happen under their watch, so they used the plight of the poor black locally and internationally to garner support for a cause to line their greedy pockets. Where to now!

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    Murimi Wanhasi 8 years ago

    @Tourist.U just had to take a cheap shot didnt u?

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      Nothing hurts like the truth and everybody knows it including yourself. Cheap shot?????

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        There are little Mandelas out there. Some are in the crib, some are in school and some might still be in the womb. But I have no doubt that Zimbabwe will rise again.The spirit of Africa where we used to slaughter a chicken and offer a bed for the night to a stranded stranger. The spirit of Africa where we used to help our neighbors reap their crops. The Spirit of Africa where we never sold water to a thirsty person. Lots of people doubt that they will see this because they are so tired. Tired of quing for food.

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          Fallenz 8 years ago

          Doc, in some ways, it’s caused by the ebb and tide of civility in mankind… in so many regions of the world, people long for “the way things use to be”… when help for neighbors was commonplace, compassion for the less fortunate wasn’t a novelty, contentment came from the satisfaction that what was yours came by skill and hard work and honesty and the grace of God. In Zim, the tide is low because of bad men willing to intimidate, maim, and kill for the sake of maintaining power… and by good men doing nothing.

          Good article, Mr. Musewe.

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          Zhakata 8 years ago

          “…Hope is the worst of all evils, for it extends the torment of men…” [Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900)]

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    Nyoni 8 years ago

    We are first and foremost Zimbabweans. We must stand as one first before we can move forward. Let us now reflect on that for the good of all our peoples. We can not have children dying now when old people have alive . Who will look after them to. Let all our people begin to realise the true enemy. Write friends and tell it as it is.

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    Bunguse Tauyawo 8 years ago

    This whole 33 years and more that you are crying about are a necessary period of transition from one power base to another. This crying is all about “losing power” and nothing else. We will get to the ideal that Vince hopes for but we must walk the process and build the fundation. That’s all there is to this story.

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    I have come to realise it won’t be in our lifetime or even our childrens’ lifetime.

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    Clive Sutherland 8 years ago

    Zimbabwe has been damaged beyond repair, Zimbabwe has lost a whole generation of skilled people that will not be returning to Zimbabwe, these skilled and experienced people have mostly made new homes in countries all over the world and due to the collapse in Zimbabwe these skilled people have not been replaced. Zimbabwe has become a typical failed African State and most probably will remain that way, the Chinese will continue to exploit the situation to their benefit as well as the many opportunists who are prepared to climb in bed with a corrupt Government of the day and grease the applicable palms to make a quick buck, Zimbabwe is now seen as a lost cause only good for quick monetary gains in a hit and run fashion. very sad but this is the reality we see today.

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    Clive I am sorry that you have been defeated if you are from Zimbabwe. If you are not then I would like to remind you that part of Europe was in our predicament not so long ago. I am black and proud of it. We are going through some difficult times at the moment and I would like to believe that you are not hoping and praying that Zimbabwe stays this way. Contrary to what people think I have met and known some good white Zimbabweans who love their country and fly the current flag. I have also known some bad white Zimbabweans who think that blacks are good for nothing. We will prevail as Zimbabweans of all colors because God is on our side. No amount of negative thoughts will deter us. I am Doctor do little and I will do allot.

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      Clive Sutherland 8 years ago

      I am from Zimbabwe and I think we can all concede defeat when the entire sadcc supports the current situation in Zim, proved by their recent actions in recognising the recent elections in Zimbabwe! what chance does Zim have for change?

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    Fallenz 8 years ago

    I would joyously welcome a changing tide. Reality, rather than pessimism, says it is unlikely. As was well-stated previously, the struggle was never about liberty… it was about a nation seen as a prize to conquer and then strip of its wealth. Many were deceived to believe otherwise and support the bogus “cause”… and because they refused to believe the voices of reason that warned, all but the new elite now suffer more than ever before.

    The first thing to creating that hoped-for “changing tide” is for those deceived ones to swallow their pride and admit to themselves their naivety, to admit they chose the wrong path and supported the wrong leaders… leaders whose only loyalty was to their own bank account and lust for power.

    The current system is designed to perpetuate itself and its corruption, so continuing the current path and try to fix its failings is a futile way to any changing tide. Rather than reformation, the independence movement needs to start over. Leaders of integrity must step forward, and even sacrifice themselves by designing a system that leaves the power of governance in the hands of the people… Perhaps a multi-party system, with no party supported by the government, and fair elections assured by an independent police force, and court justice assured by an independent judiciary, and free information exchange assured by an independent news media.

    Key-word for a true changing tide is “independent”. The more any government is allowed to control, the more concentrated that power, the less freedom its people will ever have to exercise its will and govern themselves.

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      Fallenz I don’t think anyone could have put it better. With a lot of prayers and determination, and with people like you and others on this website I have no doubt that our dreams and aspirations will be realized. Not allot of people realize what confidence these kind of contributions bring, more so when we debate with those with different views and still show our maturity. The main thing is to keep our fellowmen who might not have this extraordinary method of communication which makes me feel I know you all and we are sitting around a fire talking.

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        Fallenz 8 years ago

        Perhaps we have sat around a fire together… Mt Darwin, Tsholotsholo, Binga…? Perhaps we have bounced along a sand road together in a tired old bakkie? Maybe we rode together in a chicken bus from Dete cutoff to BYO, or the night train to Vic Falls? Who knows. In any case, shared ideas by men of thought can bring many solutions, and we must keep on to find the best one for all, Doc.

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    Murombo 8 years ago

    Things will never be the same again for Zimbabwe. Who says attitudes are easy to change? What Zimbabweans are doing is the only option they have; living their lives outside of politics and continuing to be as resourceful as possible. Beating the oppressive and corrupt system that has become a culture of impunity is the only way out. There is still many good men, women and children in Zimbabwe that make life bearable. Look at the Anglicans and the wretched Bishop and how they overcame even when all hope appeared lost? Have faith and do your part as a citizen to not allow Zimbabwe to die. Be there for each other and encourage one another during these difficult times. Politicians by nature cannot be trusted. Trust yourselves.