"They who put out the people's eyes, reproach them for their blindness"-John Milton, English poet, author, Puritan and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England, best known for his poem Paradise Lost.
Something happened in May--the formation of the coalition government in Britain-that I wanted to comment on, but an engagement abroad, Cameroon's golden jubilee festivities, which included a very important conference on the future of Africa, took me away and prevented me from writing my column, so all ye fans of Beefs should forgive the prodigal son. I'm back.
In May, the "Mother Country"--do you remember the days when Britain was our "mother country"; well, the times have changed--but the one-time Mother Country got itself into a sweet tangle after the 6 May general elections in which no party had a clear majority to govern on its own.
But behold, it took just four days, repeat four mere days, for two parties--the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats--whose ideologies and raison d'etre are as wide apart as Zanu PF is from MDC in Zimbabwe, to narrow, if not forget, about their political differences and knock together, "in the national interest", a coalition government founded on a wideranging agreement on the way forward. The operative phrase was "in the national interest". "To govern in the national interest, not party interest" was the line that dripped constantly from the lips of Lib-Dem and Tory politicians during those four historic days. Are there any lessons that Africans can learn?
As I sat in front of my TV watching Nick Clegg, the Lib-Dem leader and now deputy prime minister, forever whining on the imperative to "govern in the national interest", my mind went to Zimbabwe. In that beautiful African country, it took a good part of eight painful months of stiff negotiations (from July 2008 to Feb 2009) to arrive at a workable coalition government for the country. In Britain, it took just four days!
Lesson number one: I hope Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC colleagues watched with rapt attention what happened in Britain in those four days. And they shook their heads! And asked themselves: "Jeez, why did we, sons and daughters of the soil of Munhumutapa, allow ourselves to be pushed around for eight agonising months by the same people who can forget their political differences in a mere four days and form a workable coalition to govern their country in their national interest!" The negotiations in Zimbabwe dragged on for eight excruciating months because Tsvangirai's side was more intent on listening to outsiders far away in Western Europe and North Africa. I am dying to see his face now, now that his "friends in the West" have shown him what "national interest" really means.
Compare and contrast: After the 6 May elections, British national interest was at stake. A government was needed to calm down the capital markets, else Britain's economic future would have been jeopardised. Enter common sense and patriotism! The Tories, no lovers of the Lib-Dems, were able to subordinate their narrow party interests and ideology to the grander national interest, and embraced the Lib-Dems, a minor party of not much consequence normally, to form a government that saved Britain from months of possible agony and economic trouble. And they did it without waiting for any foreigners to tell them what to do.
Tsvangirai may not admit it in public, but inside his head, he must have asked himself many times over the past two months: "If they can do it in four days, without anybody telling them what to do, why did I allow myself and my colleagues in Munhumutapa to be pushed around by the same British and their EU and North American counterparts for eight sorry months, with them telling me 'don't sign, don't sign, wait till the economy has hit rock bottom so you can extract more concessions'. If they can do it to protect their "national interest", why did they tell me to hold on, and drag Zimbabwe through the mud until the nation was absolutely down and out, before signing the coalition deal? …