Mugabe’s Inconvenient Truth
I’m always amused at the indignation Jamaicans demonstrate whenever the truth is spoken about our nation’s realities from beyond our shores. You will remember my defence of Rihanna’s “Man Down” video, and its depiction of Jamaican culture and society. This time I’m compelled to agree with Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, in his recent pronouncements on Jamaica, at least in part and in principle. While there were sweeping generalisations in the 88 year old’s comments, we should not be quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is a certain truth behind his statements, inconvenient though it may be.
Robert Mugabe has been the President of Zimbabwe since he expelled Europeans from that country in 1980. Mugabe first served as Prime Minister from 1980 – 1987, and he has been President since then. Under Mugabe’s leadership, Zimbabwe has been plagued by chronic social and economic hardships. Zimbabwe is one of the only, if not the only, country in the world classified as having super/hyper inflation. The situation is so severe that the country has a $1,000,000,000 note; I have seen the note on a recent trip to Cork, Ireland. The young lady who showed it to me, a national of Zimbabwe, revealed it could only buy a half loaf of bread and two eggs. Besides economic hardships, the country is burdened by social unrest, political corruption, diseases and various other ills. Mugabe has consistently earned for himself international condemnation and calls for him to step down as leader.
While giving a public lecture, the controversial leader, who was awarded the Order of Jamaica (OJ) in 1996, is said to have challenged his people not to take the path Jamaica has taken. According to Mugabe, “In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke marijuana, men are always drunk and universities are full of women. The men want to sing, and do not go to college. Let us not go there.” Now, the first reaction is to be angry, naturally. How could a leader of one of the worst countries in the world launch such a blistering and unprovoked attack on Jamaica? What’s more, Jamaicans have supported Mugabe in the past, many of our artistes giving concerts for the leader and Sizzla even celebrated him as a good leader and one of his “fathers from Africa”. After our anger has subsided, we need to look at the situation and ask ourselves, is there any truth to Mugabe’s claims? I conclude there is.
You see, the chronic and deplorable situation in Zimbabwe does not invalidate Mugabe’s assessment of Jamaica. While we would ideally like Mugabe to abide by the time honoured “take the beam out of your own eye before you attempt to remove the spec from your neighbour’s”, the truth is that Mugabe is not a man of principle, he is a tyrant. We shouldn’t expect any sort of fairness or gratitude from him, we have to move beyond that and look at the reality. First of all, do our men smoke marijuana? Yes. Do a lot of Jamaican men partake in this pastime? Yes. Do our artistes and ordinary Jamaicans repeatedly call for the legalisation of marijuana? Yes. Do our nationals argue police should “low di yute dem wid di spliff and guh tackle real crime”? Yes. So while Mugabe is wrong that we have the “freedom” to smoke it (the practice is illegal), the principle behind the observation is correct. Many of our men, and I’d venture to say the majority, especially in the lower classes, celebrate the smoking of marijuana and would rather it legalised.
Secondly, universities are full of women. I have ignored the latent sexism in the comment, because I don’t believe we can expect better from him. Still, the comment rings true. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga revealed that the ratio of female to male on the UWI, Mona campus was 80:20. Again, Mugabe is not wrong. The vast majority of those enrolled in universities on our island nation are females. What’s further troubling is that only 4% of our population is reportedly matriculating to university, and perhaps 1% of that is male. Jamaica is facing a serious issue where male marginalisation is concerned. Many of our young men have indeed abandoned the idea of education, in favour of the quick money of being an “artiste”. Take a look at your timeline on Twitter, how many DJs are there? How many young men do you know waiting for a “buss”? Our society has elevated the “music ting” and our boys are moving towards that instead of towards education. This is particularly true of inner city young men who emulate our dancehall artistes. Now of course the situation in Zimbabwe is the same, perhaps much worse, but Mugabe is still correct in his assessment. I repeat, Zimbabwe’s realities do not invalidate our own.
I think what we should allow it to do is spur us to a higher purpose. As Jamaicans we should work at ensuring that no tyrant, no country in the world should be able to make those comments about us. Instead of arguing that Zimbabwe is worse than us, which I believe suggests a sort of complacency about our nation’s realities. In fact, a friend of mine commented that he would have felt better about the comments had they come from the Trinidadian Prime Minister, and I’m sure many of us share this opinion. If a country that was better off than us made the comments, we would perhaps be more comfortable. That is not acceptable. We should begin to confront our problems head on, use Mugabe’s attack on our national pride to become the Jamaica that can stand to scrutiny. Finally, the fact that Mugabe is a tyrant who leads one of the worst countries in the world does not discount the truth in his statements. We cannot, and should not ignore him because his country is in the situation it is in. I do not deny that his comments invoke anger and disbelief, but I’m just saying once the anger has subsided, perhaps it is time to face Mugabe’s inconvenient truth.