IT is not possible to spend a couple of hours touring the USS North Carolina (one of the most decorated battleships of World War II and a marvel of engineering built over 80 years ago) without being reminded of the achievement gap between us and other nations, and the radical transformation of mindsets needed to make any headway in the war on poverty in our own nation.
The USS North Carolina is one of 165 battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines that have been decommissioned over the years and are now floating museums that are part of the United States' multi-billion dollar tourism industry.
After the US ended its Space Shuttle program, four of its orbiters were fought over fiercely by major museums that understood their economic and historic value.
In developed countries, functionally obsolete technologies (and buildings like cathedrals constructed centuries ago that can no longer be used for their original purpose) are turned into productive assets that generate billions of dollars for current and future generations. Meanwhile somewhere in Africa, there are people who think it's a wise use of their time to argue that the moon-landing never happened, and that Chiefs and traditional leaders must prioritize appeasing ancestors believed to be withholding rain above the implementation of irrigation projects to create food surpluses and jobs
It's remarkable how the economic impact of the Golden Gate Bridge that links San Francisco and the Northern California counties is not limited to the $152 million per year in toll revenue from the approximately 115,000 vehicles that cross it each day, but includes the spending of over 10 million people per year (an average of 27 000 per day) who visit the bridge from all over the world. Its really not just a bridge. It's an economy.
We must think of the value of these "obsolete" ships, spacecrafts etc in terms of the millions of patented parts they are made up of, and how much each of those parts and patents has and will continue to generate. Unfortunately in spite of our own education, a culture of orality persists in our country, making the kind of structured and systematic documentation and maximizing of value of intellectual property impossible.
That culture is represented by a man who ruled our country for 40 years not leaving behind a single book penned by him, while the copyrighted material written by others, including the "imperialists" he used to rant against at the United Nations earn them a handsome living.
Our contentment with being homo sociologicus (social man) who is more proud of identity and culture than being the rationalizing, utilitarian homo economicus has had tragic consequences. Frustrated by this, early Zimbabwean nationalist Thompson Samkange in 1924 challenged his fellow nationalists with a rather difficult question as recorded by historian Terence Ranger:
"What stops us black people from being like the whites? Are we not also men born with the spirit of manhood within us?"
Samkange might have been dismissed as a self-hater had his bona fides as a fighter for equality not been established. By all indications, Samkange's desire was to ensure that the struggle for independence and self-rule would not be reduced to a fight for subsistence rights, but that it would produce great works of entrepreneurship and innovation, a culture of great stewardship of resources, and sustained, objective and quantifiable improvements to the quality of life of the African people.
People who think like Samkange would not waste time on organizing futile marches against sanctions. Instead, they would find ways of running their countries and economies well and creating their own sanctions-busting industries. They would learn a thing or two from Tyler Perry, the African American media mogul who now owns the largest movie studio in America who believed that the best way to fight one's detractors is not by calling them names, but beating them at their own game.
There isn't much hope for our country as long as its presidium is made up of people who in 2007 (the same year there were remarkable breakthroughs in stem cell research, NASA launched three space shuttles and the iPhone was invented) spent $5 billion in taxpayers' money on a woman who claimed to have mystical powers to cause diesel to flow from a rock. Ironically, one of the leaders who believed the diesel mystic was a direct descendant of Thompson Samkange's.
Thompson Samkange's contemporary, Solomon Chavunduka was troubled by what he saw as the African's tendency to discontinue the journey of self-improvement, evidenced today by the ruins of hundreds of well-intentioned development projects that litter the landscape of African communities.
In the Prosperity Paradox, author Clayton Christensen describes the disheartening experiences of charities that had sought to attack poverty by digging wells in different parts of the continent:
"There are more than fifty thousand broken wells across Africa alone, according to a study of the International Institute for Environment and Development. In some countries as many as 80 percent of the wells were broken."
Our story is not just about the water treatment and reticulation systems we have destroyed, but the water wells that were dug to save lives that are now derelict because of a stewardship culture that expects the helper who dug the well to maintain it.
Our country's tragic regression in the last four decades of Zanu(PF) rule coincided with the global age of innovation which has generated tremendous wealth and well-being for other nations. What our leaders have excelled in is entrenching their tyrannical rule. They "enact unjust statutes and issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of fair treatment and withhold justice from the oppressed of My people, to make widows their prey and orphans their plunder."(Isaiah 10:1 -2)
It's important to understand however that the phenomenon both Samkange and Chavunduka refer to predates Zanu(PF). Clearly there is a culture that nurtures the political monsters that oppress us and the systems they create. It is strengthened by our religious and academic miseducation and our own traditions and practices. We can't free ourselves from those who take advantage of it to keep us under subjugation without being brave enough to be as "disrespectful" and as bold in challenging ourselves as Samkange and Chavunduka did decades ago.
Just so we get a sense of perspective: My father, who is 97 years old this year was two years old when Thompson Samkange made that statement. There was a cause then. There is a cause now!