More than a week ago, I attended the Netroots Nation 2011 conference. I had the privilege of interviewing Tim DeChristopher and Lt. Dan Choi. Both DeChristopher and Choi are brave and courageous individuals but not as brave and courageous as Zimbabwe feminist blogger Delta Ndou.
Here in America as part of the Washington Foreign Press Center (FPC) reporting tour on Blogging for Social and Political Change, Ndou had the task, as she describes in a blog post, of deciding whether to “silently endure whatever remarks were made about Zimbabwe (which remarks would naturally reflect on me) or whether [to] stand in defense of [her] country and consequently in defense of [herself].”
She had to bear the burden of talking to Americans (who likely had no clue where Zimbabwe is located on a map let alone anything about the social or political culture/history in the country). When talking, she had to choose between displaying “fierce patriotism” or “a desperate desire to repudiate and disassociate” herself from Zimbabwe.
I heard Ndou deliver a keynote speech at Netroots Nation 2011. Her personality came through. There was something authentic about her. When she declared, “When I write, nobody can shut me up,” and added, “I blog because I know I cannot be ignored,” her passion and spirit resonated with me deeply. It reminded me of why I have always had a special place in my heart for anyone who comes from any country on the Africa continent.
Unlike people here in the United States, rarely do you meet someone from an African country that is afraid to defend freedom and actually wage a battle or struggle to reclaim dignity, liberty or rights in society. Americans just think they’ll go out and vote and it will all get better. We buy into the idea that you can export democracy and either people will get it and become democratic or they won’t. If they don’t, they are ungrateful or a culture incapable of understanding democracy. And, we Americans assume our model of democracy is the only model for a just and properly civilized society.
But, as we’ve seen with Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans, there is a conviction and dedication to struggling for justice and liberation. In countries like Morocco, Sudan, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Cameroon there are our movements that seek radical change in their country. Many of these countries have young leaders with passionate minds like Delta Ndou and are taking steps to correct injustice.
Africans have roots in a history of colonization. White Europeans colonized Africa.
Americans have roots in a history of colonization too. We colonized America and drove the Native Americans from their land.
That may be why a person from Zimbabwe would have such a starkly different perspective than an American. Zimbabweans (especially black Zimbabweans) have historically been expected to be subservient to a colonial, white power structure. We Americans (especially whites) have been able to throw power around and get anything unless a minority challenged the colonial nature of white power.
Ndou participated in a panel at Netroots Nation, “Changing of the Guard: Youth Leading Democracy.” She was gracious and granted me some time to talk to her after the panel.
I noted that during her keynote she mentioned that people all over the world had a lot of stereotypes about Zimbabwe. I asked her if she could tell me about what some of them might be. She gave me a look of pity and disbelief and said, “Okay, but you’re going to have to bear with me. This is going to be a bit long.”
Her answer was a narrative of the recent history of Zimbabwe told with great energy and genuine candor.
One of the things that Zimbabwe has received a backlash for is the landgrabs that that took place some years ago when war veterans just invaded farms and took over. That incident, I think, in many cases it has been reported without giving a background or a context to what happened and why it happened and what led to that.
She explained that after Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 the British promised Zimbabweans a land redistribution program in ten years. Why? Because 2,000 white people owned 70% of the land and a population of 13 million owned 30% of the land, most of it not arable.
I’ll stop there and let Delta finish the story for you in the vibrant way she communicates it in the video.
She ends saying, “Americans have a sense of justice and fairness so it always baffles me that they don’t understand the issue is the land, not Mugabe.”
Ndou’s blog can be found here – It’s Delta.
After you watch the video, read her take on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
My stay in America presented me with numerous opportunities and platforms to correct a few misconceptions about Zimbabwe and it was gratifying to realize that my views found a receptive audience in the persons of senior, high-ranking US Government officials because the meetings had an exciting no-holds-barred atmosphere that allows for candid dialogue.
It was this atmosphere of candor that allowed me to quiz the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale on the great amount of blame that I felt America should take for the systematic demonizing and distortion of Zimbabwe and its image internationally that has prevailed in recent years.
My query had been prompted by the fact that she had informed us that, “US Diplomacy involves making efforts to reach out and strengthen relations between the US government, its citizens and people all over the globe. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton appreciate and understand the importance of engaging people and having conversations with them that will move us forward. They are both exemplary by going out and listening and learning and sharing ideas with people everywhere”.
I had wondered whether either President Obama or Secretary Clinton having understood the “importance of engaging people and having conversations with them” had ever held such dialogues with President Mugabe prior to kicking off their administration’s foreign policy by declaring that the US Government intended to extend sanctions in Zimbabwe.
I wondered whether they had afforded President Mugabe the simple courtesy of hearing him out before falling in with the stance assumed by the Bush administration and being aware of the fact that President Obama had given Prime Minister Tsvangirai an audience – I wondered why the same invitation was not extended to President Mugabe – if only to hear both sides of the story.
I wondered too, how President Obama or Secretary Clinton could then authoritatively comment on or form opinions about President Mugabe when they had never even met with him, spoken to him or engaged him in anyway.
I wondered all these things because it is my strong feeling that I will not give credit to the views or opinions anyone expresses about on the basis of hearsay when they have never once sat down to have a dialogue with me.
In my view they become unqualified to comment by virtue of their ignorance of the subject matter – in this case the subject matter would be me.
We Americans often wonder what to do to correct the deeply entrenched problems in American society. I don’t think we need to look any further than young people like Ndou. They’ve been fighting oppression for decades and know what it means to suffer and how to fight to be free.