How can we move from poverty to affluence?

It is difficult to believe now, but the truth is that the citizens of all the developed nations used in their past to suffer under repressive governments, just as almost all African citizens do today. At the time, their situation was the same as yours is now: a small elite getting all the wealth and having an opulent lifestyle while the great majority of the population was in extreme poverty with never enough food, many in slums as bad as any in Africa, very poor education and little medical support. Although very few governments were as bad a Mugabe and ZANU-PF, winter in some countries could make living far worse than in Africa.

Thabo MbekiThe reason I say this is because Africans often think – or even say – ‘It’s alright for Westerners because they never had it as bad as us’. Actually, the truth is, given poverty in northern European countries or given poverty in Africa, most people would choose Africa.

So what changed in the West? How did Westerners go from poverty and repressive governments generally as bad as in Africa today, to their present affluence and quality lifestyles?

Africans often think their governments must have done it. But no. The answer is the opposite because their governments were no more interested than yours in taking their citizens out of poverty. The difference is Western citizens realised that, but they also realised something perhaps even more important: the opposition political parties were also not interested in taking them out of poverty!

Africans don’t realise that, and that is why, wherever you go in Africa, whenever one corrupt, repressive government is taken out of office, it is almost always replaced by another corrupt, repressive government. Sometimes, the new government is even worse than the old.

So the Western public realised that, if they wanted a better life, if they wanted to share in the wealth of their countries, it was up to them to take control because they knew no one else was going to help them. They also understood how citizen power works, that ‘One drop of rain achieves nothing. But enough drops of rain will create a mighty flood that carries all before it.’ Africans don’t understand that – or, at least, not enough of them do. And your opposition political leaders and parties certainly don’t understand that.

So the only reason – the ONLY reason – why Western citizens now have such good lifestyles is because they got together, overwhelmed their governments with a solid, united front and forced them to do whatever was necessary to take the majority of their citizens out of poverty and into affluence.

Conversely, the only reason – the ONLY reason – why the great majority of Africans are still in poverty is because they have never managed to do that.

For exactly the same reason, the ONLY reason why Mugabe and ZANU-PF are still in power is because they haven’t been presented with a solid, united mass of citizens opposing them.

The difference between Africa and the West is that Western citizens exercised their citizen power. African citizens have just as much power as Western citizens do, but they don’t realise it, so they don’t exercise it.

Citizen power is not the same as having the vote. In all African countries, as in Zimbabwe, all citizens have the vote. But that does not stop them from having governments that oppress them and keep them in poverty. In fact, Mugabe and ZANU-PF are in power despite losing an election. And many experts are very sure that if they lose the 2018 elections – as they probably will – they again will ignore the ballot box and keep power even at the expense of plunging Zimbabwe into civil war.

Citizen power is something much stronger than the vote. It means that politicians know very well that if they mistreat their citizens, their citizens will simply not put up with it. So there is no point in even trying to behave like a Mugabe or a ZANU-PF. That is not the case in Zimbabwe, and it is not the case in any African country.

It is only because you don’t exercise your citizen power that, with very few exceptions, you have corrupt, repressive leaders who are out to make themselves hugely wealthy at your expense – which is why you are still in poverty. You see, your leaders know you won’t exercise your power because ever since the end of colonialism, you never have in any of Africa’s 54 nations. And they rely on you not doing that. Mugabe knows very well that is why he is still in power.

The West doesn’t have corrupt, greedy, oppressive leaders like yours only for one reason. Their leaders know very well that if they tried to be like your leaders, their own citizens would exercise their power and remove them from office.

However, exercising citizen power will mean a big shift in attitude. At the moment, everyone is waiting for everyone else to get them out of poverty and to give them Western-style affluence. And when they don’t get it, whom do they blame? Mugabe, or ZANU-PF, or the political opposition parties, or Western imperialism, or……etc., etc., etc.

But for citizen power to work, each citizen and every organisation in opposition must take personal responsibility for Zimbabwe’s future: ‘If I (or the organisation I belong to) don’t do something, I and my family will stay in poverty forever.’

Inherent in accepting personal responsibility is to stop blaming everyone or everything else, and start blaming themselves individually: ‘What am I doing to help myself, my family and all my fellow citizens to escape poverty or Mugabe?’ Or ‘What is the organisation I belong to doing to help us all escape poverty or Mugabe?’

A good example of what I am talking about is a Director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition blaming Thabo Mbeki for Mugabe still being in power. That is ridiculous because Mbeki doesn’t even live in Zimbabwe and never has, so this is clearly a case of trying to pass the buck to throw a smokescreen over the fact that his own organisation is clearly not doing the right thing.

I haven’t named him because he is not the only one. As far as I can see, not one organisation in Zimbabwe is accepting personal responsibility for Zimbabwe’s future except the opposition political parties, but even they are going about it in an extraordinarily counterproductive way. All the other organisations are looking for someone else to do the job for them. This includes Zimbabwe’s Christian Churches, its trade unions, all the foreign and domestic NGOs working in Zimbabwe, its activists and campaign and special interest groups.

Campaigners and activists have a very big part to play in this. At the moment, most of them criticise Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Or they criticise Tsvangirai or MDC-T. Or they blame other opposition leaders. Or they blame the Christian Churches (quite rightly). Or they blame..… etc., etc., etc.

What campaigners and activists should be doing is to put all their efforts into educating ordinary Zimbabwean citizens about what they must do if they want to get rid of Mugabe or go from poverty to affluence. Because that is the only way it is going to happen. And, instead of operating in their own individual bubbles as they do now, they should be reaching out to all other campaigners and activists to present a joint message to all Zimbabwean citizens.

And they should be putting pressure on the opposition political parties to do the same thing. Because, at the moment, most of the opposition leaders are behaving like children fighting over sweets in the school playground, instead of working like responsible leaders for the good of all Zimbabweans.

As soon as African citizens exercise their citizen power – power they have had all along but didn’t realise it – they, too, will get rid of their repressive governments and go from poverty to Western-style wealth very fast, just as Westerners did.


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