Mugabe Syndrome and the Challenges of Postcoloniality
In this chapter’s introduction, I discussed the harsh and dismissive criticisms leveled at the new African writing that directly engages Africa’s misery. It would be unfair to the critics mentioned above to dismiss their concerns entirely. Indeed, it is justified to wonder—at least at first glance—why certain African writers, and in particular, the two under consideration, are fixated on the seamy and violent aspects of the African existence. Do they seek to present African women only as victims? Some writers may, in fact, attempt to exploit those conditions. I would not defend such writers, but I would point out that critiques such as those by Habila and Mushava risk becoming mired in the rhetoric of postcoloniality, or in the “colonial trap,”84 and what Denis Ekpo has characterized as “Africanism.”85 Again, the colonial trap is the condition in which the colonized reject self-reflection and become hypersensitive about criticism in general. In many cases, it blocks the colonized person’s empathy towards others.
It is true that Chinua Achebe heavily influenced the trajectory of postcolonial African culture.86 He rightly challenged Westerners’ efforts to shape African destiny in their narratives. However, African politicians have seized on Achebean postcolonial discourse and have transformed it into fierce anti-imperialist rhetoric that resonates among Africans because of their experience of colonialism. In some aspects of African politics and cultural discourses, memory of the colonial past is effectively translated into political capital. Such discourses presume the gaze of the West. The presence ofthe West, especially its colonial powers, is a constant reminder of the humiliation of the African people by the West. Chinua Achebe calls this humiliation the “wound in the soul.”87 No African politician embodies the uses and abuses of anti-imperialist rhetoric as much as Robert Mugabe, who occupies a special place in African history. For example, during a 2007 failed
European and African Union summit, friction over human rights reached a high point between the two continents. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Mugabe for human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.88 Mugabe responded that “the colonial power continually manipulates us and wants to change the government, but we say no, we have the right to determine our own future. We will never be a colony again!”89 His government interpreted the 2008 cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe as a “genocidal onslaught” conducted by Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, Great Britain, and supported by its American and Western allies.90
Mugabe has mastered the art of inflaming nativist feeling among black Africans to serve as a bulwark against any criticism of his dictatorship. He gives the impression that the African’s primary responsibility is to oppose the white man, to reject all manifestations of colonialism and the flaws, real or perceived, that the white man might have observed in the African world. In Mugabe’s world, the true African rejects introspection and self-critique. This rejection of self-criticism and the attendant delusion of moral excellence is part of what I call the Mugabe syndrome. Another identifying characteristic of the Mugabe syndrome is the assumption of the white man’s gaze. The presence of the white man is presumed to inhabit the consciousness of Africans, resulting in the belief that Africa’s problems begin and end with colonialism and its aftermath, imperialism. Consequently, critical examinations ofaspects ofAfrican culture are viewed with suspicion from the outset. In this regard postcoloniality becomes a means through which society censures women’s claim to rights.
Perhaps it is accidental that all the critics above are male. What is not accidental is their failure to consider the pain that women are subjected to. It is possible that their failure to factor women’s pain into their criticism is because of their need to defend Africa, which is, strictly speaking, an abstract compared to the bodies of individual African women in pain. In this unproductive self-censure, or worse, the freezing of the imagination, the human condition in Africa is left unexamined and un-narrated.