There are many ways of perceiving, imagining and even desiring Zimbabwe. Be it from lived experience in-country, assumptions of enlightenment (education) or an outsider/external comparative eye view. What is evident is that the narratives hitherto and thereto are many. Some more historical or organic, others more populist and others that may be considered to be somewhat condescending.
Because this is a relatively complex subject matter, I will try to be fairly straightforward. In the contemporary narratives on what sort of country Zimbabwe is, there are many versions and perspectives. Either as propagated by mainstream global media or as portended through social media platforms by different individuals, ‘influencers’ and above all else, permitted algorithms.
The most dominant narrative particularly since the neoliberal economic reforms by Mugabe in the 1990s has been that of imagining Zimbabwe as a completely failed/failing state. This initially was a relatively organic, even popular, perception of what Zimbabwe was becoming as led by the trade unions, grassroots and student movements of the time. Culminating in the formation of what was then referred to as a working peoples’ opposition party, the then Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
At the turn of the 21st century and arguably due to the highly political, nationalist and arbitrary Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) this real or imagined failing Zimbabwe was accentuated and became almost run of the mill in global narratives. Largely from the perspective of a liberal interventionist global hegemony as led by key Western superpowers such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UKGBNI), the United States of America (USA) and the European Union (EU). Because of Mugabe’s long duree rule and insistence on defying what were accepted international human rights norms as given by global liberal interventionism, this narrative of imagining or even desiring a continually failing Zimbabwe under Zanu Pf rule has not gone away. Particularly where in the last twenty years, Zanu Pf has retained a hold on power despite its perceived and real sins.
A more stubborn imagining of Zimbabwe is to be found in the ruling party Zanu PF and an historical/ ideological Pan Africanism found mainly in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and significant pockets of the African Union (AU). In this, it links the liberation struggle past with the present in an almost Manichean and even binary fashion. While the historicity of such an approach is understandable, its primary fault lies in its inability to recognize its own faults and complicity in having Zimbabwe still being imagined and perceived in powerful circles as failing. Arguments around human rights abuses, flawed electoral processes are not without merit or proverbially, there would be no smoke without fire. Despite the historical significance of liberation struggles against settler and global colonialism. It however remains an important counter-hegemonic narrative because it reflects an irrefutable fact in the development of nations anywhere in the world, that is, a people cannot either wish away their own organic history. Warts and all. It is a narrative and imagining of Zimbabwe that should always be taken into account.
In the third instance, there is a less ideological but highly materialist re-imagining of Zimbabwe. And this is largely found in relatively young people in and outside of the country. Or as motivated by those that are influential and that also understand the changing political demographics of Zimbabwe. It is an imagining of a Zimbabwe in which, never mind the ideologies’ or the historicity of events/issues, there is a desire for jobs, commodities and recognition of individual wealth accumulation. It is also a fashionable one as enabled by social media and the medium itself determining the message and/or contrived realities. At its heart is a desire to be part of any success stories as the relate to globalization, entrepreneurship and the accumulation of wealth in its many commodified and even temporal forms. In this, its most convenient default ideological home remains neoliberalism and an intrinsic admiration of societies in the Global North, inclusive of ardent and at most-times tragic efforts to emigrate there. Not necessarily because of the latter’s, for example, education or social welfare systems but primarily for the ‘good life’/ consumption that those societies exhibit. Again via mainstream global media, social media or in the latest case, streaming platforms such as Netflix. As a result, young people’s activism and imagining of Zimbabwe shuns history or ideology. It seeks more the immediate from multiple platforms, multiple heroes and again a recognition of ‘belonging’ from the global north in one form or the other. Regardless of the contradictions that are apparent about ‘universality’ as evidenced by for example the rise of radical nationalism in the global north or the startling reality of the need for a #BlackLivesMatter movement in the same countries.
Depending on either one’s consciousness or sense of belonging and preference, we have many imagined Zimbabwes. I have only outlined three that I consider to be in vogue over and about the story that is Zimbabwe. As presented in the mainstream global media. As preferred by ruling party apparatchiks or as argued by global superpowers. And even as probably imagined by young Zimbabweans at home and abroad via social media and other online streaming platforms. The key however might be how to retain context and be able to look ourselves in the mirror. Without asking someone else to judge our own reflection and imagine a people-centered Zimbabwe for everyone who organically claims it as their own.