I have been enchanted by this catchy phrase ever since I first heard it on the ZATT platform sometime last year. I will try to take apart this phrase, decomposing it into it’s constituent parts, and then try to synthesise a deeper meaning out of it all.
The idea of “nation” brings to mind boundaries or borders, a geospatial dimension. A nation is a an entity bounded in time, space and place. So in that respect it brings to mind issues of commonality: we belong to the same nation. One flag. Common resources, common culture, a conjoined fate. But there’s difference within that commonality: in languages, tribes, endowments, histories, aspirations, cultures. Many many differences. This begs the question: does living under one flag make a nation, or there’s need for other gluing ingredients, that which have more gravitational force than the forces that separate?
“Nation” also brings to mind laws, rules, regulations, taxes etc. In other words, control. That control is necessary, to forge unity out of diversity, to create conditions for mutual exchange in the course of living. In this function, the state looms large; that huge administrative bureaucracy that runs our common affairs. But in uniting the disparate elements of nation, the state also divides. It creates rulers and ruled.
If a nation is “built”, that introduces an element of design: structure, ideas and action. It also denotes a temporal evolution over time. A nation has a history, a previous life that has produced what we see today. A consequential past that has put conditions and constraints on the present and the future. A temporal dimension that has to be known, understood, respected.
A nation doesn’t just emerge: it is built over time. It is consciously influenced to move in a certain direction, following the aspirations of its owners. What those aspirations are, both collective and individual, determine the direction towards which a nation moves. Aspirations define and determine what opportunities, problems and solutions exist, and or made to exist. In reality, aspirations are fiercely contested, so that in the end, the aspirations of the more powerful carry the day. But for the prevailing aspirations to become reality, they have to be enacted by the cooperation of everyone, including the people who may actively oppose them, so that battles of attrition, sabotage and open defiance could come to define certain nations. Ever heard of failed states?
There is a world of difference between announced “national visions”, the efforts to enact those visions and the outcomes of that effort. That is why investing time in unifying people is more critical than mere articulation of visions of the future. Without concerted and disciplined action, visions remain stunted, emasculated dreams of grandeur. Are you listening, Vision 2030?
In the context of nation, “owners” is an interesting word. It is possible to control a nation, but is it possible to own it? To own means taking possession, having something in your power to do as you please with it. But it also denotes responsibility, accountability and “fronting up” when things go wrong. Kingdoms are owned by monarchs. Rhodes and his coutere of adventurists pretty much owned Rhodesia, up until the 1920s. Co-ownership is possible, but unlike what some people think, co-ownership does not connote equal stake in what is owned.
This brings us to the concept of stakeholders. All citizens are stakeholders in their nation, but leaders are sort of super stakeholders, to coin a word. The fierce fights for ownership of the massive political institution, Zanu PF, introduced into our political lexicon an interesting word, “stockholders”. The word sought to introduce the idea of differential strength of claims to ownership of a common resource. The thinking is, with respect to common resources, all may be owners, but some have stronger claims to ownership than others. Shades of Animal Farm? All animals are equal…
Whose responsibility is it to build the nation, those who have stronger claims to its ownership or those with weaker claims? What is the justification for these differential claims, and how relevant are they? Remember, beside the western notion of nations superintended by elected governments, we have other claims to ownership, like traditional chiefs, masvikiro, etc. These have legitimate claims to ownership of their respective patch of the nation. How their claims and their attendant powers of control of common resources have evolved over time is an interesting phenomenon on its own right.
From an African perspective, there’s the saying that “nyika vanhu”. A nation is its people. In this idea, “people” denotes the relational links we have as a people: our structure, ideas and actions in the process of coexistence. Kuvaka nyika would mean the fostering and building of relationships and networks of kinship that ensure the endurance and sustenance of the tribal way of life.
“Nyika ivhu” denotes the centrality of land and the physical ecosystem to the survival of mankind. “Kuvaka nyika” in that sense denotes the careful stewardship of the physical environment. In a recent conversation with anthropologist Dr. Zvakanyorwa Sadomba, I learnt that in precolonial Shona culture, a person would claim dominion over a piece of land by a process called “kupinga nyika”. By this process, the person, who would be designated owner of that land, entered into a sacred covernant with Mwari, to be entrusted with ruling the land, under specified conditions. Those conditions specified the relationship of the people with each other, and with the physical environment that represented Mwari. There would be dire consequences if the covernant with Mwari was broken.
Back to post land reform Zimbabwe, “nyika inovakwa nevene vayo” may be a stirring exhortative, normative rallying cry. But it sounds empty when you hear people say, “nyika yaenda nemaChina”. As I mentioned before, Rhodes and his bandits felt like they owned this country, and they acted like they owned it. In fact they pretty much owned it, carved it up among themselves, exploited its resources. But they were concerned by its regeneration, its renewal. That’s why they held onto it when common sense should have told them that “time is up”.
Do we, as the new owners of this country really own it? Do we behave as if we own it? Do the Chinese own it? Do they behave as owners should behave? Where there’s no sense of ownership, there’s an absence of accountability, and a spiralling and disturbing tendency even by those who claim ownership of the country to “game the system” by extracting as much wealth as possible while one still has the chance. When you truly own something, and you are secure in your ownership, you nurture that thing. When you don’t, you rape and pillage. Never mind the words, our actions prove whether we believe that we truly own a resource. Looking around the country, the destruction of the physical environment does not look like the actions of owners.
When you hear people say, “Mwari akatsamwa”, it means there’s a dissonance between “nyika vanhu” and “nyika ivhu” and the link between the human world and the spirit world.
When you hear people say, “hapana kwatiri kuenda” it’s an admittance by the “people” that there’s a disarticulation between where they are and where they want to be. The road is blocked, the pace is slow and the journey is wearying. Many are losing heart.
“Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo” is an excellent idea, of that I agree 100%. But nation building is not just about catchy phrases, bright colours, innovative slogans, and imaginative put-downs of your enemies. It is about the creative immersion in the science, art and practice of unlocking human potential. It is about building structures in which purposive exchange of ideas and knowledgeable action is possible; aggregation of sound ideas which can influence action; and disciplined action oriented towards progressive problem solving.
Inovakwa nevene vayo!